Write your blooming story!
Let me tell you a story about the power of a handbag to help shape a dream into reality. Well, maybe it’s about a little more than the handbag; just maybe.
Last year my BFF Esther told me about a job she thought I would like. There was only one drawback: she assumed it was full-time and since I had resigned my full-time job to pursue my “passion projects” she rightfully assumed it wouldn’t be a fit. A couple of days later my other BFF Chaday shared the same job with me after someone shared it with her. Chaday had more info that the job was a consultancy and was not full time. Now this job had my interest all the way piqued!
So I surmised it was fully MINE and so I started to process of applying. But wait, I haven’t told you yet what the job is. After coming to the realization that all my products and services pretty much had the theme of wellness running through them I decided that professionally I am a Wellness consultant. Then in August 2018, the United Nations decides that they need a Consultant Stress Counselor! So of course your girl properly set about applying for the work. Now the UN has a fairly rigorous process of e-tendering. I had 2 days to log on. Can I tell you that the hard part turned out not to be the prepping of the docs but the actual uploading of the docs to their platform?
I didn’t complete the process in time.
I felt dejected.
But I moved on to the next thing.
Let me now introduce you to the handbag in question. My Aunt in Scotland sent me a birthday gift in 2018. It was a beautiful, classy, leather handbag. When I set about to apply for the UN job I officially declared this bag “My UN handbag.” Enter my two queen sisters Dionne & Kaysha. Even after I missed the submission I still called the bag by her lawful, government-issued name. Being the visionaries they are, they never missed an opportunity to properly address the bag in this same way. Very rarely was it “Kam, here is your bag.” It was often “Kam, look in your UN handbag if you see my earphones for me.” Shared delusions can work for your good! LOL
In November Esther sent me a pic of the same position re-opened!! Listen! This was all I needed. I dusted off my UN bag and this time submitted my application well before the deadline. Hello excellence!
And then there was silence. And I refused to be crippled by it. I fully took up my telephone and called unto the UN office in Jamaica to find out the status of [My] job. And then I heard I was shortlisted. Woi! And then I heard I was being invited to interview. Let’s pause here for a minute to discuss how to push through an interview when your brain literally takes a break on you.
It was a telephone interview. They asked me questions which I understood to be English. However on a few of the questions my mind said “Girl, all the best with that one. I’m a be over here watching you.” My poker face (poker voice?) training from School Challenge Quiz kicked in and I said the next word and then the next. I remember the exact moment in the interview when I had to give myself an inaudible pep talk. I knew that I needed to act as if I was already successful and stand fully in that knowledge or I wouldn’t succeed. I knew it. And so I finished strong.
After I replayed the interview in my mind and zoomed in too much on the ‘bad answers,’ I got up from my desk at home. Something fell from my notebook of dreams. I bent to pick it up and saw that it was a magazine clipping I had saved to complete my visionboard. The singular word on the clipping was “MINE.” Ok, message received!
On March 21, my Mother’s birthday and 7 months after I first applied, I signed what I declare will be the first of many contracts with the UN. And now my besties and I don’t have to giggle when we mention the UN handbag. Should I rename her now? Victoria McWhinner?
I reflect on a childhood dream to be a traveling paediatrician working to save the disenfranchised children of the world. That paediatrician dream died a beautiful death to give birth to another thing; a thing maybe even more beautiful because it is steeped in purpose. I celebrate new beginnings and destiny detours. I celebrate a Maestro who is masterful in writing beauty into my life. I celebrate my own leveling up in confidence and excellence and fearlessness.
I couldn’t end without highlighting the take-away lessons:
I sat in Sara-Lou's Empowerment Breakfast on Saturday, already impressed. The vision to host girls who are living in state care, while deliberately creating a space for mentors to share with them; is a commendable undertaking.
Added to my insider information that this event wasn't a one-off act for Sara-Lou, but that she consistently serves these girls and young women, further had me beaming with pride. But then she took the microphone and dropped a bomb which rendered me almost teary-eyed. She told the story of how she, a young unmarried woman, happened to have a double-barreled surname. I actually never stopped to think of it.
She shared with the utmost sense of purpose how she was born to a mother at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital. A mother who then took her to the gate and stood waiting....on a passerby. Another woman approached the gate, and the new mother approached her with a story of needing to use the bathroom back inside the facility. She asked the lady to hold her daughter for a little while. One hour passed, then two and then four. Realizing that the story was really just a story, the woman took the baby girl to the police station.
It was then, 35 years ago, that a life-altering question was asked of this unsuspecting woman: "Do you want to keep the baby?" After consulting with her sister, the woman said yes. And so goes the story of Sara-Lou's early days and her double-barreled surname. I was spellbound. An all-time high level of appreciation for Sara-Lou's work washed over me. I was and still am so proud of how she has recreated this narrative at this point in her life, primarily by way of her Angelic Ladies Society.
Sara-Lou, at about age 25 was working at her mom's school. She found that the girls gravitated to her with their sensitive questions and family situations. She told White Lotus Blooms: "I formed the Angelic Ladies Society to provide a place for the girls where they could feel loved, safe, inspired, motivated to have a brilliant future. The non-profit organization caters to the needs of vulnerable high risk girls. Being an orphan and someone who is very passionate about girls who are often overlooked, I turned my focus to girls in juvenile facilities, foster homes and teenage moms who prematurely stopped their education."
Apart from her intrinsic impetus to give back based on her own experiences, I asked Sara-Lou what inspired her. She shared that "Oprah Winfrey opening the school in South Africa for girls, the work of Marjorie Harve's organization "Girls who Rule the World," and the Girls Inc. movement motivated me and made me realize that there was nothing wrong in doing what your heart was passionate about."
Having taken the brave step to start the foundation with no funds, I had to ask her what has kept her going for 10 years! Sara-Lou vulnerably shares the ups and downs. The downs are so vividly expressed, and her persistence to keep running the race so inspiring, I had to share it in her own words: "There are many days I came close to giving up. Last summer, I was in such emotional pain I hid under my bed for days, without food and little to no contact with people. Just a couple of days ago, I cancelled the [Empowerment Breakfast] event, and had to send back emails to participants that it was back on. In the Summer, I thought about the girls at South Camp Rehabilitation Centre. I thought about all 48 of them, and how over 18 months, they were not as insecure, and how they came to believe that I would show up every Tuesday. They stopped asking me, "Miss, you coming back next week?" It was as though they were confident that I would always be there. I thought about how painful and how disappointing it would be to not even say goodbye, to not hug them. What keeps me going is, an understanding that you really can't run from purpose, and fulfilling your purpose has its growing pains. And so I was more determined to pour out my soul to each girl I met who needed me." Wow! I celebrate this grit.
With all this work that Sara-Lou does how does she self-care? She admits that for years she wasn't a practitioner of self-care but now she is a convert. She now reads, does adult colouring, captures nature photos, chases waterfalls, writes, and dances in the house by herself. She adds "I attend and participate in a lot of church activities (being around church family who I am close to fuels my spirit), I go to counselling, I meditate, I pray, and this might sound silly, but I clean. I believe that when I de-clutter my space, it de-clutters my mind. I haven't had a good handle on my eating habits as yet, but I am trying. "
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Sara-Lou goes to the prison once a week, (every Tuesday). She engages them using dance (used for controlling anger, reducing body shaming, and increasing confidence and self awareness), and life skill sessions. They get to talk about what matters: visioning, menstruation, careers, healing, hair and skin care, nutrition and fitness. You can help The Angelic Ladies Society through in-kind or monetary donations. The execution of the life skill sessions are more effective when enhanced with tokens they can use after the learning period.
Sara-Lou is running with grit the race that is set before her. I am beyond happy that she keeps running; over obstacles, through doubt and around financial challenges. We salute her!
Follow her on IG @angelicladies_society and @locd_empr3zz
Basillia is known to many as the warm yet bubbly voice that graced the airwaves on Love 101 FM's Youth Connection and NCU FM’s The Drive for years. She has been a media personality for over 10 years and is well known on the Gospel scene, being a capable and in-demand MC. She is currently an educator in the Communications field and an entrepreneur as you will see from her story.
Bas, as she is known by many, has embarked on a journey that I think is nothing short of extraordinary. She is the courageous visionary behind the Sterling Gospel Music Awards, which is the first of its kind in Jamaica! March 16, 2019 will mark the third staging of this prestigious event.
When I searched the archives of my mind for all the Winning Women I knew to feature starting in Women’s history month, I quickly settled on her as my very first. I am excited to use my platform to highlight women from ordinary circumstances who are daring to do the exceptional - women who are, in 2019, writing and re-writing powerful HERstories.
Maybe it’s because I’m a psychologist but I’m incessantly curious about people’s processes and motivations. I know that there is often so much wealth in the stories of those who are kind enough to share them authentically. I’m excited to share with you Bas’ story of daring to create a Sterling product where there was once absolutely nothing.
I had to ask Bas what on earth (or in Heaven) inspired her to not only dream of a National Gospel awards show but to also act on it. She told White Lotus Blooms: “The Awards was birthed from a place of being tired of seeing Gospel Music being treated like the long lost cousin in the Music Industry. So many times the efforts and productions of those in our industry have gone unnoticed, and the lack of encouragement to sweeten the labour was missing.”
Keeping it real in true Basillia style, she confesses that she was intimidated to get started. (We can all absolutely relate, can we not?). She overcame that intimidation, did her research and consulted with those who were more experienced in hosting such an event. Awesome, right? Yes, except it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. In fact it was a scathing lesson in perseverance that she learned. When she set out to get sponsorship for the event, not ONE sponsor said yes! Not even one. Bas recounts, while laughing, that she actually shelved the idea for two whole years after this initial failed attempt.
Thankfully, the vision wouldn’t leave her alone and consequently she went back to the drawing board, did even more research and consultations and with God’s help and the support of family and friends was able to successfully stage the inaugural Awards in March 2017.
Having watched the international Gospel Awards shows and been intent that she wanted that for Jamaica; Basillia and her team have now made significant traction on the local scene. They are steadily moving closer to the ultimate vision of having regional and ultimately international reach and relevance!
Let’s interject here to loud up some of the ‘large’ sponsors she has managed to get on board: Digicel Jamaica, Panache Magazine and KFC Jamaica to name a few. Impressive, right?
On rough days when needed financial support from Corporate Jamaica may be slow in coming, Bas digs deep into her faith. She reminds herself that she is doing God’s work and that one day the tide will change.
Her 2019 has been bountiful thus far. Bas, with her husband Brian welcomed a beautiful baby into the world, making their brilliant 2 year-old Bree'Ah a doting big sister. Her family is the pride of her life. Brian is never far from her side and she speaks glowingly of her love and admiration for him and their gems.
With all the responsibility on her plate I checked in with Bas about how she self-cares and balances it all. She admitted that balancing her roles of mom to a newborn and a toddler, wife and Director of a large, impending national event leave little room for time alone but she does eek out the time to indulge in different Netflix series, which she thoroughly enjoys.
On Saturday March 16, 2019 Basillia’s vision will once again be fulfilled. This year’s event will be held in the Blue Mountain Suite of the Knutsford Court Hotel. Kindly be advised that the Sterling Gospel Awards show is the only national red carpet Grammy-style event for Gospel in the island. A time when we get to dress up and celebrate the work of those God continues to inspire. I can’t wait to don something gold (so far I have sparkly shoes) and show up to celebrate the tenacity of this Jamaican Queen! Speaking of queen, the thing Mrs. Barnaby-Cuff is most excited about at this time is having the opportunity and blessing of raising two queens with her guy, Brian. We are here for this kind of winning all day!
As someone who is dabbling in the event-hosting arena I can personally find so much inspiration in Basillia’s journey. To achieve anything great in life you must get to a place where you eat “No’s” for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cheat meals in between. That’s the tenacity that greatness requires. When I roll up at Sterling next weekend and see the lights and the glitz I will be inspired all over again at the thought that this vision started in the mind of a woman who dared and keeps daring.
See you there!
Follow her on IG at @thesterlingawards and @basilliabcuff
Kamala P. McWhinney is God's Idea. I am academic, I am creative,I am dreamer. My name is Hindu for Lotus. Given the beautiful symbolism of the Lotus Flower I have embraced it as a metaphor for my evolving, my surviving and my thriving.