Tell us what you do for a living and how you got into it?
I am a PR & Communications consultant. I started off working in the music industry as a Promotions Assistant then after working in Communications I landed a great job at Universal Music as an International PR Manager. After being made redundant in 2008 I kept the contacts and worked as a freelance PR Consultant which eventually led to me opening Merité PR in 2012 and now Merité Media, which specialises in Content Creation, Social Media Management & Brand Management.
You are an entrepreneur. How has this impacted you as a parent?
Positively, It all happened at the right time. My youngest son was cast in Oliver the Musical in the West End in 2009 just when I had given up all hope of finding a full time job. If I had been working it would’ve been almost impossible for me to get him to rehearsals and shows at 10am and 12pm on a weekday, he had this job for 18 months. Waiting around for him at auditions and rehearsals made me realise I could set up an office anywhere that had wifi. Being my own boss fits in with my lifestyle and also gives my children a new normality. Getting a job is not their ambition; they now want to be like their mother, running their own company. Watching me juggle lots of different things, and also seeing the fruits of my labour has inspired them down a completely different path and although our lives are very unorthodox as we often lack routine, I think they’re both better for it. Growing up in a single parent family has it challenges, but I think my boys have been exposed to lots of different things and a way of living which makes them naturally flexible and able to adapt to all surroundings. Both of my boys wrote that they would be working for me in the future in their primary school leaving essay, which filled me with so much pride.
Entrepreneuring whilst Black… do you think that your race and gender impacts you in your role as PR entrepreneur? If so how?
I think I get pigeonholed if I only have black clients, but I wanted to have a company that could positively represent my community. I’m sure if I only had white clients i’d get criticised but some and revered by others so I generally ignore all of that type of commentary. In media there is a tendency to write stories about black people overcoming adversity, the mainstream seem to have issues with our stories if they don’t start from ‘the bottom’ and being a women, and a single parent I also run into some idiotic stereotypes but these things only add fuel to my fire and keep me striving for a better life.
In the UK people assume you had some sort of government grant to start your business, I’ve been to business networking events with white men who have asked me which organisation funded me and not believed that I funded myself. These things are unfortunately to be expected but at the same time does not stop me from trying to achieve what I want in life.
How do you manage having a PR business, being a writer for The British Black List and your new role a panel member on YouTube show Time of The Month (TOTMChat) with being a mother?
It sounds like a lot but it’s actually all easy to manage. My oldest son Tyrell is just finishing up at University so my time with him is spent over the phone/facetime and odd weekends every few months when he comes back to London. I treat my PR business as my 9-5 and try to get my writing for British Blacklist and Inspire LS magazine to my editors in a timely fashion, unfortunately I don’t always succeed. TOTM shoots once a month at the weekend so it doesn’t actually take up much of my time and has been my monthly girly holiday. Meeting up with the ladies has been so enjoyable it doesn’t feel like work at all. Tahj is 14 now and doesn’t need much hands on ‘parenting’ he is very mature which comes from starting work at a young age. He is very organised, he can cook, he’s great with homework most of the time and sometimes he’s my date to events. We talk a lot in the evenings, I think communication is very important so I always ensure those lines are open for both my children. As long as my boys can contact me at anytime, (Tyrell & I often have 3am chats) and they have money and lots of hugs in person or virtually, they’re both ok.
“I tried to ensure that their time was spent productively, enrolling them in after school classes and keeping them occupied so they had no time to hang out with kids that I could not trust”.
According to my research *cough cough insta snooping* you have two sons with a big age gap. Firstly have you had or do you have any fears about raising Black men in the UK? If yes what are they and what have you done to give them the skills to overcome your biggest fears for them?
My boys are 7 years apart and I’ve always had a huge issue with ensuring that they are not stereotypes. It is something I took on mentally, watching my friends end up in jail, or dead and also listening to ignorant people, It seems so trivial now. I was always so aware that being a black, single mother from Hackney had negative connotations and my boys have different Fathers so that also added to my paranoia.
Where we lived in Stoke Newington, we were surrounded by at least 5 different gangs. My mother was my main childminder when they were young, but she lived on a road, which was nicknamed ‘murder mile’ because of a spate of shootings, and stabbings, which occurred in the early 00s. I would pick them up from my mother’s house after work and drive at 15 mph behind them while they rode their bikes home, just scared that they would be robbed or worse if I lost sight of them. It is a horrible way to live, but I’m slightly glad that I was so paranoid now because I’ve seen local children go down the wrong path whereas my children have grown up detached from their local environment.
At a young age they both had activities every weekend, all day long. Basketball, Drama, Football, and Karate. We left the house at 8 am and usually got back at 9pm after doing the weekly shop and going out to dinner. After a few years Tahj went in to all day drama school at Anna Fiorentini and Tyrell played semi-pro football for London County. Sundays were spent at his games and doing homework. I tried to ensure that their time was spent productively, enrolling them in after school classes and keeping them occupied so they had no time to hang out with kids that I could not trust. Tyrell spent summer holidays in Spain with his paternal grandmother who lived there for a few years and Tahj spent most of his young years working during the 6 weeks, so they were never in a position to be idle hanging around Hackney joining gangs or witnessing any gang activity. I’ve always told them that they were destined for greatness and once they saw for themselves what they could achieve they kept going forward. Tyrell was under development at West Ham at one point before he decided not to proceed with a football career but he is currently studying for a Law degree and works with me in the business. Tahj has been cast in 5 West End shows to date (including Lion King, Matilda & Bugsy Malone) and is now on a CBBC show and goes to The BRIT School so I’m grateful that my methods worked.
“I am firm believer in culture playing a huge part in black children’s lives. My family are from Jamaica & Dominica and we’ve always taught all our children to be proud of their heritage. My kids learned at an early age where they were from and have visited both countries multiple times”.
How has your Caribbean heritage impacted your parenting?
I am firm believer in culture playing a huge part in black children’s lives. My family are from Jamaica & Dominica and we’ve always taught all our children to be proud of their heritage. My kids learned at an early age where they were from and have visited both countries multiple times. My father retired when Tahj was little and spent most of his days introducing him to Jamaican movies, he often tried to replicate the accent and patois at age two with hilarious results. People asked if my kids were born in the UK because they spent so much time with my parents they started to develop accents. Tyrell’s school actually sent him to a speech therapist, which to me was an insult to our culture. To insinuate that having a Caribbean accent needed to be ‘corrected’. I attended a Caribbean Saturday school, which taught us history. There are not many of these around now but the Internet helps me to set history tasks for my boys and ensure they are getting the knowledge they need periodically.
There is only so much we can do from the UK but even eating our food, listening to our music and participating in carnival every year gives them a sense of self. I’ve recently adopted a vegan diet and I’m having fun teaching them about our fruits and vegetables and cooking our traditional dishes. Also I feel that Black British kids who are killing each other now have no sense of worth or pride in themselves and if they were taught about their heritage, and taken to visit their countries they may have a better sense of where their life is heading and not be so lost. My boys are also taught to have pride in our African ancestry although we have not fully completed DNA testing yet so cannot pin point our exact birth place, we will as a family in due course. They have visited Gambia and got to give their belongings away to local children and also see what it is like to go to school there, which was an eye opener for them and made them realise how lucky they were. We will visit other parts of Africa in the future to remain connected to our roots.
Your youngest son is in the public eye. We live in a world where over sharing and trolling for fun is common practice, what have you done to support your son to protect himself online?
I have access to all his accounts so I get to see EVERYTHING! His instagram is the most active and its on private so he can vet who follows him. We discuss his online activity quite a lot, especially now as he has a BBC contract, it is imperative that he doesn’t appear in any videos or pictures, which can be seen, as inappropriate. Also we have founded the Merité Media Foundation, which teaches youths and parents about online bullying and how to use social media affectively. I have prepped Tahj on what can happen especially as he makes the transition from stage to TV/Film and becomes more visible. The theatre community have been very great to him. The fans and have featured him all over social media in a positive light but as he moves onto TV this may change and, just like when he gets rejected for a role, I will be there to comfort him if anything bad happens. I think he is a resilient kid and developing programs for the charity has exposed him to what other people have faced in terms of online bullying so if it ever happens to him in the future I think he is in a good position to deal with it and not let it affect him too much.
How does being a ‘single mother’ feel… Is there a difference for you?
I always say I am the same mother as I would be if I were married and I’m not a real ‘single mother’ because I have no idea what it is like to raise my children without constant support. My family are very hands on, especially my parents and if I need anything they have always been there.
I never understand why single mothers allow that title to define them or their parenting skills. You are a mother regardless of who accompanies you on the journey and you should have a set way of raising your children and a vision for their future. Obviously there is a difference but we don’t know what that is because we have nothing to compare it too. My job is to ensure I am doing the best for my children by setting an example and being there when they need me and I think I’ve been successful thus far. I am on the advisory board & the national media spokesperson for onlymums.org – a charity representing single mothers, and I am trying to breakdown stereotypes. There are 3 of us but we are a fully-fledged family, not a dysfunctional one. I think I was destined to be a mother, I have a very nurturing personality, which is transferred down to my nieces and nephews, they are also my ‘children’. It feels daunting but exciting to be shaping lives, that’s how I view motherhood, whatever I do with these children is going to determine what type of person they are and what contribution they make to this world. It makes me even more determined to do a good job and ensure they are well-rounded people.
What are your thoughts on the representation of Black mothers online?
If you google black mothers it comes up with porn sites that tells you everything. We are our own worst enemies sometimes, the representation is usually negative, we see mothers posting inappropriate pictures with their children in the background or fighting in front of their kids or their kids dancing and singing to inappropriate music, there is not enough of the hard working, positive mothers who I see on a daily basis represented online, nobody wants to make memes or articles about us. It’s time for a change.
What is the one thing you wish you did before becoming a parent?
Accumulated wealth so that my kids wouldn’t have to work so hard or be deprived of all the ostentatious things I wanted to buy them. But saying that, I’m glad they know the difference between struggle and being self made. They’ve seen me work hard, be broke, budget and make the money back, which I think is a good lesson, and stops them from being spoilt brats.
*Quick fire questions*
Reading or Running? Really? LOL Reading, but as I’m getting older I have to encourage exercise so running has to put in an appearance.
Beach or City Escape? Beach.
Cake or Cocktails? Cocktails – Apple Martini, Peach Bellini or Kir Royale
Lidl or Waitrose? Waitrose I’ve never been to a Lidl.
Mary J Blige or Lauryn Hill? Lauryn Hill, Mary needs to ditch the blonde wigs now.
Castor Oil or Coconut Oil? Coconut oil.
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