Trinidad and Tobago: Island Paradise…

Portrait of a boy with the flag of Trinidad and Tobago painted on his face.

Trinidad Flag

As I have mentioned before, my family is from the West Indies;  Trinidad & Tobago to be exact.  Hovering just over Venezuela, it is the last country in the lower Antilles.  Previously thought to be a part of the Caribbean, I found out last year that Trinidad & Tobago (Too-bay-go) is considered a part of South America.  That was interesting to me as I have NEVER heard that before.

Two main islands that make up one country, though there are many smaller land masses that surround the islands, Trinidad & Tobago is one of the most culturally diverse countries I have ever witnessed.  Not just because of the multitude of nationalities that inhabit the island, but because of the way that the country accepts and celebrates all of their differences; streamlining it into one cultural identity.  Formerly a Spanish colony, T&T became a part of the British Commonwealth in 1802.  From the languages spoken to the traditions, holidays, and fesitivals celebrated, Trinidad & Tobago is firmly planted in African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, British, German, Dutch and Scottish roots.  In addition to a whole host of other nationalities, this mix of cultures has produced a multi-ethnic people who take pride in all facets of their heritage.  An originator of many art forms, Trinidad & Tobago is most known for Carnival; and is the birthplace of soca, calypso, steelpan, and chutney music.

Geographically, the islands also host a biodiversity more similar to South America than that of other Caribbean islands.  A nature lover’s dream, T&T has a wealth of natural wonders.  From the rainforests (which it is the first country and perhaps the only country to constitutionally protect the lands) to the coral reefs, beaches, mountains, and a naturally occurring phenomenon known as “pitch lake”.  A naturally bubbling tar lake.  I don’t know.  God is awesome.  Take a look.

In addition, an animal/insect/bird watcher’s dream, T&T is recorded to have (approximate species numbers) of 1000 different marine fish, 100 diverse mammals, 100 reptiles, 30 amphibians, 500 distinctive birds, 650 butterflies, 50 freshwater fish, 700 unique beetles and 40 distinct corals.  And 3,500 different types of plant life.  Whew…that was a mouthful.

Well enough talking.  Watch this video about the island, it illustrates much more beautifully anything I could have said.  Anyone for a trip?


“Are you listening?!”: Listening and its importance…

“You can’t fake listening.  It shows”. – Raquel Welch

Have you ever been asked that question?  Better yet, been completely mortified as you try to pretend you were, but still get called out?  I love the Swiffer commercials where the lady is saying “Morty are you listening to me”?!  You know Morty isn’t listening.  She knows Morty isn’t listening.  Listening is more than a few “um-hmm’s” here and there.  There is an art to listening.  Listening is a valuable tool, but it is only useful if you are engaged.  In the past, I have heard the term active listening.  And at first, I thought this was a really interesting expression; because often one doesn’t think of listening as an action that is active.  But it really is.   It has been noted that active listening is a system that can be used in good communication, involving the listener repeating or paraphrasing what they’ve heard.

I thought the below video was a really good take on active listening, creating an acronym using the word.  Take a listen.  Yes the pun was intended.

Some of us know “the message given is not always the message received”.  So where does that train get derailed?  Is it in how something is said, or how it is heard and interpreted?  Listening goes far beyond hearing words that are said; and is so much more than just words.  One’s body language, tone, facial expressions, diction and the context can say so much more than words.  But often if we are too distracted or just waiting until it’s our turn to speak, we miss the point.

The importance of listening is for the listener to reach an understanding with the speaker. So how do we go about this from a social media standpoint?  I really liked Kivi Miller’s blog ROI of Listening:  17 Things to Do with What You Hear.  The useful ways she’s illustrated how we can use listening gave me a new way of looking at it.  All of the tips were helpful, there were a few that were especially poignant; 1, 2, 8,9,10, and 16 in particular.  Not only is it important to create a voice, or presence online; but it is equally necessary to listen to what other people’s interpretation or understanding of that voice is.

How well do you think you listen?  Do you assume you know what someone means, or what they’re talking about just from a few catch phrases?  When we take the time to listen, and more importantly understand what we’ve heard, we learn more, we find common ground with others, we improve our skills, and we get more from marketing our brand.  G. K. Chesterton says it best “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing”.  Good point.

Getting the word out: How has social media changed our communication?

2010 Social Networking Map

2010 Social Networking Map

After watching the above YouTube video, it is easy to see how the internet and social media has changed our lives in everyway possible.  We shop online, we meet potential life partners online, we look for jobs, and we go to school online.  We watch T.V and movies online, read books, play games and research anything and everything we can think of; in addition to a whole host of other activities.  One of the most important changes social media has made is in the way the world communicates.  Hardly ever do we send a handwritten note anymore.  We send emails.  Most of us don’t talk on the phone like we used to.  We text, or we speak to each other through IM or instant messaging.  But more importantly, we use the way we communicate through social media to build community.

So how do we go about this?  How do we use our blogs or websites to network with others and engage them in meaningful conversation?  How do we draw potential clients/customers or build effective partnerships?  In the Evolution of Communication, the narrator states “Social Media takes the same social skills we humans have practiced for ten thousand years, storytelling, collaboration, and problem solving; but enhances them with the power of modern technology.  It’s the evolution of human communication but at a scale never before imagined”.  This is very true.  With the world at our fingertips, it is a naïve and archaic to believe that old modes of communication will fit our organizational needs in this modern world.

Using social media outlets we can reach farther and wider than we ever thought possible.  And since building an agency’s online personality and developing a “voice” is imperative in creating a steady following; it is important to have appealing site content and a genuine presence online.  Equally as important, we must effectively communicate to the world our organization’s objectives and inspire other’s to become involved in our mission.  For most non-profit agencies the main modes of communication are email newsletters, Facebook posts, and email/event marketing.  So how can we best communicate our agency’s aims?  In Six Ways to Show More Personality in Your Communications, chapter 12 on the website it suggests that

  1. Write in the first and second person as much as possible.
  2. Let the audience know who’s doing the writing.
  3. Express an opinion.
  4. Share some of the downs as well as the ups.
  5. Make the audience laugh (or at least smile).

And finally,

  1. Tell more stories.

Sounds like a good plan.

Speaking Life: Why “Spoken Word” is more than the words spoken…

The spoken word

The Spoken Word

In reference to last week’s post I thought about one of my favorite forms of storytelling, the art of Spoken Word.  Spoken word could be defined performance art that uses speech as its foundation.  However, it isn’t just about the words but the dynamics of tone, the use body language, facial expressions, and may encompass various forms of movement and sound.  It is rhythmic and unstructured.  It is forceful and gentle.  And it is powerful and moving.  Deeply personal, the mastery of language demonstrated by artists gives life to the stories they tell and draws the audience into a world of their making.

I first became familiar with the art form while watching Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam and truly fell in love with it watching a series called Brave New Voices.  It was one of the best reality series I have ever watched.  Focused on a contest called the “Poetry Slam”, it showed teams of artists from multiple states and demographics, as they prepared for the competition.  Presenting different facets of their personal lives, the series displayed the many struggles they faced that not only drew them to the art form, but informs their artistry.

In writing this post, I looked up some of the history of spoken word in this country and found many interesting facts.  Modern African American spoken word is born out of the African (both on the continent and throughout the diaspora) oral tradition, taking flight during the Harlem Renaissance, and culminating in the 60’s civil rights movement.  It has been used as a vehicle to relay messages, document our struggle, and inspire revolution.  One of my favorite “old school” troupes the Last Poets, along with the incomparable Gil Scott Heron, were the forefathers of what we now know as “rappers” or emcee’s in Hip Hop culture.

Do you have a favorite genre of performance art?  How do you think art can affect change and speak to social justice issues?  Have you ever had the opportunity to see or listen to artists performing spoken word?    Take a listen and see how this art form may impact you in ways you didn’t think possible.  If in Atlanta, drop by the Apache Café on a Open Mic Night…I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Once upon a time…what is the art of good storytelling?

We all have a story

We all have a story to tell…

Reflecting on what makes good storytelling, I believe lies in the human connection.  What about the tale can I relate to?  Did it make me laugh, cry, mad or pensive?  What about it makes me consider my own life?  Am I in a position that’s comparable?  Have I ever been?  And what about it inspires me?  Did I like the way the person handled their circumstance?  Did they encourage me to do something different in my own life?  I don’t think it’s so much about identifying a traditional hero or heroine, as it is about illustrating the honesty of the human experience in a way the reader can see as heroic in its presentation of the truth.  Not to say that every story will be like that, but many of the stories I remember as being good, had some element of that present.

Additionally, I think about how invested the teller is in telling the story.  Did they paint images so in my mind’s eye I can see the scenes?  Was I drawn in?  Did they make it exciting or interesting?  Were they animated?  I often find it more enjoyable when I can picture what the person saw or heard.  And in reading Chris Brogan’s blog Working from a Human Story, I was particularly struck by the statement “To all the people who get stuck in telling our stories like robots repeating lines of a scripted code…” as it illustrates exactly what I mean.  Is it the story that’s boring, or is the person dull while telling it?

One of my favorite authors is Octavia Butler.  A science-fiction writer, her books are feminist in nature, addressing many social issues and always features a female protagonist.  Using her work to observe and challenge how social constructs like race, class, and gender are used in the design of hierarchical social systems; she gives her audience a framework to discern how these systems shape fundamental aspects of humanity.  And like Stephen King, she tells the wildest stories.  Up and down, you never know what twists or turns the story will take.  The kind that will have you saying “How in the h*** did she come up with that”?!  And although they are really far out, you still find them relevant.  They are so engaging, yet so fantastic, that it’s fun to picture yourself in the protagonist’s position.

In my previous post, I told a story about my friend who decided to leave home and chase her dream in California.  This is another great tale.  A woman against all the odds decides that because she wants something bad enough, she throws caution to the wind and dares to live.  I know this narrative all too well as it is also my story.  I believe it has depth, merit, and speaks to the value of having a little faith, for anyone that should hear it.   I have heard many stories in my lifetime, but the ones that always stuck with me are the ones that made me feel something.

Taking that first step…

In the dictionary, courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; or bravery.

In my personal journey, one thing has been very clear, it takes courage to do anything in this life you really want to.  Does having courage mean there is an absence of fear?  Absolutely not.  For me, there had been many trials that triggered a “fight or flight” response; and in the recent past, it was my going back to school, doing so in a different country, homesickness and an adjustment to many cultural differences.  To be honest, for a long time I had mostly “flight” reactions.  In fact, many of my conversations began or ended with “You know what?!  I’m dumping whatever I can fit into the back of my car and driving home”!!  However, it was a conscious choice to stick with the plan despite my challenges.  I now know fear is the greatest deterrent to success; and I understand that faith supersedes fear.  And it takes a lot of faith to make any dream come true.  But beyond that, it takes courage to push past the fear, and sometimes to do things afraid; demanding of you some level of bravery to move past your circumstances.

Presently, I have a close friend who has chosen to “step out on faith”.  A native Atlantan, she recently decided to move to California and start her career.  A Master of Divinity, she always believed that her ministry would come from her movies, books and plays; thus, she decided to take her shot at Hollywood.  For some, she made the biggest mistake of her life.  She didn’t know where she was going, or what was going to happen.  She left her family, her home, and all that she knows and loves to pursue a dream.  But I recognize as she does, that if she didn’t do this – if she didn’t at least try, the consequence of not knowing, the “giving in” to her fears,  would prove to be more harmful than trying and failing.

In an interview with Oprah, Dr. Brene Brown gave a quote from Theodore Roosevelt stating “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…[and] if he fails, at least while daring greatly”.

What are your dreams?  What do you believe in?  If you are able, take that first step.  Don’t worry about what it may look like to other people.  Do not over think the future.  Just take that first step…it may lead you to things you never dreamt were possible.

serenity prayer




Not everything is for public consumption. In today’s pop culture, many have a “brand” and/or the desire to star in their own reality or web show, and it seems to grow at an ever alarming rate. You-tube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, etc. seem to have those with normal “9-5”s drinking the Kool-Aid, believing everything about their lives should be on display for the world to see. However, the world is NOT your stage; and if your boss should see less than ‘professional’ pictures on Facebook page, or some off-hand twitter comments, that reality show might just be on location at the nearest un-employment office.

work hard in silence


As a person who advocates for one’s private life to REMAIN private, there are instances where I believe people lose a sense of reality (pun intended), and jeopardize their current jobs or potential for employment by posting inappropriate matter on various social media sites. Modern society calls for many of us to be internet savvy, and the use of social media in a professional manner can greatly increase your business or enhance your qualifications making you desirable to a host of hiring companies. It can link you to communities and/or customers you may not have usual access to, and can increase your client base. However, ‘Living for the applause’ is dangerous territory and many should take heed. Anything you put on the internet will be there, if not forever, a VERY long time if you can have it removed.

One piece of advice I have received from mentors, professors and colleagues alike is “Be careful about what you post and how it may appear”. There have been many that have graduated from programs wondering why they have no prospective job offers, not realizing it is their public persona on social media that has hindered their progress. A piece of solid advice – if you don’t want people to see/know something, DON’T post it.

somethings are better left unsaid


Colleen has been a rolling stone…

beauty creek 2

Beauty Creek, Jasper National Park

Multiculturalism should be my middle name. Travelling from place to place, and living in a few, I’ve had the opportunity to observe and experience many different cultures. My family is from Trinidad and Tobago, and not only was our customs very important in my home; I spent the first five years of my life in T&T. As many members entered a second diasporic movement, they settled in various US, European, and Canadian cities. This made for a variety of adventurous childhood experiences.
I grew up in an extremely diverse neighborhood, in a diverse city in Midwest Canada, and a majority of people who have become friends and surrogate kin for me and my family are from Poland, Germany, Japan, China, Metis, French Canadian, the Philippines, the Ukraine, India, Africa, and all the other islands of the West Indies. And for a good number of my adult years I have lived in various cities in the United States.


Night and Day images of Winnipeg, Manitoba

‘Decal’ vs ‘De-cal’…

Since living in Atlanta, it has been brought to my attention that I “have an accent”. I never would have thought so, and have only heard that from American friends. However, I realize that words I would use or references I make have been found confusing by some of my friends here. For example, there was a time that I was directing a friend to a Salvation Army thrift store that I had found. I kept referring to it as ‘the Sally Ann’, as this is a term that many Canadians go by. When I received a phone call asking “Where and what in the h— is the Sally Ann?! I have driven by this street a hundred times and still can’t find it!!” did I realize that not everyone is going to know what I am talking about when I use terms indigenous to my hometown. After a good laugh, I learned a valuable lesson. The assumption you will be clearly understood by others is a costly, and sometimes annoying, misstep.

downtown atlanta

Atlanta Skyline at Sunset

“Clearly Canadian”…

On the surface, there are many similarities between Canada and United States; however, I have come to realize that there are also many significant distinctions. The challenges of having to adjust to the cultural differences; namely language, opinion and lifestyle, has amplified my awareness of how people are different and why. There have been some hard challenges, and there have been easier. There have been funny and there have been sad. But all have been enlightening; and these differences have made me focus on what is the same about all of us.


Maple leaf