Martin Klôwè and Gabrielle Buddoo – Bordeaux
Terri Karelle Reid is the presenter of Digicel Raising Start, a talent show for Digicel and TV Jamaica. After completing her veterinary training after several years in Cuba, in 2005 the young woman became Miss Jamaica World and began her career in the media. She looks back with us on her journey, the realities of the media environment and her status as a public figure as a woman and a mother.
Why did you want to study veterinary medicine and why did you choose to go to Cuba?
My lifelong dream was always to become a veterinarian. I always received the necessary grades but I did not have any money to attend the school. So, in searching for opportunities, Cuba became an option. Cuba has a very good relationship with Jamaica and they were offering to have students study medicine free of cost. I would receive a full scholarship. Cuba has a good reputation in academics so it seemed like a win-win situation to be able to study for the career I wanted and free of cost.
Can you describe what the classes were like as well as share a few of your struggles?
Cuba has so many layers. People who visit as tourist will probably never realise this. It was such as experience moving to a foreign country to study in a language that is not your own. I never even spoke Spanish before I travelled there. I assumed the teachers would speak to us in English but I was wrong.
There are also certain things that are not permitted. Some luxuries I had in Jamaica were not the case in Cuba. We lived in dorms but we were not allowed to cook in our rooms or things like that because we were always conserving. There were water lock-offs. It was a difficult situation and one that takes time to get accustomed to. I will say though, that the teachers were very good.
It was an amazing experience. I made friends, I learned to salsa, music, culture. It was a great experience.
Has the process changed for students who try to go to Cuba now?
I’m not sure about the process now because many things have changed in Cuba. However, there are certain things I respect about the country such as the level of equity that exists among the citizens. There was no classism or feelings of superiority in the different careers.
They were also very unified. After natural disasters, everyone would participate in cleaning the debris etc and within a short time, everything would be clean.
There are many differences between Cuba and the other countries and it is important to just be respectful.
I’d also like to add that in our training, they were very practical. We didn’t start by learning years of theory and then trying to apply it, theory and practical were done together so in my first year, I was already working on animals. That was an aspect I greatly appreciated.
Did you ever experience racism or colourism while living there?
I never experienced it but it exists. Colourism and the idea that a lighter skin tone signified that a person was more beautiful and brilliant. They often make jokes about the darker Cubans which I thought were very offensive but the darker Cubans would laugh it off. It seems they may have just internalised and accepted it. When I described myself as a black person, they would insist that I wasn’t. That I was mixed. They thought that because of my physical appearance and the texture of my hair, I could not associate with the term ‘negra’.
As a Jamaican, did you feel more like you were living in Latin America or the Caribbean?
There is a Caribbean feeling, a sentiment of openness and friendliness. They will invite you into their homes. This idea of always partying. There was a familiarity that I associate with the Caribbean. But they see themselves as Latinos.
II. Current career as a media personality and influencer
After completing your studies, how did you facilitate the transition to media and why pursue this journey?
After graduating, I returned to Jamaica. I went to the veterinary board where I was told that they do not accredit students who studied veterinary medicine in Cuba. I was advised to continue studying for another year in order to receive my accreditation. This was devastating because I did not have any money and I was not guaranteed a scholarship. At this moment, I realised my journey towards my dream had ended prematurely and all I had left to show for it was my ability to speak Spanish. I had no idea what I was going to do.
Several persons asked if I had ever considered a career in media. At the time, I’d had no interest in it and I didn’t know anything about it. But many encouraged me and said they thought I was suited for media based on my personality etc. After this, I would audition and start hosting small radio shows and then that became hosting bigger shows and functions.
So, did you win Miss Jamaica World after this? Do you think winning the Miss Jamaica competition help to cement your career in media?
I actually won Miss Jamaica World in 2005. I came home one year, entered the competition and I won so I had to defer my final year. Therefore, I became Miss Jamaica World before graduating.
I think it did. This was the time I received the moniker ‘Your Jamaican Girl’ because thought I represented the appearance of the Jamaican population: natural hair, bubbly personality…things like that. So, I became well liked and I think that definitely influenced the success of my career.
And how did you manage to attain a more professional status?
Okay, so I believe there is a big difference between ability and talent. Many go to school to read for a certain and this moulds us and our personalities. I believe that people are more than their careers and so many have untapped talent which others may perceive before we become aware. This was what happened in my case. I decided to try and then I discovered two things: 1) I was very good at it 2) I loved it.
You are the host of Digicel Rising Stars, a popular Jamaican talent show. How has that experience been thus far?
Sometimes to give foreigners an idea of my job, I describe myself as the female Ryan Seacrest (host of American Idol). Generally, the purpose of this talent show is to unearth new talent. Many talented persons live in Jamaica, completely unknown and the idea is just to give them the opportunity to become successful. I am the face of the show and in my capacity, I provide support for the inexperienced contestants who have no idea how media works. In this way, I act as a buffer for these individuals who are just learning about the media and the competition.
How did you find a balance between your professional life and personal life as a media personality?
I think it is easier than many realise. In the age of social media, there is so much pressure to show all and bare yourself for everyone to see. However, I’ve made it very simple for myself. I have boundaries which should not be crossed. Since I’ve had this mindset, it has made it very easy to balance my personal and professional life and people respect that. It probably also has something to do with my “Girl next Door” persona. I appear very open so there is not much need to pry.
What is your opinion on the freedom of speech in Jamaica? Is there any kind of censorship?
No, Jamaica ranks very high on the World Press Freedom Index (8th to be exact in 2019). We embrace media and journalism, people who want or have a voice and I think that is important. I will just add, however, that despite this freedom, our media houses do consider their relations. They can be very selective of the stories they choose to publish as it may cause implications with sponsors.
III. Woman and female empowerment
Do you identify as a feminist and if so, could you describe what feminism means to you?
Yes, I do see myself as a feminist. I think this word has been demonised over time but really, at the core, feminism is the belief in equal rights for women. This is important to me as a woman and I have a daughter. I’ve witnessed many changes and advancements, there has been a lot of progress in the fight for equality but I still think there is a long journey ahead. Until we start to view women as equals to men, and it is reflected in the way we write our policies, laws and govern, there is a need to fight for these rights.
Do you think sexism exists in Jamaican media as well as other sectors and if so, how do you deal with it?
I think sexism is so deeply ingrained in our society that people disguise it as culture. This far surpasses media. It is embedded in the very fabric of our society coupled with misogyny as witnessed with the violence our women face. Murder-suicides are very frequent in cases where women try to leave their spouses. Objectification and sexual harassment are still major problems in the workplace and on the street. Even with the global recognition of the ‘Me Too’ movement, Jamaica still remains far behind.
In recent Jamaican news, there has been reports of sexual harassment at the Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts. The existence of a male teacher who has been preying upon his female students has been making new headlines. In your opinion, is enough being done to curtail this situation?
I went on social media where write about wanting more information about this because there had been very little development in the story. It was another media personality, also a member of the board who replied to my statement. She let us know that the man had been identified and that he was now on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into the case. This case is just one of the many examples that our laws do not support us as women. We table bills and send them to parliament to try and change things many times, it yields no results. As such, many have understandably lost faith in our justice system especially when it comes to protecting our children. This is a part of why sexism still exists in Jamaica; our laws enable it.
There may sometimes be victims who would like to come forward with their stories, however, they are not equipped to handle the victimisation which they will no doubt face. As such, it’s an extremely hard situation and a tough cycle to break.
Do you use your influence on social media to advocate for these rights?
Yes, in my profession, many have felt comfortable in sharing certain things that they’ve gone through. I have also done a lot of voluntary work with women and children. I recognise that may be a role model to some and so I use my platform to bring awareness. I also have no fear in posting or calling attention to situations of injustice. I will always be outspoken.
What do you think about Caribbean media is portrayed and how do you think it could be improved?
I think Caribbean media needs to stop being lazy. They are not doing enough to facilitate change and bring awareness to all aspects of society. We want the media to use its power to be objective and to speak and act on behalf of the people.
What do you think is the reason for this problem?
I believe it may be a lack of resources. The main difference between Caribbean media and that of other bigger countries is that those countries are more willing to allocate a lot of funds, tools and human resources to obtain credible and truthful information. Unfortunately, I cannot really speak to the reason for my Caribbean neighbours as perhaps their reasons are different.
In your opinion, is there enough Caribbean integration?
No, I do not think so. The only time the Caribbean comes up is in regards to CARICOM, trade or if people want to go to other islands for work. We do not hear much news about the Caribbean that is not tragedy or in direct relation to us. There needs to be more news about general situations in other countries.
Do you think there is anything that can be done to improve this?
I think the media needs to stop underestimating its audience. There seems to be an assumption that the only time people want regional news is when its negative. They neglect to consider genuine interest and desire to learn about other cultures within our region. Regional news needs to be more inclusive and give all aspects.
Do you have any advice for people who desire to pursue a career in media?
It is a huge responsibility. It’s not a popularity contest. Especially for those who will spend time in front of cameras, you become a role model whether it was your intention or not. Having such a platform is very powerful and influential. It is also a job which requires adapting and there is always something to learn. It is more than just your job description and your ability to show empathy, comprehension, as well as other skills is important. I would say, whichever aspect of media you choose along with projects, it would be best if they are a reflection of you. Align your brand with your values. Be willing to understand that it’s not possible to please everyone, some will adore you, others will not and you should not let that be a problem. Lastly, be authentic. It is important in this industry.
Many have this idea that women cannot be successful career women and good mothers all at once. Something has to be sacrificed because both cannot be achieved. How do find the time for motherhood with all your pending projects?
Prioritising is important. I have my days planned out and I plan everything around her. It is important that I take her to school and pick her up at the end of the day. Spending time with her is important. This is something that I am able to do most of the time. There are occasions when things do not work out as planned. However, I am mostly able to do this. In essence, it requires a lot of prioritising and time management.
I have had many disappointments in life. However, many of these have brought me to where I am now; discovering another side to myself that has enabled me to pursue a very successful career as well as an influential platform. As such, I appreciate all the ups and downs I’ve experienced so far in life. Sometimes life will come at you with extreme force and speed, you will think you are prepared and you’ve followed all the rules and things will still not go as planned. The ability to adapt, re-evaluate, re-adjust and continue is important and needed. You have to keep moving and creating opportunities for yourself.
Really great read. Thanks for sharing her story.
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I Enjoyed this post. Great job