My Island Muse: Melissa Noel

“The Caribbean region deserves positive coverage. No one can tell our story like we can.”

Melissa Noel is a muse in every sense of the word. Inspiring and passionate with a magnetic personality, Noel is an award-winning, Guyanese American multimedia journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in top media outlets such as NBC News, Ebony Magazine and Caribbean Beat Magazine just to name a few. Chatting with Melissa is always a pleasure, mainly because her dedication to and passion for the Caribbean community is so evident. Here’s a peek into Melissa’s world…

If you had to describe yourself in three words what would they be?

Ambitious, engaging and passionate.

You have an impressive list of wins under your belt; 2016 Shining Star Journalism Award, 2009 White House Correspondents’ Association journalism award recipient just to name a few. In your opinion, what are the top three things women should consider when pursuing a career in journalism?

First off, I always remind women that being on camera is not the be all end all in the journalism industry. There are producer roles, scriptwriting, editors, so many things you can do and we need women of colour in these roles. Secondly, don’t quit! This industry is tough and it’s easy to become discouraged. Competition is fierce so you have to persevere and keep pushing no matter what. Lastly, surround yourself with like-minded people-people who are positive and encouraging. I’m grateful for my industry friends whom I can turn to when I’m doubting myself or going through a rough patch. In this industry it’s important to build a strong support system.

Why do you think it’s critical that Caribbean creatives, bloggers and journalists narrate the Caribbean experience?

It’s critical because no one can tell our story like we can. As Caribbean people we know that we are more than just sun, sea and sand. Therefore as journalists, bloggers, creatives etc. we have a responsibility to narrate our story. The Caribbean region deserves positive coverage and we can ensure that the issues we face are highlighted in a respectful manner so as to create dialogue and further educate wider society about who we are. We have the context and cultural sensibility to frame our stories the right way and this is key! The portrayal of Haiti in the mainstream media is a prime example of what happens when we don’t take control of our own story.

In your opinion, what is a major issue affecting Caribbean women in 2017?

Hmm I have two! Something that has been on my mind for a while is the level of domestic violence Caribbean women and girls are facing. Trinidad Carnival just wrapped up and “Leave Me Alone” has become a rallying cry against the violence many women have been facing in the region. As a Caribbean woman I have the right to feel safe, free from all forms of abuse. However, I feel like every time I read the news coming out of the region, our women are being brutalized. As a society, we really need to change this and I applaud women’s groups and movements such as Life in Leggings and Tambourine Army.

Another subject I’m passionate about is parental separation due to migration and the impact it has on Caribbean families. The issue of “barrel children”, a term coined to describe children left behind when a parent has to migrate, is an issue we need to take a closer look at. Lisa Harewood recently launched “The Barrel Stories Project” to share the stories of Caribbean people affected by migrant parents who left them behind in the care of others. I really want to build on the amazing work Lisa has done and further examine just how much trauma a child can experience not having their parents present. Additionally, I plan to look at the issues some of these children face when they do rejoin their families abroad. I’m focusing on doing some more reporting on this issue because I believe there are ways our community can better support these children and their families during these transitions.

One Caribbean woman who inspires you and why?

Shelley Worrell. She’s a Trinidadian and a former executive based in New York. She worked in the corporate world for many years and left it behind to launch CaribBEING. Shelley is fearless, bold and talented. I love how she’s taken her experience earned in the corporate world and used it to grow CaribBEING into a platform that promotes our vibrant culture.

One common misconception about Caribbean women, that’s downright false

That we don’t work together or support each other. Over the years I’ve built a network of women through social media (some I’ve never met) who support me like a sister. I’m talking fellow Caribbean creatives and powerhouse women, who share my stories, send me leads and make it a point to let me know how much they love and appreciate the work I’m doing.

Your favourite place to visit when in Guyana

Ahhh I can’t just pick one!! The Seawall on a Sunday. It’s like liming central (laughs). You can get anything from popcorn to cook up rice while watching the music carts pass by. The ocean is there and it’s just a beautiful feeling. My other favourite place is St. Rose’s High School. My mother is an alumna and she is heavily involved with the New York chapter. Because of her and her friends (also alumni) I feel super connected to the school. Whenever I work with the school through various initiatives, I feel like I’m directly giving back to a part of my history.

Your favourite Caribbean saying

My father used to say this like 6 times a day when I was growing up (laughs); Who doh hear mus feel.

With all you’ve accomplished already, what’s next for you in 2017?

I believe 2017 is my buss out year. One of my major goals this year is to be one of the main faces in the world of Caribbean media.

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