Many Black people in the 1960s came to England as children, sent on their own to join family members in search of a better life. Keep The Faith caught up with multi award-winning transformational life coach and journalist, Sherry Ann Dixon, to talk about her journey from Georgetown to Clapham and back, on her first Caribbean Empowerment tour.
Keep The Faith (KTF): Can you give us an insight into life as a child in Guyana, and how it felt leaving at such a young age?
Sherry Ann Dixon (SD): I lived with my grandmother, Mommy Irene, from an early age. I never understood why and, to be honest, I didn’t question why, because we were brought up not to ask questions. What I do know is that she brought me up as if I was her child, and took me everywhere she went. It would take hours to get down the street to the market, because she stopped and spoke to so many people. I can’t remember being able to object in any way, for fear of a pinch on the ear; little children must be seen and not heard! I was her little ‘prize’, and she made most of the dresses I wore because she was a seamstress. At the age of nine, I heard her and my mother chatting about me spending more time with my family, as I was going away and I needed to know how to wash my shirts and knickers. So I went for a while, and she taught me the necessary things a young girl should know.
I am thinking of my journey at the age of 10 years old, as I stood waiting to board the plane in Georgetown. That was in the 60s, the Windrush Era, and I was so excited to travel to the land of hope and glory, Mother England. My family were all congregated, wishing me well, and my mother held my left hand longer than she normally did, and Daddy held the right hand very tightly. As the announcement came on for me to board the BOAC plane, Mommy Gloria (as I called her) bent down and whispered in my ear a list of things she wanted me to do and be: “Be good for Mommy; don’t cause any trouble for your Aunty Shirley (her sister, who I was travelling to live with); don’t stop studying hard – you are a good girl, and you need better grades. Don’t go anywhere without your aunt’s consent.”
I, of course, nodded Yes after each request. The last thing she said was: “Walk straight, and don’t look back as you walk up the stairs to the plane!” I walked forward as fast as I could, like a true Brownie, military style. The air hostess showed me where to sit at the back of the plane, and I sat looking through the window at Mommy and Daddy, hugging. I knew they were sad, yet happy they were sending their first-born to a better life! But then control went, and I cried hard, like the way a 10-year-old would! Little did I know that was the last time I would see my baby sister, who was five years old, as she died of leukemia, and my mother because she died two years later of cancer. I never got to say Goodbye!
I remember watching my mother at a very young age, having to deal with five young girls. She died at the age of 30, and only had one holiday with her friends in Trinidad. I vowed I would travel to see the world as soon as I could do so, and I did – as a celebrity make-up artist, and later as a magazine editor. Making time for me, even though I had two children, has always been so important. It’s a way of me connecting with my spirit and understanding self.
I often think about her, and wonder what she would have been thinking about the work I do. Everything my mother asked of me I have delivered. I walked through BIG doors: from Downing Street, House of Lords, to the United Nations in NY, and every time I did these things, every speech I have made, I thought about her. I made a vow that I would be the voice my mother never had.
KTF: Why do you keep on motivating others when you can now retire? After all, you have done quite a lot.
SD: I have always been the type of person who believed in reinvention. My mottos are “Never say never” and “I can and I will”.
I entered the world of beauty whilst I was working in PR, after realising that nobody was representing the woman of colour – well… not in mainstream media anyway! So I decided to make that my job. I wrote articles and submitted them to magazines and they were printed. I then decided to study cosmetology part time, and became a cosmetologist and make-up artist, whilst working in a full-time job with two children. I felt that if I was to talk about the subject, then I had to understand it. Magazines and TV called me whenever they needed reference about skincare and issues with regarding beauty for the woman of colour, and I remember saying to myself “I will never ever say never” because anything that I wanted to do, with the grace of God, I will succeed.
KTF: So you were changing and reinventing careers again – another career move?
SD: After a long stint as a celebrity make-up artist, I was offered the job as Beauty Editor for Pride Magazine and I found my joy. This position gave me the avenue to share my thirst for educating women about themselves. I learnt to speed-read, so that I could read material quickly, translate it and share. This job was a challenge, as every month I produced beauty, health and lifestyle pages and, trust me, they became popular. As I interviewed the celebrities, I would also share my information, and this made me even more popular with many of them, who are still friends.
I became Editor but still kept a hands-on approach, and started writing features challenging women to empower themselves in order to be the best that they can be.
I thought I was ready to retire at the age of 52, so I decided to work in Saint Lucia, and became the Editor in Chief of SHE Caribbean. Little did I know that I only needed a break. I returned to England, and started a group called Women on the Crossroads, which encouraged women to motivate and encourage each other along the way. I organised conferences and dinners through Women on the Crossroads, where I met so many talented women who just hid their natural skill because of lack of self-belief. So again I reinvented myself. I went on to study Confidence Building and Assertive Training and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I also had a radio show on Sundays, where I interviewed celebrities and local business people who shared their journey – the ups and downs – in order to encourage and motivate others. I became a qualified lecturer and moved from editorial to a motivational speaker quite naturally.
In September 2017, I decided to take time out. It was my year of finding Me. I wanted to explore. All too often, we go along the journey of life, without asking questions about our past because many of us were brought up to not ask questions, and the lack of information about our ancestors Is taken to the grave. So, on this journey of discovery, I went on my own. I wanted to find me – and I did! I booked my flight to Barbados to stay for three months, where I walked the beach every morning and sat on the veranda, drinking fresh coconut water every day in Hastings. I visited the places my great-grandfather would have travelled as a child, before he too journeyed to Guyana with his parents. This Caribbean island was suddenly awash with excitement. I even went to Independence Celebrations, where my seat was not too far away from the Prime Minister, and then we had brunch in the Garrison. I spoke at many events, and the women of Barbados celebrated me with vigour.
In December 2017, I went home to Guyana. I travelled there on my own with a bit of fear and trepidation. Guyana was ready for me. I did radio and TV every week. CWS produced two very big seminars, in which I was the keynote speaker. I spoke to young children in schools and young women in confidence building workshops, and the Minister of Indigenous Affairs took me to Rupununi, bordering the Brazilian Amazon to the Bena Hill Institute, where I spoke to the young indigenous people in the region. I was home, and home was enjoying me. I would like to think Mommy Gloria would be very proud.
KTF: Is this your final career, Sherry? Are you ever going to stop and just do some gardening?
SD: I am not sure I can stop! After seven months in the Caribbean I truly realised this. I am really enjoying the work I am doing. I truly believe, when the going gets tough, you have to reinvent yourself. Go sideways if you need to, but keep going, otherwise you will get bored and depressed. I have chosen to empower, motivate and stimulate anyone who wants to be the best that they can be. I am ME!