July - Cecile Brown
"When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways - either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength." This quote, from the Dalai Lama, aptly describes the nature of the circumstances that led to Cecile Brown creating the ‘Our Jamaica’ Facebook page. After losing her mother to cancer in 2014; she fell into a spell of depression, rapidly lost weight and became unproductive at work. Upon the encouragement of a friend, Cecile decided to form the ‘Our Jamaica’ Facebook page as an avenue to cope with her grief.
Cecile took up the challenge to explore her passion of uncovering the stories of others and sharing them, in spite of having no formal training in photography or feature writing, and doubtful of her abilities. She revealed, “I invited my friends to like my page and initially thought only friends would join the page. My initial concept was to do “surface level stories”- but I realized that the more I spoke to people, the more they started to let their guard down, to really open up to me and let me in. I travel around Jamaica, anywhere really (where there is people) from Mandela Park to somewhere in St. Ann - and I just talk to people. I have become very comfortable doing it.”
What started out as a hobby - a simple task - grew into something so much larger, actually, over 50,000 followers larger, boasting over 400 stories since the first post in 2014. Unlike most ‘social media influencers’, Brown is not motivated by the ‘likes’, but does it for the love of people and making a difference. In further explaining her motivation to maintain the Facebook page Brown adds, “When I go to bed at night, I think – ‘How can I change the life of that little boy I interviewed today?’ How can I help that lady who was abused? I know I can’t do it alone and my work is not finished yet, so that keeps me going.” Although all the reception to the stories has not been positive, the majority of followers have been inspired and receptive to the concept of the page, resulting in individuals locally and overseas offering to assist by providing financial support, care packages or simply a word of encouragement. In extending the impact of the page and the legacy of her mother, who was the impetus for the page, Cecile wants to eventually establish a foundation in her mother’s name that will assist in providing help to some of those whom she has interviewed. “I don’t want to just write the stories and leave them there; I really want to help people whether it is seeking funding, or even counselling for persons by connecting them to the relevant organizations,” she said.
As her work continues, Cecile sees her stories moving from the screen to the pages of a book. In fact, she shared, “I am currently working with iPublish to put out a book of selected stories, from the (‘Our Jamaica’ Facebook) page and some new stories, which haven’t been posted as well.”
Cecile never envisioned that the page would transition from being an avenue to release her own pain, to evolving into a goldmine of inspirational stories, waiting to be unearthed; and allowing followers to experience a different Jamaica, through the eyes of hundreds of ‘ordinary’ citizens. With a passion for documenting these stories, she has provided a network of inspiration for others, a source of justice for some and a voice for the voiceless – thereby living true to her dream of making a difference in the lives of others.
Now, she is always armed with a notebook, pen and camera in hand, ready with a listening ear, for the next story, because she believes that EVERYONE has a story - although some people may think they do not have anything significant to share. As such, Cecile encourages others to have a listening ear so that they too can uncover the story of those around them every day; “I want people…to spend even five minutes each day and get to know someone new - that one hello could change that person’s life. Even at the workplace, you could be working with someone and you have never said hello - make it your duty to say hello to that person.”
So, if you have never seen the ‘Our Jamaica’ Facebook page, take the time to check it out for yourself and unearth stories of inspiration; written by a woman who has walked in the shoes of poverty and grief and who decided to share the greatness in others, and in so doing, realize her own greatness.