Her mission is to bridge the gap between black cultures by having open and honest conversations. In her first year in College Monique was very active in the African Students Association (ASA) and Council of African American Students (CAS) and quickly learned that the differences in cultures were due to misinformation on all sides.
She recalled being asked if she wore clothes in the Bahamas and sees this as one of the reasons why she needs to focus on diversity and inclusion among black cultures – black Americans, black Caribbean and black Africans.
Her advice to immigrant women :
If I could give one gift to immigrant women, it would be that gift to really embrace, control, acknowledge, and nurture their mindset. Because once the mind is able to be open and nourish and embraced and accepted, then that dictates all the actions that you have.
[00:00:00] Paula: Welcome to “Chatting With The Experts”, a podcast for immigrant women from Africa and the Caribbean who have relocated to the UK and the US, and even Canada. Here we talk about the struggles and highlight the triumphs experience while sharing resources and experiences that our fellow immigrants sisters can benefit from. My guest today is special, but all my guests are special. But we share something in common because she is a Nigerian Caribbean sister. Monique Russell lives and the works in Atlanta, in the US. So I want to welcome you Monique to “Chatting With The Experts”. Tell us all about yourself.
[00:00:58] Monique: Oh my God, Paula. First of all, I am so happy to be on this show. You don’t know how much delight and joy it gives me, because this is such a special niche show. You don’t find any show like this out there at all anywhere. So I am Monique Russell. I am from the beautiful islands of the Bahamas, which is where I was raised, I grew up. And then on my dad’s side, I’m from Nigeria, as you shared. I live here with my husband who is a west African from Togo and my two boys, one who already graduated and one who’s still in high school. I have a podcast called “Bridge to You”, understanding the black unity. I’m also the author of my first book, “Intentional Motherhood, Who Said It Would Be Easy”. My first solo book, I should say. And I run a global, training, coaching and consulting firm, that focuses on communication skills and leadership development.
[00:02:05] Paula: See what I told you, I told you that she’s special. And she’s global and not only does she have a Caribbean mother, Nigerian father, but she has a husband from Togo, neighboring country to Nigeria. She is a world class citizen.
[00:02:23] Monique: I love it. I love it.
[00:02:27] Paula: I love it too. So you came to the U S, why?
[00:02:34] Monique: Well, you know the first thing, at least a lot of us leave the island for school. And that was exactly my story too. So when I graduated from high school, I actually couldn’t wait to get off of the island because I was like, I need to get off this rock, I need to go somewhere. I applied to go to school at UNC Charlotte university of North Carolina, Charlotte. That was my primary choice because I liked what the program was. I wanted to be a journalist but I never got into that school and I didn’t get into the other schools. And so my mom, she helped me to apply to the college of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Which is a place where a lot of our family members have gone to. The girls would go to college of St. Benedict. The guys would go to college of St. John’s, cause it was an all girls college. And the St John’s was an all boys college. I initially left for school and it was a completely different change of weather, if you could imagine. I was just excited to leave, I was excited to go, I was interested in exploring. And the first year at the school, I was a multicultural consultant. They gave me a beeper, they gave me a car. I was responsible for picking up other international students from the airport. All of this, all of this just started off right.
[00:04:00] Paula: That’s a lot
[00:04:03] Monique: It was fun, it was fun. So after my first year, I got pregnant with my eldest son and then I shifted to the public university St. Cloud state university. Because first of all, it was cheaper number one, and two, I just didn’t want to stay at the college of Saint Benedict. So I moved to St. Cloud state and I continued my studies. Studied broadcast journalism, both my undergrad degree and my graduate degree is all in the science of communications. Raising my son, being involved in the communities the affinity groups on campus that gave me life blogging in there. So that was my reason and my journey to actually leaving home.
[00:04:50] Paula: When you move here for school, as you said, it was a completely different experience. Did you get a lot of questions from people, like where are you from? Why do you have that accent? Tell us more about you? Can you speak English? Cause I got some questions like that.
[00:05:07] Monique: So listen. Okay, so on the college of Saint Ben’s no, because there was a long standing connection to the Bahamas and people really understood the connection there. So when I was on the college of St. Benedict, no, I didn’t have any questions around that. When I moved to St. Cloud state university, it was a different ball game because a lot of people they never actually left their city. Sometimes even the state. So they didn’t know, and what they had in their mind was just from what they either heard or saw on TV, or it was just very, very limited information. So I remember one time this guy asked me, what does it feel like to wear clothes? And I was like, okay. It’s really interesting you know. And I was just playing around and just really being silly with my response and telling him about how we just swing from trees, we don’t have cars. But truthfully, they just didn’t know, they didn’t have any background, they didn’t have any exposure. But that didn’t happen quite often because there were two groups on campus. One was the ASA,” African students association”, and I plugged in there. And then the other one was CAST “Council of African-American students. And I was one of the few that actually went to both meetings, both events, both, you know celebrations. Because it was just clear you know, a clear line on campus. Okay, ASA, if you’re African you go to ASA, “African students association”. If you’re African-American you go to council of African-American students. It just baffled me, like why was there a separate need for two groups. But I went to everything because as you can tell from my personality, I like to be in the know, I like to be in the mix. And I had friends in both groups, so it worked well for me.
[00:07:06] Paula: So as you oscillated between the two, I guess that kind of led you to start thinking about, what’s really the difference? Culturally, we know there’s a different, but as people were really more or less the same concerns. We want to do well, we want our families to do well. We want to do well in school. And when people see us the first thing they see is that we have black, until we open our mouth and then they’re like, okay, where are you from?
[00:07:37] Monique: Exactly, exactly. And you just made me realize something. Because my podcasts “bridge to you, understanding and black unity”, which started last year. Is something that is, if I really look at it, it’s just an extension of the conversations that I was having when I first came into the country. Because the podcast is all about diversity and inclusion among black cultures. I know diversity and inclusion is a topic that a lot of people focus on between races. But I’m not focused on racisim, I’m focused on ethnicity, I’m focused on diversity and inclusion among black cultures. Black American, black Caribbean, black African. And the truth is when I think about it back then there definitely was a whole lot of misunderstanding of the similarities and differences between each other and the hierarchies. Like you know, one group feeling that they’re superior, the other feeling that they’re not superior. One feeling that their troubles were more traumatic. The other feeling that you don’t know what type of trouble is, you know. The whole confusion, which is really, I am so glad that you brought that up because that made me just realize that this is something that has been a lifelong focus for me. It just manifested in the podcast last year.
[00:08:58] Paula: And that’s exactly why I brought it up. Because I was listening to some of your episodes and I’m like, I love what you’re doing Monique. You’re addressing a topic that doesn’t always get talked about that maybe talk about it in more private circles. But publicly we don’t always talk about it. And it’s something that we need to put out there and get the better and clearer understanding that yes, we really are the same people. We may be exposed to a little different things, but we are the same
[00:09:29] Monique: 100%.
[00:09:30] Paula: Yes, yes, yes. So we talked about you coming to the U S. But I read your bio and I realize that you started traveling very early in life, at eight years old.
[00:09:43] Monique: Yes, this is way before they had all these right restrictions and take your shoes off and kids can’t go this way and that way. And I started traveling by myself at eight, because I actually met my dad when I was eight years old. And that was the first time that I met him. And after that you know, it was easy to be placed on the plane to go and connect and traveling. Sometimes I would go in the summer and spend some time or I would go to visit other family members. And I don’t know, I was not afraid, I wasn’t nervous. I was so comfortable walking through the airport, looking for the gate number, asking questions. We just didn’t have that, maybe it’s a naivity. But we didn’t have that fear that something would go wrong or maybe I wouldn’t end up because I just felt very prepared for it. And I am a globe Trotter. I love traveling. My goal is 26 countries on the continent, and I love going all throughout the Caribbean and places that I’ve never been before. Because I think travel is a great way to open our perspective and our understanding of others. Like we just don’t live in a bubble or a box we’re all interconnected at the end of the day. So travel, exposing yourself to other cultures, exposing yourself to other environments is something I highly recommend when I’m working with clients, and just in general.
[00:11:17] Paula: I agree. I have always said to my children that travel, if you can do it is not a luxury. It’s really an educational tool for you to go into the world of other people and see how they live life. And see many times that they’re doing the same thing as you do, but just in a different way. But opens up your mind to be in a little bit more tolerant, and of course being a lot more aware of human beings.
[00:11:50] Monique: Exactly, that’s the best education. If I could go back, actually, that was one thing I said when I was in college that I missed. They have these packaged travel trips that you can go on and the rates are good. You go with the group, you can do all the excursions, et cetera, et cetera. And if I could go back and do it again, I would go on everything single trip the university offered. I wanted to go to Poland and I missed that because we were doing that in the journalism program. And I’m so glad that I went to South Africa. And that’s where I’m I met one of my best friends. I have such a deep connection and appreciation for South Africa. And I made sure that my son when he was in school, I was like, look, I don’t care whatever program travel they have, go go, go, go, go. He’s been to so many countries that I haven’t even been to, and it really opens his mind. I think, open it too much, but you know. I’m like Lord have mercy. You’re really global, your mind is really, really, really open. So, but it’s a great way to, like you said, that’s education.
[00:13:05] Paula: It is education, it’s education. So one day you and I are going to talk about all the countries we’ve been to and which ones we need to go to.
[00:13:14] Monique: For sure, for sure. I can’t wait.
[00:13:17] Paula: Looking and hearing, talking to you about your experience and coming to the US from the Bahamas, and having traveled different parts of the world. How would you say, or how can your journey inspire other immigrant women like you who are thinking of coming to the US?
[00:13:39] Monique: What it did for me, it just really gave me a perspective to appreciate not just where I was coming from, but to appreciate where I was going. So I think that is one of the biggest benefits. Right now I’m mentoring a couple of professional women from the Caribbean and also in Africa. And some have just recently within the last one to five years come into the U S. And what I hear as a very common thing is this view that they are inferior to the dominant culture here in the U S. And they don’t feel as though they fit in. It’s difficult to understand how to navigate successfully. They feel they have to change the way they are talking and all of the nuances. And I am encouraging them to think about it as being different, not something that is right or wrong, but something that’s different. And then when you are in a place where it’s not your home, not to have this view that one is better than the other, but it’s just different. So that’s the perspective that I encourage for people that I’m talking to. And if you have the opportunity to travel, do so. If you don’t google is free, youTube is free. Look on YouTube and search the places then follow you tubers and people who are content creators, who are putting out positive content. This is the key, positive content about a place. There is no lack or shortage of negative content about a country or a place. When I first came here, I knew the Bahamas had a good reputation. So when I say I was from The Bahamas, everybody whooo. The ones who knew about it, they were very pleased. And so I never said I was from Nigeria for a long time because Nigeria didn’t have a great reputation, but that was actually an internal thing for myself. I had to actually embrace all parts of me, which included embracing Nigeria. Good, bad and ugly. And I see this especially with a lot of people who are from different countries, who they don’t feel proud of, or their country has hurt them, or they feel ashamed of it, that they hide it. And in doing so they’re hiding a part of who they are and they don’t feel, I don’t want to use the word authentic, but I’m going to use the word. They don’t feel real, they feel they have to also wear two faces, wear a mask and be one way here, and then they can be themselves someplace else. And really that’s not the case. You can be your full self and you can have a successful transition or integration into the culture, but you have to fill your mind with positive images, positive music, positive stories about the place that you are living, or you are thinking of moving to.
[00:16:41] Paula: Couldn’t be better said, and love that Monique. And you talk about focusing on positive content because there’s so much negative content out there. And I agree with you, especially unfortunately about Nigeria. And what a lot of people don’t know is that in terms of immigrants in America, Nigerians are the best educated immigrants to the United States. That’s not put out there, but it needs to be put out there. As we say, Nigeria, Google is my friend. So if you Google it, you will find that Nigerians have the most degrees.
[00:17:28] Monique: Very, very much so.
[00:17:31] Paula: Education is, oh my gosh, which is good. And so they come here to better themselves get as many degrees as they can and make the children do the same thing.
[00:17:45] Monique: Exactly, you know. I mean there definitely there are things that are not positive that are true, that are true. And there are things that are positive that are hidden, right? So even people who are Nigerians, I would say, look find positive images about your own country. Cause a lot of times people will take a negative view about the place where they’re from. And I hear it no matter who it is. Oh, our people are not good, you don’t want to deal with a Nigerian. You don’t want to deal with a Bahamian. You don’t wanna deal with a Jamaican. You don’t want to deal with. Everybody. Loves to talk about how you don’t want to deal with your own people. And that’s a part of not fully embracing who you are because you are that. So if you don’t want to deal with your own people, you’re ultimately saying you don’t want to deal with me because you are that. So when I was growing up in The Bahamas, the one thing I will say, which is a positive now. My mom was very strict. She had spent time in the convent. I thought she was gonna be a nun, they thought she was going to be a nun. She didn’t. But that meant that I only had one to two hours of TV a week and I had to choose my show. There was a lot of things that I could not watch, but I was occupied into other extracurricular activities and things like that. I love to read I was in the debate club. I was an interact, I was volunteering even with rotary when I was younger. It was called interact right? Interact club. And so what that did for me is that it did not poison my mind negatively towards coming to the United States. Sometimes I would go over to my cousins because they had freedom and they could watch whatever they want. And so I could watch star search, I could watch all kinds of things. But what I realized is how media is transported to other countries. Had I been consuming all the negative things about the US, about black Americans. I probably would have been hesitant to even connect with the group when I went to college. But I was like hmm mm, like these my friends, like we connect and let’s go here, let’s do this. Like what is the beef all about? So I would say definitely the media exposure, the type of content now we are in digital media. So you could find these things, go on internet and find them and consume positive images.
[00:20:15] Paula: I love the word, positive. Positive content, positive images, they all there. Monique I’ve been speaking to you for 25 minutes. Is there any question that I haven’t asked you that you’d love me to ask?
[00:20:30] Monique: You know what I would love to talk about if it’s one thing that I could gift immigrant women that gift would be a powerful shift in the mindset. If I could give one gift to immigrant women, it would be that gift to really embrace, control, acknowledge, and nurture their mindset. Because once the mind is able to be open and nourish and embraced and accepted, then that dictates all the actions that you have. So if you think about it, like when we go to sleep. The truth of the matter is Paula, we don’t know if we’re going to wake up when we go to sleep, we don’t know. But the likelihood of that happening isn’t high so we don’t stress and worry because it’s not in our mind. We don’t lay down at night and say, oh I can’t close my eye if I close my eyes I’m not going to wake up. Oh, I can’t sleep, I can’t, let me put my eyes up. I can’t, I cannot go to sleep, you know? Cause I’m not gonna wake up. We don’t worry about it cause it’s not in our mind. And that influences our behavior. So we just get into bed we snuggle up under the cover and go to sleep. But if we are able to use that same focus and channeling, then when we don’t feel less than, and when we can embrace ourselves, and when we truly love ourselves. Self-like and self love is completely different. Then our behaviors are different, we’re not shrinking, we’re not being afraid to share our views. We’re not afraid to connect with other immigrant women and say, Hey, you know, let’s do something together, let’s build something together, let me help you out. If I could give one gift, that would be the gift.
[00:22:20] Paula: I absolutely love that Monique. Yes, self love and embracing other immigrant women so we can pull ourselves. And it may not even be pulling ourselves up, but embracing each other strength and supporting each other. Because you know, my strength, maybe your weakness, and of course your strength, maybe my weakness. But together we can grow and be a dominant and impactful force in the community that we find ourselves in. I love this.
[00:23:04] Monique: Thank you.
[00:23:06] Paula: And do you consider yourself a success Monique?
[00:23:09] Monique: 100%. 100%. Yes.
[00:23:14] Paula: I love this. Well, thank you Monique for being a guest on “Chatting with the experts”. It’s a show for immigrant women, but it’s a show to also showcase ourselves as immigrant women. Because as you can see, I’m definitely an immigrant, I’m reminded every day by my children. Laugh at some other things I say or do, or you see them look at each other and say, mommy or mother.
[00:23:48] Monique: That’s another thing. My kids call me mom, and you know, in the islands is mummy, you know?
[00:23:57] Paula: And I’m like, what is it? But then that’s all part of the fun.
[00:24:07] Monique: Indeed.
[00:24:08] Paula: So for my list, If you have enjoyed what you just heard from my guest, Monique Russell, please head over to Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts and click subscribe. And if you are an immigrant woman from Africa or the Caribbean and have found these stories interesting, please let us know in your review. And if you’d like to be a guest on my show, “Chatting with the experts”, please head over to “chattingwiththeexperts.com/ contact us” and let’s chat. Monique it’s been a pleasure.
[00:24:56] Monique: Likewise. Thank you for having me on the show, I really, really enjoy chatting it up with you.
[00:25:04] Paula: It’s mutual.