Excellence surpasses everything was a key lesson Suzan Hart learned from a very early age after being singled out by her teacher for her Trinidadian accent and bullied in school. She shares her journey to becoming a successful track, basketball and competitive bodybuilder, a highly skilled and sort after family, individual and group counsellor, with a specialty in crisis and mediation and one of the top 50 income earners in a Network Marketing firm.
Suzan, her mom and her sister migrated to Canada when Suzan was only 4 years old. As a result of those experiences, Suzan says:
“If you are good at something, it doesn’t matter the color, of your skin, or whatever it is, excellence surpasses everything. Excellence gets doors opens, excellence gives you access. And so, as long as I pursued excellence, there was access.”Suzan Hart
[00:00:00] Paula: Welcome to “Chatting With the Experts”, a podcast for immigrant women from Africa and the Caribbean, who have relocated to Canada or the United States and to the United Kingdom. In this podcast, we talk about the struggles, but we also highlight the triumphs that we have experienced. And we share resources and experiences that we feel our fellow immigrant sisters can benefit from. My guest today is my Caribbean sister, Suzan Hart, who lives and works in Canada. Typically I read a bio, but today I’m going to ask her to tell us, you – the listening audience and myself all about herself, like where did she do her formal education? What brought her to Canada in the first place? So Suzan, welcome to “Chatting With the Experts” and I’ll let you talk about yourself.
[00:00:52] Suzan: Thank you so much. I am so excited to be here. Oh my goodness! My story. Well, my story starts many years ago. My mother brought me to Canada when I was five years old and, and you know, like many Caribbean parents, when they immigrate to Canada, they come with an express purpose and my mother came with the need for us to get a better education and to improve our life opportunities. And so her job, her thought was we were going to go to school and get a great education and it would set us up for a better future. And so that’s what I understood we were there for. So went to school, I got, started that great education, but as you know, it is an adjustment. And so for me, I remember the, one of the first things I asked my mom was “where were all the people that looked like us?” Because we moved to a small town in the Eastern townships in Quebec hall, Lennoxville. And we were the first black family, I believe to move there. So my surroundings were white and my surroundings were rather interesting. And so for me, that was my first introduction to, oh, we’re no longer in Trinidad for sure. And so I connected, well, I had some playmates when I first started, but my first introduction to being different in Canada was my grade one experience. So, you know, when we arrived, We all have these beautiful sing song accents that come from the Caribbean. You know,
[00:02:20] Paula: Yes.
[00:02:20] Suzan: We kinda talk like this.
[00:02:22] Paula: Right!
[00:02:23] Suzan: So I went into school with my very west Indian accent and my grade one teacher one day invited me up to the front of the room to read, and I was already in school in Trinidad, so I pretty well could read. However, as I began to reach, she, I had an accent and she kept saying to me, “this is not how you pronounce the words here, Suzan.” And you can imagine my confusion because in my mind, this is how you pronounce the word. And when you have an accent, you don’t actually see it as an accent. You sound normal to you because this is how everybody where you grew up, where you live sounded. So that experience was my first experience with being different and because it wasn’t a pleasant one, I internalized that different meant I didn’t belong , different meant scary, different meant the possibility of not fitting in. And the teacher proceeded to bring me up in attempt to get me to lose this accent that was not going anywhere. Eventually it did, I think it did, out of my own nature, survive and connect. And you know, one of my regrets now, is that I have to work to pull out my accent because I’ve been so conditioned to eliminate it to fit in. And so that will, that’s one of my first memories that stayed with me as I integrated into Canada and the result was a little girl that wouldn’t speak in class, wouldn’t raise her hand in class, wouldn’t ask for help and really counted on my mom, my, my sister, and people I trusted to help me out. I don’t know how I did well in school, I actually failed grade one, but my mother being my mother, you know, you don’t mess with a determined Caribbean mama. She marched into school and said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but my daughter can read, my daughter’s home, she can read, she can write you are not keeping her back.” and so fail grade one got straight A’s in grade 2.
[00:04:16] Paula: That’s a Caribbean mama for you!
[00:04:18] Suzan: I’m so blessed that my mother knew something was up. And I think that was my first introduction to racism and bias and prejudice but because I was a young kid, I didn’t know what it was, I just knew for some reason my teacher didn’t like me, for some reason, my teacher was singling me out. And as a result, I ended up being kept after school kept, you know, during lunch ,being sent to lunch with the big kids, being bullied by kids. So my first year was, first few years were challenging. And then I think it was when I got into an older grade I remember I stepped onto the track and found out I was really fast. I stepped on to a gymnastics mat and learned that I was very flexible, I’m very strong, I could do flips, all sorts of things. So I found out that I was very athletic as was my sister and that was what resulted in the end of the bullying and picking on me and so on and so forth. And you know, it’s interesting because I’m friends with a lot of the kids that were those people and they don’t remember it. And in many ways, I remember it as a story, but I don’t remember it as a predominant experience, which is fascinating.
[00:05:33] Paula: It is.
[00:05:34] Suzan: But this is the thing I learned, and this is, I carry this with me. Is one of the things I began to understand as a result of those experiences, Paula, was that if you get really good at something, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, or your, whatever it is, excellence surpasses everything. Excellence gets doors opens, excellence gives you access. And so, as long as I pursued excellence, there was access. So I went on to graduate high school, graduate college. I’m a graduate from Concordia university. My background is in applied social, which is like a combination of sociology, psychology and counseling. And so I have this trifecta degree with a expertise in group work as well. And then went, started in child protection, when I lived in Montreal, I did a lot of work with the black community through child protection. And then moved into women’s services when I moved to Toronto, so manage a women’s shelter, a women’s dropping. And then finally, when I’d had enough of the stress that comes with social services, I respect anybody who makes it a career because it is a challenge. From there I went into network marketing, has spent 18 years in network marketing. And about probably six years ago, I started my own business, which is a speaking and training business. And here I am today. And along that journey, so many lessons, so many, you know, both pitfalls, challenges and opportunities that come out of those. So that’s a little bit about Suzan. That’s a window.
[00:07:13] Paula: That’s a little bit, but still a lot. I saw, you know, the progression from that young girl who stepped off the plane, confused, to going to a school. You know, first grade being so hard and so difficult and trying to fit in to this composed young, still young, composed young lady in front of me today who has had so much success, but through it, a lot of experiences. There’s something you said, but the two things you said that jumped out at me. One is that, you know, excellence surpasses everything that once you excel at something then the color of your skin, your accent, everything about you disappears and your excellence is what stands out. I really love that. I would have asked you to expand on it if I didn’t have the next question, which was your applied social, applied social sciences degree, do you think that was influenced by what happened in the past, you know, the experiences you had trying to assimilate into the Canadian culture, by any chance?
[00:08:20] Suzan: You know, it’s interesting because I was one of those children who, if you asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up, I, my mother was a dancer and I’m in my mind, I wanted to dance, in my mother’s mind she was having nothing with that. So, so she, my mother would tell me, you get a degree and then you can dance all you want. Well, you know, that equation by the time, I finished getting a degree, I was too old to dance and that might be in my mind. So someone I, as I went through school, the only thing I knew was I liked working with people. I liked being with people. So I’ll tell you, when I looked at my degree, I looked at a degree. I went into social services really to just get a sense of what it would be like to work with people. So when I was in college, which is in Canada, we do college then university, if you live in Eastern Canada in Quebec. So when I was in college, I really explored psychology philosophy, sociology, and really got interested in how the mind works. How, what makes people tick? What makes communities tick? That sort of thing. So when I chose my applied social, I really chose it because that was the focus, not really clear what I was going to do with it, but I also chose it because Concordia was one of those schools, that program had a lot of practical work and I’m someone who learns by experience. I’m someone who learns by doing, I’m someone who learns by figuring it out and I saw an opportunity to have experiences rather than sitting in a classroom and memorize theory and memorize these things, it was like do and write up about it, go run a group and assess it. And that spoke to me. And the more I live through my degree was the more I got clear on an idea of what I wanted to do. And even when I got my first job, so, you know, when I sat at my first interview, still no clue, really what I wanted to do, but I needed a job and I remember sitting in an interview for a social service position, it with a, not a foster home, but a place for care for delinquent children. And I remember getting a phone call saying, you’re going to be offered this position, but please come interview for this other position first. And the other position happened to be in the black community and it was a pilot project looking at the over-representation of black youth in care. At that position and I was done, it was my exposure into my own history for the first time. Because you know, we know our personal history, but we don’t know African history, African studies. And so it was an exposure into African studies, African history with a study exposure into urban studies, which is the migration of people who settle in Canada and how, where they’re allowed to live impacts their opportunities. How people get displaced because of their race, culture, ethnicity, economic situation. And that opened my eyes and got me into anti-oppression, anti-racism work, cultural competency, diversity and equity. And once I got in there, it was like, I found a place that I believed I was supposed to be. And so it wasn’t knowing what I want, I think I, I kind of meandered and figured it out and hit this place, where I ended up hanging out for a while, ended up doing child protection. And after eight years in child protection, realizing this may not be it then going into women’s services. And after a number of years in women’s services, and I did mainly management in women’s services, still kind of going, “this may not be it” and getting into network marketing because I just wanted a break. And learned business and sales and building teams. And then I think it was somewhere in there that I figured out the bridging of the two was where I was supposed to live, where I was supposed to hang out. So I kind of bring the mindset that you learn in social services, the mindset of how the mind works, to the business world, to people who are attempting to advance themselves, but they’re not clear on where they’re stuck and learning that often we are in the way of our own success. You know, when people say, “get out of your own way,” well, it’s a great cliche, but what exactly does it mean? And it’s the conditioning of our past experiences or our beliefs about who we are in the world that often sit right in where we want to go. And until we shift our identity or transform our identity into who we’re required to be or become in order to create the success we desire, we kind of hit this wall. And I help people discover who they’re required to become and what transformation or awareness do they have to step into to make that happen. And that’s just a combination of all this journey and I, so I’m only figuring it out now, Paula.
[00:13:31] Paula: But, but one of the things that we sometimes don’t realize is that when we start figuring it out is because we’ve walked those roads, you know, or we’ve walked alongside people who have walked that road. And as you walk alongside, or you, soon as you walk that road, you start saying, “okay. Check, don’t want to do this, done this, no.” but the experiences that you bring to the table and not theoretical, the live, these are experiences that you’ve had. And that shows in your communication, that shows in your passion, that shows in your drive so that I know that when you coach or when you meet people and you’re telling them, you know, about, you mentioned the blocks sometimes that we have to success is sitting right in front of us. You’re talking from experience, you’re talking and it comes through as authentic, it comes through as genuine and people now will be able to walk with you because they know you have walked that path.
[00:14:26] Suzan: Absolutely.
[00:14:27] Paula: You know.
[00:14:27] Suzan: I, you know, whenever someone sits with me, I say I was my first client. And I think whenever, you know, when I speak to coaches and consultants and people who are crafting their own place in the marketplace, I go, the first client you have is you and the first place you test your product or service is on you. And so my products and service are just an evolution of Suzan’s self-discovery, Suzan’s journey to success and how I got past all the roadblocks and ways that I was in my own way. You know, being a woman of, you know, Caribbean descent, being a black woman, there’s a whole internalization of internalized racism, internalized all these different things that we are each required to unpack and explore in order to step into our own unique brilliance, to really maximize our gifts and talents, and also to step into this place of genuine, authentic self love and self respect. Because we live in a world, unfortunately a society, where we are not the pinnacle of beauty, we are not the pinnacle of success, we are not the, we’re not the example of all these things. So in the absence of that, we have to look within, or we have to look for models and trust that. And so it’s an, it’s a journey for us to create and cultivate those successes that we were looking for.
[00:16:03] Paula: I agree with you 100%. And as you said, rightfully, since we are not the pinnacle of success or beauty, or there’s a conversation I’ve even had with the younger generation to say, we need to change the negative connotation that’s associated with the word black, you know, why is” black hearted” or “it was a dark day”. Oh, you know, nothing good is associated with black or not too many things that are associated with that black. And I tell them, It’s not too late to start changing that. It’s not too late to start saying, you know, black is beautiful. I mean it, I mean, let’s change all those words, “black hearted, black cat, black day” you know. We need to start.
[00:16:47] Suzan: It’s really looking at those meanings. You know, one of the things that I often, language is something that’s very powerful for me. And I’m very mindful or curious about the language we use. And as you’re saying, you know, oftentimes anything that is black is associated with negative, anything that is white is associated with positive excellence, and all these things. And so really understanding that we do internalize that. And I remember when I made the decision to wear my hair natural, I made the decision to fall in love with my blackness and my, and the beauty of it and the regalness of it. And to embody, you know, just who I be in the world. And I remember cause I, for a number of years, I wore locks because I just love them. And I remember the pushback people gave me even my own people about my professionalism, about my ability to get a job, about my ability to show up as society expected me to. And that was a journey of self exploration and self-acceptance, and being able to demonstrate to many people that I am, I am beautiful in my blackness.
[00:18:04] Paula: Exactly!
[00:18:04] Suzan: And I am beautiful with my kinky, electric self-expressive hair and my glowing black skin and everything about me that makes me a black woman. That was a journey to self-acceptance that I think we are all required to go. And I connect that back to success because no matter where I go, I take me with me.
[00:18:30] Paula: Right.
[00:18:30] Suzan: And I take the essence of me, and I take who I believe myself to be, how strong and talented and brilliant I believe myself to be. Well in order to really embrace that, I’m always in a battle, if you will, or defiance of what society says, I’m supposed to be. It’s a constant for us.
[00:18:49] Paula: It is. And it’s going to take time, but I mean, I think we are moving towards that. I didn’t know that in my lifetime, I would see natural hair being accepted in, you know, in the professional space. And I say to my young people again, because I’m surrounded by some wonderful young people, that I credit our generation for taking black hair and making it, you know, “this is who we are”, you know, we can’t change it. We can’t change it. And so it thrills my heart when I see young girls, I’m more seasoned, I like to say, young and not so young women of color wearing their hair naturally. I mean, I don’t primarily, because I’ve never been good at hair and so I just do the thing that is easiest for me and this works for me. But for everyone else, I celebrate alongside with them, their accepting of the hair that we were born with. You know, it’s beautiful.
[00:19:51] Suzan: It is, it is beautiful. And I think it, it is, you know, I think success is truly a journey and success will have you meet yourself over and over again. You know, every level of success I’ve experienced is almost an exposure of who I thought I was and who I’m required to become. And it’s this constant state of transformation that is truly beautiful and unique for who we are as black women, as Caribbean women. There’s unique layers, I go with that.
[00:20:27] Paula: Yes. Yes. Yes. I totally embrace that. And I embrace that even more because I am of African. My dad’s Nigerian and Caribbean, my mom’s from Grenada descent and so I’ve embraced both cultures and, you know, it’s been beautiful. I’ve had my struggles, but at the end, you know, what it represents and knowing the richness of the culture, you know, I’m proud to be me. Yeah. Yeah. I am proud to be me.
[00:20:53] Suzan: And what you’re saying is so key. I think it’s knowing and understanding the richness of our culture, knowing and understanding the richness of our history and really embracing it. And I, you know, when I got that first job, I got the privilege of being supervised by three, four black professionals and who gets that blessing. Once a week, Friday mornings for, it seemed like forever, three to four hours and they would mentor and pour into me. One was a black male that did urban studies. One was a black male who did African studies. One was a social worker who had a very afro-centric view of social service and social work. And one was a child protection worker .And I got to basically present, present my work to them and sit at their feet every day and learn about my own history. And all of them were from the Caribbean.
[00:21:53] Paula: Awesome.
[00:21:54] Suzan: Actually, one was Canadian born, but family, from parents from the Caribbean. But every single one of them was of Caribbean descent. Barbados, Jamaica, different parts of the Caribbean. And so, but so schooled in understanding who we be in the world. I will say that their pouring into me, gave me a foundation that I took, I take everywhere. And I tell people, you know, when your roots are of who you be and your ancestry and your history is solid, you’re like that Palm tree, you know. I can bend, I can breathe, I can move with whatever’s going on, but you can’t break me because I know where I come from. And that pouring in was the define, the definer for me. I have built on that foundation that they provided for me. And I always remember Sheree Elder was one of my supervisors, and she said,” do you know, black and African history?” And I looked at her like” what?” Yeah, cause you know, if you’ve had any education in the Canadian system, you know, the, I remember the line “black people were slaves.” How embarrassing and disempowering is that? And that was my understanding. And they proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t have a solid foundation in my own history, I could not effectively help other families. And I was like, wow. And really the big part of it was if I didn’t know what I couldn’t effectively help.
[00:23:31] Paula: That’s so true. That is something that we sometimes forget. And I say, it’s like, when you’re on the plane, they say, put on, if you have children put on your face, you know, face mask first, and then you can help your children because if you are not okay, they won’t be okay. And you’re so right. If you didn’t, if you want to acquaint yourself and confident in yourself, then how could you teach others or influence others and, you know, bring them up to that place of excellence that you spoke about if you didn’t feel it within yourself.
[00:24:01] Suzan: Absolutely. Absolutely. And also understanding that excellence was available to me. You know, just to define excellence a little bit, to put everyone that’s listening on the same page,as we continue, this conversation – is, excellence in my book is making today’s best better, and always going into the world and asking myself, how do I make today’s best better? Because you know, it’s interesting because as black people, black women, we are often told we have to work twice as hard as everybody else to just get a little bit of success. And I want to challenge that because truly twice as hard as everyone else is still, for many people is still average because a marker often is average and it doesn’t challenge my ability to be my best self. And so I learned, you know, that I don’t compete or I don’t compare myself with the, with other people. They might be an indicator of what’s possible for me. But what I’m really looking at is if this is my best today, how can I make this person this way of being better tomorrow? How do I make that better next year? So anyone who knows me knows I set a hundred goals every year in 10 categories, and I go after them. And I probably accomplished 60 to 70% of them. And then the next year I write another a hundred goals and it’s really my pursuit of excellence, finding my best self, living my best life, creating the best opportunities and ensuring that I’m always growing because in my mind, if I’m not growing, I am not standing still, I am literally sliding backwards. And so excellence is just the pursuit of who am I created to be. If I were to really take it on in a real way, there’s no limit to that.
[00:26:05] Paula: I love it. I love it. Well, this conversation could go on for another 20 minutes if we weren’t limited with time, but before we go, I want to ask you to talk to other immigrant women like yourself and say, I mean, we’ve got so much nuggets of excellent conversation of tips from you, but are there any other things that you would like to encourage and inspire other immigrant women like yourself, like me, who have left their country for whatever reason and you know, migrated or have been brought to the US or the UK or Canada? Anything else?
[00:26:49] Suzan: Absolutely. I think the thing I would leave with any immigrant woman is, you know, we all were, if you chose to go somewhere, there’s something in you that says, this is the place you’re supposed to be. If you were brought, wherever you are, consider that this is the place you are supposed to be. I also believe that everything you and I need to be successful is in us. It is already there. And that every challenge, every difficulty we go through is if we look at it as an opportunity, It will birth the next best version of us. Now, even when I reflect back at my moment in grade one, it birth the next best version of this young girl who ended up coming out of elementary school, quiet, but a fighter, like you, like I’m going to get it. And so everything that happens is going to bring out something in you that you probably didn’t know exists. So it’s not some what, why did this happen to me? It is what do I, who do I become given that this is the moment I’m faced with and trust that whatever you desire when you lock in and focus on it, it’s yours. It truly is. It’s yours. Now the timeline may not be the one you expected, but the timeline is only determined by what you’re required to learn and who you’re required to become to hold the vision that you set for yourself. That’s really what sets the timeline. It’s already yours.
[00:28:37] Paula: Folks, I told you that Suzan was going to be great and she is. She has, and she will after this, continue to inspire so many more because of what she said, the journey that she’s gone through and that all of us are going through. One thing that has jumped out at me, out of many, that she said is that every opportunity is an opportunity, capitalize on it. You know, it doesn’t matter how long it’s gonna take or it’s taken you or you think it’s taken you, but every, savor every moment, because there’s something that you can get from it.
[00:29:17] Suzan: Absolutely.
[00:29:19] Paula: Where can we find you online, Susan? With all what you’ve told us, I know that there’s some people who will, would love find out more about you.
[00:29:28] Suzan: Right. You can find me, my website is Suzanhart.com, SUZANHART.COM. I’m on most social media platforms as Suzan Hart or Suzan.Hart. And so you can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, youTube, Instagram, I kind of hang out a little bit everywhere.
[00:29:51] Paula: Suzan, you’ve just been wonderful. For my listeners, if you have enjoyed what you just heard from Suzan please head over to apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else where you may listen to podcasts and click subscribe. And if you’re an immigrant woman from Africa or from the Caribbean and you have found what she said to be as inspiring as it has inspired me, please let us know in your reviews. And if you’d like to be a guest on my show, “chatting with the experts” just head over to my website, chattingwiththeexperts.com/. Contact us to apply. I enjoy all my guests and Susan hasn’t disappointed me in the least, I’ve enjoyed that conversation.
[00:30:40] Suzan: Thank you.
Suzan and I decided to do a short video before we recorded the podcast