Breathe. — There will be days that things are just swirling around, good or bad, whatever it may be. Remember to take a breath, everything will come into place.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carylee Carrington.
Carylee Carrington is a passionate literacy advocate, children’s book author, and host of the literary streaming show Read With Carylee. Her books, Everyone, Just Like Me (Archway Publishing, 2018) and Pretty Hair (Archway Publishing, 2019), help children learn to embrace and celebrate differences and create a kinder future. As a devoted advocate for the arts, Carylee serves as a board member on The Prince William County Arts Council and Reading Is Fundamental Northern Virginia Chapter, and has presented at schools along the East Coast. Her interactive children’s literary show, Read With Carylee, is available on YouTube, SoulVisionTV, and via her podcast, and introduces children to authors from diverse backgrounds, allowing the authors to read their books aloud in their own voice. Carylee is living her dream of bringing unique stories and authors to children around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am originally from the island of Jamaica. I come from a moderately strict, religious household, the last of three girls. I was always the wildcard, the one who would take risks and take the not so conventional path. My mother, Dr. Norma McPherson, a life-long educator and literacy coach for the New York City Department of Education, always encouraged literacy and education in my life. From a young age I began writing, publishing a variety of poems, writing drama shorts, plays, and more recently, two children’s books.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” like so many is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I live by this mantra and hope that when I leave people’s presence, I have had an impact on them that helps them feel good. This also goes along with how I do my show, Read With Carylee. I want my guests and my audience to leave with a great feeling.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am a follower of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The principles of following a path that would give you a greater vision and meaning to life and the art of manifestation, were key for me. As I followed those principles I began to see its effect on different aspects of my life. Since the movie came out in 2008, it has had a huge impact on me. I have a copy of the movie, the book, and I follow the presenters who appeared in the movie; it has truly changed my life in so many ways. I have even used these principles from the book to create my vision for Read With Carylee. Another principle The Secret discusses is the idea of allowing yourself to “dream.” Through this journey of developing Read With Carylee, I gave myself permission to dream and my dreams are literally coming true.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic I wrote two children’s books about accepting differences and creating a kinder future, sparked by an unexpected, inappropriate remark my oldest son received on the school playground in 2017. My first book Everyone, Just Like Me and my second book, Pretty Hair, both address how children should embrace their unique differences and build a kinder community and world. In Fall 2019 I launched my own children’s literary show, filmed live with a studio audience of children and featuring local guest authors inside Jirani Coffeehouse in Manassas, VA. Initially, I exclusively featured authors who lived in the greater Washington, DC area, including authors from Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Filming live involved the authors traveling to the taping and more logistics on my end.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
The pandemic was a force. Once the pandemic began, I could no longer film live in studio with an audience. There were state restrictions and CDC guidelines that prevented me from continuing live taping, plus the fact that I am uncompromising.
I pivoted to remotely recording the show and author interviews via Zoom, sparking the opportunity for me to widen my scope and feature diverse children’s book authors from around the country and even across the globe. I have been contacted by children’s book authors all across the country and international authors as far away as Australia. I had to learn how to be my own technician and handle all aspects of recording, but I’ve been so amazed to have my passion project and business make the global impact that it has, particularly during uncertain times when many children were unable to access books at the library or school.
During this pandemic I also launched a new virtual literary slumber party event during National Young Readers Week. My plan is to continue to create innovative and exciting programs, events, and offerings for young readers to connect with exciting, diverse stories from modern-day authors while broadening their literary horizons.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
My “Aha” moment was prompted by my son. I couldn’t find a book that was on the market that would teach him the lesson that he needed about embracing differences, at the time. Now I seek out other authors that may have lessons to teach our children today. Children have so many different experiences that they need to try to navigate and some classic literature is no longer relatable, proving difficult to resonate with modern times and issues our children face today. I want to make sure that our children have the literary resources that they need, and that new authors have a platform to share their work and message.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Things have been amazing. I get to connect with so many new authors who are so appreciative of what I am doing. I want to give them all a chance to rise and for our children to learn more, stretch and grow their imaginations.
Social media has been a big part of my growth. Gaining thousands of followers on Instagram and on Facebook has helped me build upon the work that I am doing and connect with more authors. The support has been phenomenal.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I definitely would have to say that my mother was a huge influence on the work I am doing now and the one who motivated me to get to where I am now. She always envisioned and encouraged me to publish the work that I wrote and she was a driving force in both my passion for children’s literature and my desire to make a positive impact in our youth. With her passing in late March 2020 from metastatic breast cancer, I have found a new drive to continue on as a part of her legacy, enriching children’s lives and broadening their literary horizons during this pandemic and into the future.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The most interesting thing about this journey is having authors from around the world reach out to me. I began this journey in my local community and tried to interview and connect with authors from the tri-state area and Washington, DC. It has been an amazing turn that this pandemic has offered me.
Before the pandemic, I had only envisioned doing 26 episodes for the year. Once I started doing the show via Zoom, I just continued and to date I have done almost 60 episodes. I had so many authors reach out to me since location was no longer an issue. One of my first international authors was Elisavet Arkolaki from Norway. We had to do our best to coordinate a time that worked for both of us, considering the time zones, but it worked wonderfully and gave me the confidence to reach out to more international authors.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Some things that I wish someone had told me before I started this venture:
1. Don’t take it personally.
When you work with people, sometimes it is simply a working relationship. When the work ends, the relationship may end and that is okay.
2. Respect your work.
Being humble doesn’t mean you need to downplay the hard work you’re doing.
3. You can’t take everyone with you.
While you’re building a business, it’s not the time to carry everyone. It’s okay to do the things you need to do, then come back for those you want by your side.
4. When it’s your passion, it will be evident and that is what attracts the resources and people you need to you.
There will be days that things are just swirling around, good or bad, whatever it may be. Remember to take a breath, everything will come into place.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I am someone who has suffered from anxiety and this new journey has been a part of controlling that, but yes there are days that things might be overwhelming. I have taken to starting my day early and giving myself two hours to pray, meditate, write in my gratitude journal and exercise. Especially as a newly single mother, who works full-time and am distance learning with my children, this is essential. I have to take that extra time for myself in order to get that balance to be the best mother to my children and continue on with my vision for my show and literacy advocacy. Self care is key to controlling any anxiety that may come my way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Besides my current mission to increase children’s literacy and create a kinder and more accepting next generation, I would love to inspire a movement that empowers women and especially single moms. Even before I became a single mom, I wanted to find some way to help single moms who were trying to do their best to create stability for themselves and their children. I think this is an area that many organizations don’t seek to empower. They are most times the most stressed sect in our society and most people don’t look at that until they are forced to be in that position.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I have two celebrities who would be amazing to lunch with and meet in person. First, I would love to be able to sit down with LeVar Burton, as he has been such an inspiration in my life and definitely Reading Rainbow was a big influence on the start of my own literary show. The other person I’d love to meet would be Debbie Allen. She personifies the type of person I would like to be. She is an entertainer, an innovator, dancer, actor, director, producer and philanthropist. Her work has been so awe inspiring. I have followed her work since I was young. She seems so down to earth and the type of person who would just take you under her wing and mentor you. I wish I lived in California, so that I could have been able to audition for her dance school.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @readwithcarylee
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!