From 1998 to 2004, I was a war correspondent in Colombia. I covered drug trafficking and terrorism. It was as unstable and eye-opening as it sounds. In April of 2003, I was kidnapped by the FARC guerillas. I was on my way to cover the aftermath of an attack because earlier that day, the FARC launched several-cylinder bombs against the village of Puli creating unimaginable destruction. The internal dialogue in my head was something between stay calm, get the story, and your life is over. The dialogue of the men that kidnapped me was, and I quote directly, “we are going to stitch you with bullets.”
Through a series of miraculous events, I was released peacefully from the situation. I was shaken, my nerves shot, and my hope in humanity diminished. Yet, I carried on as a war reporter, because I wanted to make sure the world knew what was happening. I also had a son, bills to pay, and a living to make for my family. So, I proceeded. Until 2004, when Mono Jojoy, who, at the time, was one of the most brutal FARC leaders, revealed a list of reporters. This list identified reporters whom he accused of being spies or helpers of paramilitary groups. My name was there. I knew, with one glance, this was the end of my career as a war reporter. This was the end of my time living in Colombia. My safety disappeared the moment my name appeared. I left my country behind. I left my job behind. I left my life behind. It was time for a re-invention.
Migrating to the United States has been quite an adventure, one that I am truly grateful to have lived. I arrived in 2004. I did not speak English and I did not know how long I would stay. But like so many immigrants that arrive in New York City, I found a second chance with my first job in the Big Apple working at the Colombian Consulate. In this role, I reinvented myself as a diplomat and cultural ambassador and developed skills in the world of public relations, arts, and culture. I would go on to write for several international publications, offer consulting services to many amazing companies, and ultimately start my own PR and Communications Agency, iVoice Communications. I created the agency to stay true to my essence of bringing honest and important information to my audiences. In Colombia, it was around war crimes, corruption, and inequality. In New York City, it’s about bringing the Hispanic community knowledge about the products, services, and ideas that are available to them in the hopes of improving their quality of life. We service clients that are creating things to improve the lives of Latinos around the world and help them get their message out there in fresh and exciting ways. We have serviced a number of clients, and we are most proud to represent NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization that services New York City.
One year ago, I was again forced to re-invent. Like most businesses and brands in America, COVID-19 impacted our day-to-day business and personal relationships. Once again, I, like so many of us, was “caught in the storm.” But I knew what to do. I would not wish my experiences of violence and kidnapping on anyone, but they did make me stronger. I was able to make important decisions for my business and my clients under pressure, without losing my cool. I was able to read body language and non-verbal cues from my clients and employees in a virtual new world, and then talk them through these emotions. And I was able to re-invent myself, our campaigns, and our company knowing that like every other moment of my life, regardless of the degree of adversity at the moment, it is all going to be ok.
When I left Colombia, I was nervous and uncertain about many things in my future. I imagine many of us feel the same about this global pandemic. But take it from a retired war journalist turned entrepreneur, better things await us. I did not think New York City would become home and I’d build a business. It is, and I did. And every day, I wake up grateful to be a part of this magical city and work with amazing leaders and companies from all over the world.
Take a deep breath, create a plan, stay focused and trust that you are more powerful than you will ever know. Because you are. We are. And we are going to make it out of this thing, together – stronger and more united than ever before.