Shelley Worrell is the founder and CEO of ‘I AM CARIBBEING,’ a company that literally defined and spearheaded the development of Little Caribbean in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
The term Caribbeing, said Worrell, was constructed from ‘Caribbean’ and ‘being’ which means the nature or essence of a person. It means a 21st century person born in and/or of descent from the Caribbean, an adventure-seeker with a strong desire to travel and explore the Caribbean, and an authentic Caribbean brand.
Worrell, a Flatbush native, was born to Trinidadian parents who made the move to the States in the 1960s and ’70s. Her father is Afro-Caribbean and her mother is Indo-Caribbean.
“Before even realizing it I was really immersed in my culture and heritage, and it didn’t occur to me where I was growing up until we moved to South Jersey where there wasn’t any Caribbean culture,” said Worrell. “That’s when I suddenly realized that when I lived there I felt this tremendous void. Because I didn’t feel represented there. No one understood what it meant to be of Caribbean descent. They thought that I was trying to deny my Blackness.”
Worrell said that the Black immigrant and Caribbean experience was unique. So much so that she studied anthropology with a focus on Caribbean studies as an undergrad. She went on to study hospitality and tourism in graduate school. Worrell later switched to a career in media and tech.
Since 2018, Worrell has served as the head of Community Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Commerce and formerly held leadership roles in Strategic Partnerships and Global Business Development at Google and A+E Television Networks.
Worrell said the idea that sparked Caribbeing into life was initially a film festival held in Flatbush in 2010. “We started off as the Flatbush Film Festival,” said Worrell. “It was a huge flop.”
However, after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti that same year, Worrell screened the documentary about relief efforts on the island. The doc was a huge success and the programming took off from there, said Worrell. “We added art, music, performance, food, and from there the organization just grew into what it is today,” said Worrell.
Worrell said she’s incredibly proud of the movement she started to brand Little Caribbean with such a distinct identity and style that has transcended just Flatbush. Their merchandise is available internationally and programming has a global reach. “Our work is really about celebrating Caribbean culture, community, and commerce,” said Worrell.
I AM CARIBBEING’s June programming plans to celebrate National Caribbean-American Heritage Month in Prospect Park. On June 28, 30, and throughout the summer, there will be displays in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens scheduled as well!
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w