By Victor Ochieng
Shelley Worrell founded CariBEING, a non-profit cultural space that celebrates the Caribbean heritage, after she left her work as a Google Executive.
Her first step was the purchase of a shipping container, which cost her $2,000. She then had the container customized to provide the feel she wanted, raising the cost to somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000, transforming it into an admirable piece of real estate in the swiftly gentrifying Flatbush, Brooklyn neighborhood.
The space isn’t a shop where people walk in to purchase artwork or things Caribbean, but more of a small mobile museum, as Worrell puts it. Utilizing that small space, she gives her visitors a true feel of the Caribbean. The customization was meticulously done that every element of the space, including the windows and artwork, mimic the breezy feel that’s reminiscent of a Caribbean beachside bar. The plywood and its one-of-a-kind floors are made of oak and were specifically designed and fitted by an interior architect, while its rainforest wallpaper was fitted by an artist. The container sports a falling door, a concept that was the brainchild of a Berlin, Germany-based architecture.
Her choice of location complements her purpose. She says, “By us even being in this courtyard with a vendor selling coconut and sugar canes, as well as another vendor who’s selling Caribbean flags, it really adds to the whole ambiance and experience.”
Worrell has blended her creativity, business strategy and her Google work ethic to make CaribBEING a go-to destination in Brooklyn for the Caribbean feel. She’s made it a venture that complements her lifestyle and desire to have a continuous link with her Trinidadian roots, while also maintaining a close contact with her own family.
Starting by creating her own space worked pretty well for her. “To have your own, owned and operated space where you don’t have to wait for someone to invite you to an exhibition or a program [means] you can have a program on demand,” Worrell says.
She isn’t trying to create something out of her own imagination. As such, she isn’t fitting the space with dreadlock photos, only using things that are authentic to the Caribbean culture. “We have a very significant culture and piece to contribute to that conversation. I think that, at CaribBEING, we’re curators or stewards of that. One of the things we try to do is give voice to our culture in an authentic and meaningful way,” says the CaribBEING CEO.
Worrell isn’t just going to remain satisfied with that one location. She’d determined to see CaribBEING go global, while also making the Caribbean culture part of global speak. Towards that end, she’s already tactfully using words like “Caribpolitan” and “afropolitan.” She explains that a Caribpolitan is a person born from Caribbean parents, a first generation, with a strong Caribbean experience that covers everything from food, traditions, and a Caribbean home feeling. However, the twist to that is that a Caribpolitant “also couple that with going out in the world and into these large cities, such as New York, Paris, Miami, Toronto and Montreal. We feel like that is a very unique identity, because we have that city flavor that is also mixed with the Caribbean.” Good examples of Caribpolitans, based on her explanation, are Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, the music icons who’ve given the Caribbean culture some global influence.
Worrell seeks to establish strong and strategic partnerships to build an idea with a lasting impact.