caribBEING Founder Shelley Vidia Worrell on Elevating the Caribbean Community

Shelley Vidia Worrell, Founder & CEO of caribBEING, shares more about the journey of founding her business and the importance of wellness in Caribbean life.

caribBEING Founder Shelley Vidia Worrell on Elevating the Caribbean Community

Words by The Sill

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Shelley Vidia Worrell, Founder & CEO of caribBEING, shares more about the journey of founding her business and the importance of wellness in Caribbean life.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I am the Founder + CEO of caribBEING, a thriving cultural venture that sits at the intersection of culture x community x commerce. I am also a lifelong resident of Brooklyn and since moving to one of the Greenest Blocks in Brooklyn, I maintain two gardens, quite a few houseplants and I also love to cook. I quit my job in Global Business Development and Strategic Partnerships at Google when my father became ill and saw that as a perfect moment to immerse myself in building caribBEING, which started off as an experiment in building community through Caribbean culture + art + film.  

I typically start my mornings with lemon water, celery juice, an oat milk latte with a splash of Angostura bitters and am a huge advocate for rest, I sleep eight hours a day. 

What is caribBEING and what inspired you to bring it to life?

I grew up between the Caribbean and New York City, home to one of the largest most diverse Caribbean communities in the world, so the Caribbean has always enveloped me. I studied Cultural Anthropology and Caribbean Studies so I had been contemplating Caribbeaness since I was in undergraduate school if not sooner.  In 2010 one of my classmates reached out and reminded me of all of our exchanges especially those during an archaeological field school circa 2000 at Betty’s Hope, a former sugar plantation in Antigua.  

At the time there was a deficit of culturally-relevant platforms, events with the exceptions of Carnivals, fetes (epic Caribbean parties) and merchandise (or goods) on the market, this is when caribBEING was launched. More specifically, our first activation was the Flatbush Film Festival, the first festival dedicated to Caribbean cinema in New York City at the Flatbush Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. As a lover of the arts, we continued to iterate adding culture, art, music, dance and food. A couple years later we started producing custom apparel to wear at community events with our tag @iamcaribbeing and people tried to buy it off us, that is how @shopcaribbeing was born. 

What kind of community events and activations has caribBEING led?

To date, we’ve produced 250+ activations or events reaching over 250k IRL participants and millions of impressions ranging from Walking Tours of Little Caribbean (in Flatbush Brooklyn), Target First Saturdays at Brooklyn Museum, bespoke dinners with the James Beard Foundation, Caribbean-themed Holiday Markets, Pop-Up Carnivals, virtual wellness classes at Prospect Park, panel discussions with Caribbean thought leaders, annual Caribbean-American Icon campaign in partnership with Link NYC and the caribBEING House, an upcycled shipping container that brings culturally relevant art exhibits, pop-up shops, film screenings, book readings, and more to neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Two vendors working together

Would you be able to share more about the Brooklyn makers caribBEING supports? How did you get connected and get to know these makers and businesses?

For some time now I have been a collector of Caribbean art as well as Brooklyn memorabilia such as maps, signs, books, textiles and buttons but again we saw a huge gap of Flatbush or Caribbean Brooklyn represented, so not only did we seek to create merchandise through the lens of equity and inclusion but also to showcase local artisans of Caribbean descent who were also creating beautiful things such as candles, jewelry, spices, pepper sauce, teas and soaps. While our merch has been picked up by museum shops, a few small retailers and drew interest from local markets, we shared in their struggle with visibility, distribution and took our first bold step with curating a Caribbean-themed holiday market in 2017. Luckily we did because we welcomed patrons from all five boroughs, New Jersey and as far as DMV. Last year, thanks to our friends at the Prospect Park Alliance we moved our holiday market downtown to the Plaza at 300 Ashland, across the street from BAM and the Center for Fiction and saw a huge increase in traffic and sales.

Pop up shop interior

How did plants become a part of your life, and what do they mean to you now? 

My sunroom which faces my backyard garden, where I have been working since quarantine, has 17 plants and counting. But I attribute my love for plants to my parents, immigrants from the Caribbean as they both had a lot of houseplants, many of them tropical like Anthuriums, Aloe Vera (which I still struggle with), wonder of the world, and some were seasonings used in everyday cooking like broadleaf West Indian thyme. To this day, my home and garden feel incomplete without them.

I also love having plants in my bathroom as it gives me the feeling of being back home in the West Indies where I grew up going to the river, hiking in the bush with my cousins, lifelong friends and bathing outside in the rain. In other places throughout my home, I have ancestral plants such as the Fiddle Leaf Fig at the top of my steps (a gift from my mother), a prayer plant on my drawing room coffee table (which reminds me of my grandmother) and a deep burgundy butterfly plant my godmother passed on just before she moved back home (to the Caribbean).   

Would you be able to share more about wellness in Caribbean life? How do you personally practice self care?

Wellness in the Caribbean is a verb or simply a way of life.  Wellness is yard or cultivating a garden with food and spices for healing and nourishment.  It’s drinking a cup of bush tea, taking a sea or mineral [sulphur] bath, picking fresh fruits off the tree or dancing to your favorite tune.

caribBEING self care kit

We're so excited about our caribBEING x The Sill box launch. Would you be able to share a bit about the makers included in the box?

OMG, we’re excited too and thank you to Eliza and team for this amazing platform to share Caribbean Lifestyle + Wellness with the plant community. The makers featured in the “Love Up Yourself” Self-Care Kit are all amazing Caribbean-Americans from Brooklyn: Alana hailing from Grenada and Trinidad of A Life Balanced who literally lives about ten blocks from my home with her flavorful sorrel infusion tea (pro-tip: Alana is an amazing cook, check her stories for tips and tricks); Tracey of Perry Boyce hailing from Guyana whose scents infuse both the Caribbean and Brooklyn simultaneously; and lastly Alexzandra of Avalah from Saint Vincent and Haiti whose scrubs and salts are guaranteed to uplift your energy and spirit.  

How can the plant community support caribBEING?

#SHARETHEMICNOW is a much needed movement spearheaded by @luvvie and @badassboz where black women speak from the Instagram accounts of white women which I hope to see sustained for as long as needed, supporting black-owned creatives, businesses and most importantly holding themselves and others accountable. Aurora James also spearheaded another great initiative, the 15 Percent Pledge, but I’d be remiss if I did not make an immediate call-to-action to confronting anti-blackness, systemic racism, privilege and understanding how microaggressions has systematically oppressed black people for hundreds of years. Last but not least: pull up.

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