Wednesday, 4 May 2016

THIS FAR BY FAITH: PR maven-turned-TV host Cheryl Crooks taps the pain of her past to mentor and transform lives

SPREADING HER WINGS: “It’s really a show to revitalize people,” Crooks says of Rev Talk. “I believe in this product.”

Four and a half years ago, Cheryl Neufville Crooks faced the toughest battle of her adult life. Stricken with hyperthyroidism, she was hospitalized for weeks. In the run-up to the diagnosis and throughout her ordeal, she was unable to keep any food down. Consequently, she lost almost half of her body weight.

To put it mildly, she thought she was a goner, but deep down she vowed to fight the illness with all the strength she could muster. “It was the most emotionally draining thing I’ve ever gone through, but my inner strength and the support from my family – they never gave up on me – pulled me through,” reflects Crooks, who underwent several rounds of treatment to bring the condition under control. Today, not a day goes by without her ingesting some medication to stay healthy.

Like Sofia from The Colour Purple, Cheryl knows a thing or two about fighting your whole life. There was the divorce 17 years ago that left her shaken and enraged, but not in a Diary of a Mad Black Woman kind of way. Cheryl eventually took the high road. And throughout her professional life – a journey that has seen her navigating the fickle world of public relations, artist management and musical recording – there were the stinging betrayals that blindsided her.

Sitting across from me inside Liguanea’s Café Blue on this tranquil Friday afternoon, dressed in a vivid yellow top that brightens the room, Crooks is the picture of happy, healthy secure womanhood – a survivor turned devout Christian who’s been bruised but not broken, one who has lived to tell the tale. “Patience and endurance are what these experiences have taught me,” she says beaming. “Giving my life to the Lord completely changed me after everything I’ve been through. And I’ve been through some really hard times. But through it all, He has stood with me.”

Buoyed by her unshakeable Christian faith, Cheryl, who is big on mentorship and counselling, now wants to help others overcome and voice their testimonies. Armed with a Masters degree in Pastoral Counselling, she’s accustomed to mentoring youngsters and using her modest resources to change lives. But now she’s ready to take her work to the next level.

Enter Rev Talk, her hour-long talk show that mixes inspiring life stories with motivational advice and empowerment tips, coming to CVM-TV as of Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 8, 9pm). For Cheryl this is a dream come true. “The idea first came to me in 2003, while I was attending Family Church on the Rock – to get people to tell their stories and bring hope to those who might be going through similar experiences,” explains the newly minted television host, who now attends Portmore’s Agape Christian Fellowship, where Pastor Lloyd Maxwell has been a tower of strength. “From I was a little girl I’ve been counseling people. I like to give. That’s how my parents were. And next to the Lord, they have been my biggest supporters.

Season One of Rev Talk, being produced by her company Neufville Management and Communications (formerly Xpress Concepts Ltd.), will carry 13 episodes that feature a wide array of guests – from popular artistes to law-enforcement officers to regular Jamaican folk. “It’s really a show to revitalize people. I believe in this product. I believe I’ve been called to do this, and I’m hoping people will tune in, especially those who have gone through a lot of trials,” says Crooks, a longtime fan of Ian Boyne’s Profile, The Susan Show and Joyce Meyer’s preaching. (Guilty pleasure: Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have-Nots).

The bleak moments aside, Cheryl Crooks has had quite a life. The nitty-gritty of her bio reads like that of a star who’s been hiding in plain sight: she’s a PR specialist with over 30 years under her belt (the KSAC was a client up to December 2015), a singer who placed among the finalists in the National Festival Song Competition about 25 years ago (Roy Rayon’s “Thanks and Praises” won that year), a cabaret act and a backing vocalist who’s worked with Carlene Davis and Dennis Brown. And last month she helped usher in the Spring Praise Jamaica Music Festival.

Tommy Cowan, with whom she has worked closely, remembers her generosity of spirit and impressive event-hosting abilities. “She’s a very creative person, very knowledgeable and skilful when it comes to planning events, hosting and emceeing,” Cowan tells TALLAWAH over the phone. “She’s also a wonderful woman of God who loves the word, and a very kind person who gives without reservation.”

In person, Cheryl Crooks comes across as the plump epitome of calm and unfussy elegance. A petite dynamo who quietly embodies the TALLAWAH spirit. “Maybe the younger people don’t know of me. I don’t like the spotlight, but now I’m being pulled back into it,” confesses the mother of two (27-year-old civil engineer Stewart, based in Washington, and Howard University undergrad Kimberly, 19). These days, Cheryl is happily in a relationship with a “very supportive man” and getting a kick out of playing step-mommy.

Turning 50 later this year, Cheryl knows she’s come a long way but, as she tells it, her journey is far from over. “The Lord has kept me going so that I can help others,” she concedes. “I’m still learning and I’m still growing. I consider myself a work-in-progress.” 

“Patience and endurance are what these experiences have taught me.”

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