GOOD COMPANY: Cole shares a moment with Peter Mohan (Scotia) and Avril Leonce (SME Development) at the 2016 MoDA Market in Kingston.
What leaps readily to mind when one things of Harriette Cole is a multihyphenate, relentlessly achieving African-American maven who’s seen it all and done the rest. In her own words, she’s constantly in “reinvention mode.” And that’s no idle boast. Let’s check the résumé, shall we? In addition to her long and illustrious magazine journalism career at Essence and Ebony, a radio show, newspaper column and bestselling books (Jumping the Broom and How to Be, among them), Cole has lent her time and expertise to the careers of such musical greats as Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu and Prince – while being a devoted wife, sister and girlfriend.
These days, well into her 50s, she’s focused on building a global brand via Harriette Cole Media, encompassing such inspirational initiatives as her latest passion project DreamLeapers – and even a fashion line called 108 Stitches. On the weekend, exhibitors and patrons at MoDA Market, inside New Kingston’s The Worthington, were lucky to have her grace the microphone to impart her signature mix of wit and wisdom. TALLAWAH spoke with her at the event.
TALLAWAH: Miss Harriette, by your own admission, you’ve already lived about 25 different lives. And we believe you. What’s your secret?
Harriette Cole: (Laughs). I’ve always strived to be a good human being on the planet. I’ve always followed my parents’ wisdom and that, along with my training – I’m trained as a writer and over the years as a visual producer – helped me to find the right kinds of opportunities.
TALLAWAH: You’re an internationally known African-American, but you have a bonafide Jamaican connection.
Harriette Cole: My husband is from Jamaica! We’ve been married almost 24 years now, so I’ve been here many times. And he’s from Kingston, but he hasn’t been here in a long time.
TALLAWAH: What do you admire most about our little island in the sun?
Harriette Cole: I love that it’s a majority Black country, where people are very proud of who they are, regardless of how much money they have. They understand how to stand in their power, and so whenever I see Jamaicans anywhere in the world I see that sense of claiming the fullness of who they are. And that is inspiring to me. And it’s just a beautiful country. I love the beaches. Jamaica is gorgeous, so I love being here. But in terms of inspiration, it’s the strength and clarity of who you are that I appreciate in Jamaican people.
TALLAWAH: Recently you got to interview Marcus Garvey’s 83-year-old son Dr. Julius Garvey in New York. What was that like?
Harriette Cole: What an honour! He’s completely lucid, and he knows his father’s history inside and out. I was interviewing him for a project called The History Makers, which is usually three-to-six hours of interview about people’s lives, so we really went in-depth. And I learned so much about his father that I never knew. Some people don’t understand how powerful [Marcus Garvey] was, and so it inspired me to be more confident about my past.
TALLAWAH: Having already written and published seven books, do you have another one in the works?
Harriette Cole: I am working on something that will go along with my new project, DreamLeapers. There are multiple components to DreamLeapers, but one is telling the stories of people who have dreamed big and made those dreams manifest, and how they did it.
TALLAWAH: In a nutshell, what is DreamLeapers about?
Harriette Cole: It’s an educational initiative designed to help people access and activate their dreams. And the speech I gave earlier was a small piece of that, and I’m hoping to come back and bring a bigger piece.
TALLAWAH: As a life stylist, consultant and motivational speaker, you’ve worked with everyone from Mary J. Blige to Prince, but your own personal story is such a triumphant one.
Harriette Cole: For my work to be recognized, that’s amazing. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to pursue my dreams, and I have a husband who supports me. Because, as an entrepreneur, I’m not always making a lot of money. So to have a partner who says ‘Okay, when it’s great, it’s great, and when the resources are less we are going to work it out,’ that’s a blessing. I’ve learned that the two wings of the bird are grace and self-effort. Grace is what comes from God, but your effort is so important. And if you don’t put forth that effort it’s not gonna happen. And I have learned, through experience, that if I’m not working on my passion every day, it doesn’t move forward. So I have to put in the work. When I put in the work, great things happen.
TALLAWAH: Tell us about your fabulous ready-to-wear line, 108 Stitches. Were you always planning to embark on a venture in fashion?
Harriette Cole: Well, I was always interested in fashion. I was a model as a teenager and in my 20s. And then I was a fashion editor at Essence for many years. I recently launched this line. I had been crocheting for a long time, until one day I decided to take it seriously.
TALLAWAH: I like what you said earlier about being quiet to access your passion.
Harriette Cole: You have to meditate. If you’re still, what’s going on inside of you will come forth. If you’re not still you can’t hear it. It’s still coming forth, but you just can’t hear it.
TALLAWAH: So what do you feel inspired to do next?
Harriette Cole: (Laughs) I’m really hoping to bring DreamLeapers to Jamaica. That’s next.
“The two wings of the bird are grace and self-effort. Grace is what comes from God, but your effort is so important.”