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'About Me'

Who Am I...

Ashlee Paris-Jabang

Freedom was growing up on an island where outdoor play was in abundance and adventure to the unknown was always on your doorstep. As a bubbly island girl with a lot of energy, I played football, tennis, cricket, rounders, anything that would burn off this steam I had. My mother would try to take me to the beach every day in hope that swimming would wear me out but it just made me a stronger swimmer with a love like no other for being near water.


God blessed me with two parents of different Christian denominations, Anglican and Catholic. Although similar, I benefited greatly from their differences. My ear for music meant I had two churches nurturing my creative talent. Anglican church honed my singing ability with the 'Sunshine Choir' and Catholic church provided me a platform to read the word to the congregation regularly. Even at 5 years old I stood on the foundation of God with my creative work and my wisdom in the area was valued.

Academics was hard for me. To this day I'm still surprised that I made it this far with a degree. I struggled tremendously in early education to read, write and understand maths. I remember feeling sick at times trying to read 'Come Peter, come', the famous reading text at the time. If I was in England I would have definitely been tested for dyslexia and a host of other SEND conditions. However, the tough nature of Caribbean schooling and an instilled 'can do' attitude helped me through that challenge. I'll forever be grateful to my primary school teachers for their patience with my academic growth. All my report cards said 'too talkative!'. I like to think that was their way of saying 'very creative when in trouble'.

I was a Tom boy in school. Most of my friends were boys and their risk taking edge kept me on my toes. I was never into dolly's, what do I do with this thing? It doesn't move I thought. I wanted remote control cars, kites, footballs, things that meant I have to keep on running. So much so that I became the 1st female footballer on the school football team. There was no other girl before me. The coach hesitated and my mum and I fought for my position as a team mate. Football filled the adrenaline rush in me throughout my life up until university. I played football for my secondary school female team, captain of my college football team and won best girl for the 2012 college tournament in Waltham Forest awarded by the Mayor with tickets to the 2012 London Olympics. 

Everybody including me thought that I'd be a lawyer. That was the plan. I was involved in everything diplomatic and democratic at school. Young Leaders, Junior Achievers, Emerging Global Leaders and I was the first young person to represent Nevis at the National Tourism Youth Congress as Junior Minister of Tourism. Politician and Lawyer was definitely in my future but as we plan, God laughs. 

 

At 12 I got into a terrible road traffic accident that left me visually impaired in my right eye. This meant my education became compromised at times. I didn't let my visual impairment stop me and to be honest, growing up with an impairment in the Caribbean isn't molly cuddled as we are resilient people. The resilience became difficult to maintain during higher education. My eyes couldn't bear the burden anymore and both my eyes became very sore. I was diagnosed with secondary glaucoma which unlike primary glaucoma is irreversible. This is now something that I had to live with permanently. I had just found out I got into law school. At the time I felt like my life had no meaning as law as the only thing I wanted to study. I couldn't study law as all the reading wouldn't be helpful for my sight. I fell into the deepest depression I've ever experienced. Suicidal thoughts swirled around my head.

About Me

I began going to therapy and picked back up writing. I used to write songs and poems as a teenager. I wrote a calypso once and entered the islands Culturama Junior Calypso competition. I wrote, recorded and released a song that played on the local radio. These were all personal pieces, some that I would share and some I kept to myself. My college really supported me through this difficult time and offered me a schedule that was suited to my needs. I was able to take my A level exams at my own pace and spent the rest of my days concentrating on my health both physical and mental.

A college teacher approached me about using some of my spare time to be a student on their musical theatre course. This is where my creativity began taking a professional shape. The teacher encouraged me to apply for Drama Therapy at University. I didn't know what that meant and had to do my own research. Using creative arts to facilitate therapeutic healing just sounded like home to me. Creativity was there for me in my darkest days, so much so that I received the Young, Gifted and Black Award for achieving academic success while overcoming a difficult milestone presented by the Kreative Kulture Klub. To this day I'm not sure who nominated me but I'm grateful.

Musical Theatre gave me creative focus and the guidance along with it propelled me into a career that fit me like a glove. A burst of colour came out of me that became visible to others. I finished my Musical Theatre course and went on to study Creative Expressive Therapies at University of Derby. The creative hustler in me took over and I became a club promoter, joined a band, cultural exchange student tour guide and activity rep, hospitality host, I even did a children's party! You name it, I did it. All while studying and maintaining my mental health.  

I graduated in 2016 with honours and now reflecting, I wouldn't say I took the time to take in that moment. I was just hungry for more creative success. I heard a talk show host say 'Graduates please remember that after you graduate don't think that the world owes you anything'. I was so happy to have come across this because when life's realities began rolling in, I was able to handle them with grace. Fresh out of University, I worked in a school's Learning Support Unit. I hated it. Again my creativity was being controlled. There was no freedom for me to work with the children in a way that I saw would benefit them therapeutically. I got let go from that job and I was so grateful. I got a job working at a car dealership. This is where character building really took centre stage. The most masculine ego centric environment I have ever worked in. I had to hold my own but once again my creativity began slipping. I was finding myself calling in sick for work just so I could go perform at a gig or even go sit in a restaurant and have some me time to write. It just wasn't me, the dishonesty of not coming into work and the element of dishonesty needed to turn a commission at work. I went on faith and handed in my notice and straight after landed a job as an Events Executive. Now this was a bit of me! Helping clients create events and making their vision come alive. This job saw me get married, have a baby and buy our first home. It was a lovely environment and I thought this is where it would be for me long term. 

Motherhoods realities meant I had to make a decision. My maternity leave was coming to an end and I lived too far away to return to my events job. Every single job I applied for turned me down as being over qualified. I was about to open another email with the same rejection when I decided to see the positive side. If I am so over qualified for these roles, this must mean I can do it on my own. So I did. I spent the days with my baby going to networking events for creatives and building a community of people who would nurture my career. I saw this as a new baby as well so I asked two female ministers at church to Christen my career. This was October 2019 and I never looked back since.

I registered as self-employed and became a freelance Creative Practitioner where I worked with the homeless until the pandemic put a pause on the world. During the pandemic my poetic flow was really flowing and BBC Radio Derby often invited me on air to share my pieces about social injustices and black history. The world reopened and I began working at Derby Theatre as a Creative Mentor for their Plus One project and Freelance Assistant Producer for a Youth focused project called Reimagine. Reimagine came to an end but I'm still there as a Creative Mentor working with care experienced young people. It's important for me to continue my practice with those at the pivotal age I was when needing that little bit or a lot of guidance into finding myself as a young adult. I want to work more with older young people who are in the beautiful space of growth and transition so to help expand my practice, I am currently studying to be a Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) Advanced Practitioner. 

It is important to me that my work is accessible especially to those with visual impairments. I listen to all of my books so I always make it a point to record my poetry pieces. My first recorded piece 'The Leather Year' about a love story between my African husband and I, a Caribbean woman has been my biggest success story. After years of never writing about my love story or any love interest, I allowed myself to be vulnerable with my art and even created a visual to the audio of The Leather Year where my husband and I share tender moments in love. This short film helped me secure a place as a cohort member of the Momentum project by We Are Parable in collaboration with Channel 4. It was played at Black Love Day in Washington DC and helped me to successfully place as one of the winners of the Plaza Prize for Audio Poetry. 

Gracing my first international stage in Malta this year was, what I believe to be, a gift from my ancestors. I wondered their thoughts as I spoke openly about black love and its traumas through slavery. The restrictions on us as a people to be vulnerable in love and how I stand before them as a miracle to be comfortable and openly in love with my African King. What an honour.

Riding on the wave of black love, my recent project is with my one and only, Mr Jabang. We opened Jabang Media, the home of three podcasts KanuLove where we speak about black love and its unique nuances, The GentleMen podcast showing the soft side of black men in love and Where's your husband? The Podcast explores black womens love stories and how they own their excellence. 

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