Caribbean Week New York 2016: Receiving the Marcia Vickery Wallace Memorial Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism

Photos with the Jamaica Tourist Board–and the luncheon MC–after receiving my award.

Photos with the Jamaica Tourist Board–and the luncheon MC–after receiving my award.

Part One: The Awards Luncheon

Yesterday was a wonderful moment in my journey as a travel writer and photographer. I was honored with the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Journalism–a special award handed out by both the Jamaica Tourist Board and the CTO. Every year, the award celebrates a journalist who stands out for their unparalleled passion and dedication in promoting the Caribbean in various >> publications throughout their career.

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The award is handed out at a luncheon–part of Caribbean Week New York–which was held at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. As I strolled past the skyscrapers and billboards of Times Square, in Spring-like weather, I barely felt the bumping against tourist crowds, or the loud voices of tour operators hustling by Broadway. I was too excited to care, mentally going through the speech I would give in a couple of hours. This was my first major award from an organization recognizing my Caribbean work as a whole, since I started on this path part time in 2009, and full time since 2011. The highlight is that the award isn’t one for which you submit your own work and compete.

Jamaica CTO AwardI received the letter a couple of weeks prior to the event by email, informing me that I had been selected as this year’s recipient of this special award. It was a wonderful surprise. And then I realized that I had a flight scheduled for the exact same day as the awards luncheon! But there was no missing the ceremony and miraculously, Delta changed my flight without fees, after I explained the circumstances.

The Awards Luncheon

When the time came to get up from our Jamaica Tourist Board table and say a few words from the podium, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The lovely Marcia Sinclair from the Jamaica Tourist Board had just given the audience a colorful story of my life journey from attorney to travel journalist and photographer. I felt humbled sitting and listening to my own life story, and soon forgot about a third of what I wanted to say. For example, that one of the highs of my travel photojournalist career came when I was assigned to travel to Jamaica to write and photograph a feature article on the Jamaican patty for an in-flight magazine. There I was, traveling across the western and north side of the island to sample as many patties as I needed to for the story, in one weekend… for work.

Standing at the luncheon, addressing a crowd of Caribbean professionals–including two Ministers of Tourism (from Guyana and from Montserrat), Directors of Tourism from around the region, including familiar faces such as Belize Tourism Director Karen Bevans–I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. That I played and continue to play an important role in helping showcase a region I love and now call home. That I turned my life around to find work I am passionate about, in places I love. Proud to have found within me the courage and conviction to carve my own path, even in the face of skepticism from others. The courage not to live a life that others want for me, no matter how much more prestigious it may sound.

The speeches

And now, standing at that podium after being honored by Jamaica was a kind of full circle. You can watch the two short speeches below. Both video clips were captured via Facebook Live (such a fantastic tool, by the way).

Marcia Sinclair’s kind introduction to my work

My speech (right after the photo ops)

At some point I got choked up with emotion but shook it off quickly!

 Lawyer to travel journalist: Some insights

After the luncheon and the group photo ops that followed (all the award winners felt like celebrities with the amount of pro news photographers in the room), several folks came to congratulate me in person and to tell me that I had an inspiring story. And that I did what many of them didn’t have the courage to do, but wanted to do. To be honest, I’m not sure I knew that there was any other way than to follow my happiness. To whom much is given, much is expected. And for me–given the privileges I had as far as a completed advanced education, language skills and saved funds without other obligations–there was no other way than to go for what I wanted. The desire to work for a purpose I believe in is so strong, that I can’ t do anything but look forward and go for it. Because if it’s not going for it, the risk is to tumble down into a well of depression.

I knew I had to do something with my storytelling skills. I didn’t know what at the time. And while in Jamaica, my first long term stop, I discovered what I loved to do and that it had a name: travel journalism.

And you know what else? I did not accomplish success or reach this stage by myself. I was blessed to find like minded mentors and editors who saw my potential, gave me advice when I needed it, helped me improve my craft, and believed in my talent enough to offer me opportunities when they arose. I had my circle of support – and every year, that circle has become stronger, clearer. They are my tribe, my work family and we support each other’s endeavors.

And here’s the other thing: it only takes a couple of folks and a couple of opportunities and doors opened, to continue the course and rise.

From my Jamaica expertise to Belize, many assignments followed thanks to my peers who knew or came across my work and referred more my way. And I made sure to over deliver.

But the point is this: the moment you step out into the universe to say “This is what I love to do,” the wheels get into motion. Not overnight. Not all at once. But as with me, step by step, the path starts carving itself. The biggest job is having faith even when you don’t see the horizon or the years planned ahead. Even when you are faced with obstacles and lack of opportunities due to race and gender. And the thing is, not everyone has the patience or endurance for the gradual process in making dreams come true.

A big thank you to my family and my readers

Since I forgot to say it live on Facebook–my apologies for that– I want to thank God, first and foremost, as well as my family for their support over the years, even when they weren’t clear on what I was doing.

I also want to say a big thank you to you all: my readers, who spend time browsing my posts, reading my articles, books and blogs on Caribbean destinations. Your support, feedback and encouragement over the years are deeply appreciated.

That my travel writing and photos–from culture to activities–help shape your travels and help you build lifetime memories, is part of why I keep doing my work. And why I’ve decided to keep on growing my business with new curated cultural tours to the Caribbean.

 ***

Part Two: Caribbean Media Marketplace

 
Entering Media Marketplace: Jamaica greeted you first.The lovely Geraldine Rome for Martinique Tourist BoardOpen bar was a great addition.With the Honorable Donaldson Romeo, Premier of MontserratAntigua had a beautiful stand.With the lovely Muriel Wiltord, Director of the Americas for Martinique Promotion Bureau

This year’s marketplace was a fun one–and not just because of the open bar and hors d’oeuvres (though that was a fabulous touch–because who networks in the Caribbean over no drinks or food?). The room was smaller and more intimate, the displays colorful, and the setting encouraged networking. It was great to walk around and meet some new destination tourism directors, their PR firms and other passionate travel professionals. And see three of the destinations that have piqued my curiosity for the longest, made me want to go again at some point in the future: Montserrat (I had a flight scheduled back in February 2009 that I had to sadly cancel because of volcano eruptions), Dominica, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Thanks to my Martinique friends for the delicious cacao bars, and Antigua for the mini rum bottles, St. Vincent & Grenadines for allowing me to store my humongous, gorgeous bouquet of flowers at their booth while I walked around, and Bahamas for the tote so I could lug the flowers back home. Last but not least, it was wonderful to see my fellow Caribbean scribes and friends, who bought me my first glass of bubbly to celebrate.

In the end, changing my scheduled flight back to the Caribbean was worth every minute.

Cheers to more Caribbean sunshine in our lives. To each of us finding the road to work we love. And to a banner year in Caribbean tourism.

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller. Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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4 Comments

  1. Lily 4 June, 2016 at 4:43 AM #

    Hi Lebawit Lily,

    I have really enjoyed and encouraged reading this blog. Congratulations on receiving this award!
    Keep on doing what you love doing a d telling stories and capturing the beauty of nature and culture.
    Gobez nesh!
    Cheers,
    Lily

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma 4 June, 2016 at 10:03 AM #

    @Lily (love that we share the same name): Thank you very much! I appreciate it and the encouragement. Sign up for updates on my upcoming trips if you are interested in seeing my cultural Caribbean. Amesegenalew!

  3. Robert Benner 5 June, 2016 at 6:41 AM #

    Lily,
    Again, congratulations on your award. Enjoyed listening to your acceptances peach, you were very good gracious. I enjoy following your work, you work so hard and are so committed to what you clearly are so passionate about and your spirit always shines through your work. You inspire me to want to do better and take some bigger risks in my life. A heartfelt thank you and I look forward to your amazing future.

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma 7 June, 2016 at 11:21 AM #

    @Rob – Thank you so much! I truly appreciate your kind words, and always taking the time to leave a comment. It is a lot of hard work indeed – but there’s nothing more gratifying than doing work you love and being able to live wherever you choose. Thank you again and I wish you all the best as well!

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