Twenty years later, I am still explaining what I do after stating that I am a Public Relations professional. I usually follow up with a list of notable clients and campaigns. Public Relations can range from a branding exercise to media interviews to a global program targeting internal and external stakeholders. Depending on what industry you are in, PR could be utilized to launch a product or be part of the marketing mix.

I've made that persona my professional armor, but if not just a publicist, then who am I?

However, there's so much importance placed on your experience, the celebrities you worked with, or the agencies that employ you. It often determines whether you are accepted or rejected. The interview process was stressful and often required me to name-drop and describe with enthusiasm brands and celebrities I managed. Most important was being armed with stellar references so potential employers could give me a shot. As a Black woman, it was paramount for me to be buttoned up and charismatically articulate my experiences for a chance to prove myself.

I've made that persona my professional armor, but if not just a publicist, then who am I?

I am the mom of 2 boys, aged 22 and 2, the wife of an incarcerated man and a first-generation Caribbean-American who was born, raised, and still resides in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

When I was growing up, my household was religious and strict, and getting an education was the highest priority. You may be thinking, that as the daughter of immigrants, education was a priority because it was something my parents and grandparents didn't achieve. But, in fact, my grandparents were educators themselves. My grandfather was an Inspector of Schools in Trinidad & Tobago and my grandmother was a teaching Nurse Practitioner. Soon after arriving in the U.S. from Trinidad & Tobago, my grandparents realized the "land of opportunity" had its own set of limitations, and without education, assimilation, and "knowing your place," you could not achieve "success." They both knew that even with an education, I would still face obstacles, and without problem-solving skills, I could not thrive.

Well, those fundamentals were passed down with the family recipes. Success in 1968 looked very different from success growing up in New York City in the 80s and 90s. But I was just as focused and driven as they wanted me to be. By the time I was 17, my grandparents and mom had passed away. By the age of 25, my dad lost his sight and the ability to provide for his children. The principles I learned growing up, along with those recipes, were #clutch as I pushed through working a full-time job, earning two college degrees, being a mom, and rising through the ranks in my career.

Ain't nobody got time for PTA meetings and bake sales.

For years when visiting friends and family, they would clap while reciting my name, "Jeanette," like the character Norm in the popular 80s sitcom Cheers. I would be greeted with a big hug and the same comments, "I haven't seen you in years! Will you be here for longer than 48 hours?" We would all share a laugh, and I'd say, "Only 24 hours this time, but I will be back soon."

When parent-teacher night rolled around for my older son, I would often get questions like, "Whose mother are you?" With a furrowed brow and sarcastic voice, I would reply, stating my son's name. How could I expect them to recognize me? I was working hard to impress my peers and superiors — not them — jet-setting and demonstrating hard work through professional dedication.

At the time, my philosophy was, "No one is going to work harder than me." Earning money so my son and I wanted for nothing was what I was supposed to do. And in my Brooklyn accent, I would say, "Ain't nobody got time for PTA meetings and bake sales." There were no Zoom chats or email correspondence with the teachers. Thankfully, my son's father was present and his family provided support. Unfortunately, the only family gatherings I deemed essential enough to interrupt my work schedule were funerals.

All of my hard work and dedication did, in fact, pay off. Today, I am the Founder and President of Excellence & Presence Communications, an integrated communications agency working with start-ups, talent, and legacy brands. I am also a trusted business advisor with experience managing large-scale, innovative media initiatives — experiential, digital, broadcast, print, mobile, display, and social.

I hope my mom and grandparents are proud of my achievements. But I wish they would have prepared me for how to find balance in life after working so hard. I would have loved for them to tell me that I have nothing to prove to anyone — that my strengths are my differences and assimilating would ultimately lead to unhappiness. And I wish they would have told me that time flies when you are looking for acceptance so make time for your loved ones because tomorrow may not come.

During my maternity leave in 2017, I began spending more time with family I had not seen in years. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends had aged through the years and their lives had changed. Many of them were no longer the strong and vibrant people I remembered. Our conversations were now about the good times I had missed versus the events they were planning that I should attend. They recalled gatherings the same way I reminisce about my college years. Some older family members were managing critical health issues with little time left to live. It was at that moment that I decided to prioritize family and friends. I've learned that it is possible to do it all, but it may not possible to do it all and be present and enjoy each moment.

I am more than a publicist. I am a leader with a perspective that has helped brands and individuals achieve their goals and a family woman.

In 2020, life balance is the type of success I strive to achieve daily. I'm still working hard diving into client projects like a final exam and using decades of connections, corporate processes, procedures, and experiences to guide my business do's and don'ts. Those are #GOALS! I also realized that my love of Hip Hop music, Caribbean culture, and growing up in a diverse community provided me with a valuable perspective. The things that I once suppressed to fit in now help me stand out among the competition.

Family first is no longer just a saying to me; it's a principle, which I admire and respect as much as trust and integrity. I am more than a publicist. I am a leader with a perspective that has helped brands and individuals achieve their goals and a family woman. I'm looking forward to the future with a new mindset, professional experiences, attending all parent-teacher meetings, and being unapologetic about my family's needs.

This article was originally published June 5, 2020.


Jeanette Brown