From Forshaw St to empowering women: Sherry Dixon’s journey

Sherry Ann Dixon

Journalism may have always been in Sherry Ann Dixon’s bones, but it would be safe to say that she discovered this purely by mistake.

After working in marketing and public relations for several years, she left at the age of 30 to pursue what she then considered her passion – makeup artistry. Thirty-four years later, she is not only a well-established makeup artist, she is also a journalist, motivational speaker and lecturer.

It was while she was making up the faces of the likes of boxer Lennox Lewis and singers Barry White, Luther Vandross and Shirley Bassey that Dixon’s journalistic chops came to the fore.

As she tells it, she found herself questioning the celebrities as she did their makeup and she would then write stories which were sought after by many magazines.

“I asked lifestyle questions… I got the inner scoop. I always had the ability to bring out the side of them that other people did not get,” she said confidently during an interview with the Sunday Stabroek.

Over the years, she has travelled the world and has interviewed countless influential people, including late poet Maya Angelou and the late South African president Nelson Mandela.

While she has now put down her pen or laptop – it is hard to tell as often during the interview she found herself making typing motions with her fingers as she spoke – Dixon still uses her voice to empower women.

At present she is in Guyana completing a book on empowerment which retraces her journey from Forshaw Street, Queenstown to London, England where she is a sought-after motivational speaker. Through the book she aims to show women that it does not matter where they came from, anything is possible.

“I have gone through and climbed through doors, kicked down some doors, and interviewed some of most influential people,” she said.

Asked how she kicked down doors she answered: “I kicked down doors because while some were slightly ajar some were never widely open. It was probably based on prejudice, but I have always managed to get through. Once there I would succeed to the next level.”

Not luck

Looking back at her life’s achievements Dixon, who is a mother of two adult sons, concluded that she has been extremely successful and was quick to note that it was nothing about her being lucky but rather about hard work and always being prepared.

She was born in Thomas Street and later moved to Middle Street, but Forshaw Street was her final home before she left Guyana and she plans to make the journey through those streets as she completes her book.

She is a descendant of the Bollers, who she said were Barbadians. Two brothers had travelled to Guyana and settled in the countryside. One of them, her grandfather, married an Indian woman. The book’s journey includes the time she spent in Barbados when she became an adult.

Dixon’s mother was just 16 when she had her and then another five children, before dying at the age of 30 from cancer. It was shortly before her death that Dixon moved to England to live with an aunt.

“In England I won many scholarships. I must have been bright, probably,” she commented.

She did not attend college, but began working in the marketing industry. After some years, her boss urged her to follow her dreams and the company paid for her makeup artistry course; Dixon has never looked back.

Her time at the company though thought her a lot about marketing and Dixon said it was this that helped her over the years to market herself effectively.

‘Thirst’

It was while she was making it big in the makeup world that Dixon discovered what she described as a “thirst to motivate people” which resulted in her conducting interviews and writing. Her pieces have been published in Cosmopolitan and in the UK-based Guardian and Times newspapers.

As a makeup artist she got through many doors and one of those was to makeup Mandela.

Years later, she was among a pool of journalists selected by the South African Tourist Board to travel to South Africa to interview him.

“That was surreal, one of the most surreal journeys to follow this man’s journey, when he was in the jail cell… We went to Soweto, just followed his world where he lived,” she said.

Dixon also spoke about her pride at interviewing Maya Angelou, who, like Mandela, she described as her idol. She interviewed Angelou three times and the last interview was done as she sat on the floor of the great poet’s home and sipped tea.

She has also interviewed civil rights leader the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Asked about her greatest interview Dixon said they would be those done with Angelou.

She said the last interview was like sitting on the floor of her grandmother’s house listening to stories which she didn’t want to end. And she has the unforgettable words of Angelou informing her that she was very good to cherish.

She has also interviewed American inspirational speaker and lawyer Iyanla Vanzant who sent her a post-it note which said ‘use your power, you are powerful.’

“People saw my power before I saw it,” she said revealing that she was editor-in-chief of Pride magazine in London. She spent seven years as the magazine’s lifestyle editor and later three years as its editor-in-chief.

She later left the magazine and came closer to Guyana to become the editor of She Caribbean magazine. But she described her move to the Caribbean as being at a crossroads, adding that she was tired and questioned why she came. She also felt (and looking back she does not understanding her line of thinking) that the Caribbean was too slow, and she resigned and returned to London.

Shortly afterwards, Women on the Crossroads was born, and Dixon describes her company as being about empowering women, apart from speeches and lecturers she also creates a network that brings women together via Facebook and her company’s website.

Dixon considers herself an influencer and one who is very blessed. Both of her sons, she said, are successful businessmen.

“If I didn’t take the chance at the age of 30 being in PR with two young children it would not have happened. Many women stay in jobs because they are frightened to take a chance and move on. I wasn’t,” she said,

“I just had that inner intuition that I was going to do well, and I did,” she added.

Before Pride, she said, she worked as a freelancer which saw her working on commission and there were times when she got a lot of money and other times when she waited for money and those periods were difficult as she had her home and children to maintain.

In her talks, because of her experience, she encourages women not to spend it all when they have in abundance so that they can survive the “starvation months” comfortably.

“It is about teaching people how to think ahead. I have learnt this the hard way,” she said.

While in Guyana she wants to give back, because for her many people return to criticize but she wants to do positive things for her country.

Last Friday she hosted Emerging through Generations at the National Cultural Centre for Conversations with Selwyn (CWS), a Web TV series broadcast. The mission of CWS, for which Dixon said she is like a mentor and which was founded by Selwyn Collins, is to connect with stories and foster community and it has now developed a platform called BRAND YOUth.

According to the organisers, BRAND YOUth is a series of events that aims to empower the youth of Guyana. Friday was its first event.

At 64, Dixon has lived a full life, but her journey continues. She believes everyone can be a mentor and encouraged that love and care should be shown as the world is filled with selfishness and self-centred persons.

“I want to die showing that I could make a difference,” she said.

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