Episode 12 – Authentic Cultural Representation In Storytelling With Ronnia Cherry

By Kadia Francis | October 07, 2019 | 58 mins

Every editor has his or her own approach to telling the story, their own reasons for wanting to have these conversations, their own style, their own spin. But, I think a good storyteller is someone who dedicates themselves to accurate portrayals. 

In this episode we meet Ronnia Cherri, a creative and storyteller who you can say is almost obsessed with not just accuracy but authenticity as well. She is a creative, writer, editor and the founder of 7am Magazine a digital publication centred around the creative scene in Jamaica and the Caribbean at large.

My aim for 7am though is to cover creatives, I wanted to have a platform where creative inspire each other. Right. Um, I wasn’t finding conditionally other than platforms like Adobe has 99 you and there are a couple of outlets out there like black creatives with a really good job of highlighting creatives as well. But I wanted something by creative for creative. So we tell stories and arts, music, entertainment, fashion, culinary, whatever creativity means for you.

What makes Ronnia Cherri and her work special, is that she always wants the subject to tell their own story, in their own way, with as a little editing as possible. In her own words, the raw and unpolished story. 

I might switch things here and there, but I like it to be raw and unpolished. And by being unpolished, it actually is more authentic. 

In this way I think Ronnia and I are kindred spirits, because although the subject may differ, our approach is the same. It would seem we share the same appreciation for quality conversations that not only informs but  emphasizes the uniqueness of the character.

WRITING THE LANGUAGE

Her dedication to remaining authentic comes across even in the way 7am treats with the nuances of the Jamaican language.

I really don’t want to touch any word … If you’re familiar with Caribbean culture, and just familiar with creative culture, in general, it’ll resonate more than an article that you see on a bigger publication that might edit it, and fine tune it to fit what is considered proper Standard English …

As an editor your job is to strike the right balance between the story, the characters and the audience. It can sometimes be difficult for Jamaican publications to satisfy the non-native reader while maintaining the integrity of the language. 

Ronnia shares how she struggles with finding that balance, explaining how she would look to publications she admires to see how they manage that and if that style is right for what she’s trying to do. 

That’s one thing that I enjoy about publications like backyard when they write, they’ll just do it raw like the people come on, and they’ll do it raw, but like backyard will have like a glossary at the end of their publication, or they have a whole glossary on our website, where you can see what these words mean.

She noticed that even some of her favourite Jamaican authors struggled with this as well. She mentioned The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, a book authored by famed Jamaican dancehall artist, Adijah Palmer a.k.a Vibez Kartel. The book is published in standard English, only highlighting certain Jamaican phrases with italics.

She thought about that approach, but ultimately decided against it because it would take too much way away from the conversation and from the character.

So I’m like, Well, on our site, should we? You know, and I just was like, No, however you write it, let’s just put it out there. We don’t have to separate these terms from that terms. Just some artists that speak a certain way they write differently, some people right how the speak.

She is also confronted with how her publication would represent conversations between a Jamaican speaker and a non Jamaican person to the audience. She explains that sometimes the interviewer will use particular Jamaican phraseology or words that the wider audience may not understand.

After thinking it over she realized that telling the whole story necessarily meant staying true to everything that was said, not just by the interviewee but by the interviewer.

I just decided to just go with whatever feels natural. And I let the writers do whatever feels natural.

That allowance to fully engage, converse and write naturally is how Ronnia and 7am magazines dedicates themselves to authenticity, and it’s not just the writers that are given carte blanche.

The photographer, I don’t tell them what to shoot, I just say, here’s, we’re interviewing, go off and do whatever you want. And it actually works. It just I think it’s very important to bring those worlds together. I can’t speak for everyone. Because sometimes person might not know what you’re saying. I think my thing was not what words are being used. But does it sound like a voice? Does it sound like we’re telling a story? Authentic to whoever is telling that story? And that seems to work.

This conversation with Ronnia brought home to me in the most powerful way what one of my favourite authors meant when they talked about the power of telling your own stories. When we control the narrative, we control the perspective and as Ronnia says the more content we publish the more we drown out the negative and promote the talent. 

TAKE AWAYS

 

  • Authentic representation of Jamaican culture in the global space matters
  • Jamaican publications have a role to play in shifting the narrative 
  • The Jamaican media are vanguards for the culture, what they do, who they talk to and what they say carries weight
  • Both the writer and the editor have a duty to present the culture authentically and in such a way where the reader is left motivated to learn more

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Kadia Francis

I am a blogger, podcaster, digital content creator and brand development strategist keen on telling the story of  Jamaica and Jamaicans in the tech and digital space.

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