I remember Maya Angelou saying of the Soul, “It is the spirit speaking. It shouts I have something to say!” So when I thought about my contribution to this incredible new channel Miami Soul on Miami.com, I knew I wanted to highlight all the eclectic, vibrant wonderful voices of South Florida whose lives and work truly shout “I have something to say!”
The Soul of South Florida will highlight those who encourage, enlighten and inspire; those who are on a mission to move South Florida forward.
So we had to kick Soul of South Florida off with one of its most diverse and inspired voices – multi-media maven Vanessa James, whose company, Vanessa James Media is not only sharing her voice all over the world but is bringing together some of the most powerful and influential brands with voices in the community that influence style and culture.
With that, we often put people in boxes so we know how to categorize them, but there is no box for Vanessa James. “Yes, that is true. I have to say that is one of my biggest mantras… I’ve always been one to think outside of the box and really outside of the lines. I learned from a very young age that if you can think it, you can achieve it and moreover, that if it came across your mind, it wasn’t by accident.
“Act on your feelings and live out-loud.”
Vanessa, like so many in Florida, has rich cultural roots. Born in Trinidad to Venezuelan/Indian/ Trinidadian parents, James says there was always a mission in her household.
“Always earn your stripes. My honest, hard-working parents taught me to not just survive, but to thrive. If it’s earned, it’s always appreciated and that’s how I live my life.”
Blessed with a pitch perfect voice and the gift of gab, Vanessa earned her stripes as a college sportscaster, but quickly learned there was little to no future in it for her. “One of my mentors, Gene Deckerhoff, told me that I was a bit too short for TV, but that I should give radio a try. I was devastated as you can imagine, but he was right! You could barely see me on the screen interviewing 6-foot- 5 football players! So I took his advice, ventured into the direction of radio and never looked back.”
It is this solid foundation that has allowed Vanessa James Media to become a player on her own terms and without mishaps so often associated with building a new business. “It’s definitely where I credit a lot of my early career success working up the ranks at my former employer, Clear Channel. I worked at CC for over 12 years in various markets. Whether on the radio or the record side of things, I learned so.”
One of those important lessons has been that it’s not necessary what you say, it’s all about emotion and how you make people feel. “Always speak to one person and connect with one person regardless of the millions that were listening. The lesson in that was all about connection and engagement, to which I still use daily,” James said.
So how does all this translate to being an influencer in the community? We often hear about the division and messiness among communities in South Florida yet Vanessa seems to move seamlessly through all of them, never meeting a stranger and always finding a great topic of conversation and leading with a smile. What do she attribute that this ability to?
“I’m a multicultural woman, and a versatile one at that, so I see no division; I frankly don’t operate that way,” James said. “A lot of the divisions that we see and feel we place on ourselves. When you operate in different worlds, you see the beauty in various cultures. Whether it’s having a morning meeting in Hialeah at La Fey bakery, having a doubles or roti at Joy’s roti shop in Lauderhill or dinner in the fabulous midtown to discuss the next project for Art Basel, it all works. What I know to be true is that culture and diversity especially in a place like South Florida should be celebrated. We could learn so much from each other if we open ourselves up for the learning!”
So now that you’ve released yourself from the golden handcuffs of a bi-weekly check, what’s the greatest joy of being your own boss?
“When Clear Channel Miami flipped my station from Urban to Latin, I had a choice – to jump back in at another station or to venture off on my own and create my own brand where I could take all of that hard work and knowledge and create my own ‘Harpo’ shall we say,” James said. “That’s when I created Vanessa James Media. VJMedia now houses all of my platforms under one umbrella. I am a voiceover artist by trade, TV/Radio Host, Content Contributor, and Brand Ambassador. It’s been a great transition from employee to now owning the brand for which you work for. It’s a great joy to cultivate opportunities and watch them flourish. I’m truly blessed!”
So let’s talk about the things that make South Florida special to you.
Vanessa’s Top 5 Must Have, Do, and See Things in Miami.
1. Take in our beautiful beaches. I travel often, am truly blessed to call Miami home. Although I’m from the Caribbean, this is a very close second to some of the most beautiful beaches in the east.
2. Our concert scene is bar none. Yes there are a few iconic places throughout the country, but Bayfront Park, the AmericanAirlines Arena or even The Fillmore are great placed to take in a show.
3. Hello – the Food. Miami is known as being a multicultural melting pot. Venture out to little Havana and try the Cuban food at Versailles. Aunt I’s has great oxtail and rice and peas on Sunday’s in Pembroke Pines.
4. A Good Soca Fete. Soca is such a beautiful form of energy and after one soca fete in Miami, you’ll be forever changed. Check out Soca Paradise every third Saturday in Miami. Such a great vibe, music, and group of Caribbean people.
5. Supping. It seems to be the new “to do” lately. It’s basically Stand Up Paddle Boarding and it’s offered at Biscayne Bay, Aventura, South Beach, Coral Gables, etc. It’s a great way to get out on the water and take in the views. My favorite location is off of the Standard Hotel—great views of the city and you can brunch afterwards!
Favorite Miami Spa Month spot?
The Standard hands down… Amazing… I also love the Shore Club, Canyon Ranch, and the Bliss spa at the W. All great choices.
Favorite Miami Spice Month spot?
Hmmm. This one is hard. Lately I’ve been addicted to Michael’s Genuine in Midtown and Sea Salt and Pepper on the Miami River.
Favorite Only in Miami Moment?
Cubans and their pot banging on the streets of Hialeah, downtown, and Coral Gables whenever the Miami Heat win! Truly one of a kind.
What is your greatest hope for yourself and for South Florida?
For South Floridians to truly understand how blessed we are to live here. We have amazing whether all year round and a melting pot of people and cultures that we need to embrace more. I’m still learning of all the subcultures that exist and am blown away by just how much culture exists among us; if only we are brave enough to get out of our comfort zones to take a deeper look.