Name: Jerlyn Thomas
Hometown: Wesley, Dominica
Current Residence: Bronx, NY
What does it mean to have a voice? Being your authentic self despite marching to your own drum or dancing to your own beat.
How did you find your voice? By seeking purpose, running into some barriers, and learning to fail. I think my voice has always been there. It just assumed no one else wanted to hear it.
What event or series of events led to you finding your voice?
A year into my career after college, I learned immediately how finite our time on earth is. A couple months before my lease ended in New York City, I lost my youngest sibling at the time, my brother Gilbert. He was 19. Unfortunately, Gilbert became another statistic that many black families experience in this country—another black male shot by a white cop. It took me years to unpack how the situation affected my life fully. The very month that I dealt with his death, I experienced a terrible breakup and moved in with the worst roommate I have ever had. Losing Gilbert made me realize that I absolutely could not waste my time on situations and people that did not contribute to my own self-care and happiness. I also realized that I needed to do things that were much bigger than myself.
Tell me about when you finally found your voice.
I found my voice when I started running. Running has always been quite therapeutic to me, especially after losing my brother. It gave me time to reflect so I would do so on the treadmill almost daily. There were many moments of thinking about unsaid words and experiences we would never have. My brother and I had been so different. One of the things I admired about him the most was how fearless he had been. I had always been the cautious one. Even though he had been younger, he constantly challenged my approach and questioned why. He also had such a magnetic personality that he could make friends with anyone. He was also inspirational. I decided to focus on activities that made me present and inspirational to everyone just like he had been. This led me to running.
One day, a colleague asked me to run a 5K with her in honor of her mom, a breast cancer survivor. I never considered myself a runner, so when I completed the race, it felt so exhilarating that I needed to do more. Not only had I challenged myself and seen my goal through, but I had raised money for a good cause.
I realized then I wasn’t running for myself. Every race after that, I took that feeling and the spirit of my brother with me. I also met so many others who were just like him. I went on and ran half marathons, marathons, and eventually ultramarathons. So far, I’ve done up to 50 miles. When I realized that even fewer people who look like me compete in triathlons, I decided to give it a go. I’m all about breaking the glass ceilings until there are none. Gilbert would’ve been proud.
Define “voice” and why it is important?
I think relaying stories that are helpful to others to help navigate this life is a voice. Stories that encourage us to empathize (walk in other people’s shoes) limit our subconscious biases. It’s so encouraging for me to share stories and have people relate to them via their own experiences or using my own stories to offer insights for their journeys. I don’t think we all need to fail at the same tasks if we can take notes from others and reframe them.
What advice do you have for someone trying to find their voice?
1. Find what makes you happy that doesn’t hurt anyone
2. Practice self-care
3. Aspire to something more than living day-to-day
4. Learn to fail well
5. Live your best life with your finite time you’ve been given