INSTEAD of allowing her childhood experiences to shape her future, 39-year-old Cortia Bingham McKenzie was determined to be victorious against all odds.
In fact, McKenzie believed the road to success should never be journeyed alone, which pushed her to launch We Inspire Women Limited in 2016, as a way of encouraging women and girls to excel together.
“Just the fact that where I am from, no one expected me to be where I am today... I think it is the fight in me that gives me the passion and propels me to want to prove people wrong but also to take some girls and women with me,” Mckenzie told All Woman as we caught up with her at the We Inspire Women and Girls Gold Standard Luncheon on the topic: 'The Gold Standard for Girls to Become Women of Positive Impact in a Broken Society' at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel last Tuesday.
“The moment you make a decision to become better and not allow your past mistakes to cause you to feel guilty and ashamed, then you can rise above anything. The thing is, a lot of people don't know how, and because I have done it in my own life, my deep desire is to share what I have used with another woman or girl so that they can live a beautiful life.”
We Inspire Women Limited is a high-level mentorship programme, which seeks to uplift and empower women and girls in maintaining excellence.
The programme positively impacts the inner conversations of high school girls across the island through motivational speeches from influential and inspirational women, who are introduced to the girls on various school tours.
“The feedback has been tremendous in the sense where we've gotten e-mails from principals... from the girls who have averted attempts to commit suicide because of our programme. We have also had women who have advanced in educational desires and dreams, and women who leave abusive relationships, as we have been instrumental in assisting them and connecting them to the right people to assist them. Apart from our programme being inspirational, there are some very specific problems that we have addressed and for that we are really blessed and proud,” she explained.
So far, McKenzie said We Inspire Women Limited has visited over 70 high schools to engage girls in activities such as self-development sessions and vision board workshops, but there has been a pause in physical visits amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“What I knew for sure is that 'We' was very critical in the name because it was not just my story, but the story of many other women and girls. In this sisterhood, it is critical that we are less judgmental because we never know where our lives will lead or what can befall us. It is a safe space of compassion, understanding and empathy because we don't know when we will be the weak voice crying out for help or in need,” she said.
Pointing out that having a person to rely on is crucial, McKenzie, who grew up in Granville, St James, said there was a lack of hope in her community which discouraged her from accomplishing her goals, especially since she had no support.
“That environment taught me a lot but what I saw around me did not give me a picture of what life could be for me. I didn't see the possibilities around me, as a lot of young girls around me were getting pregnant and becoming 'babymothers' for dons and being drug mules. But I just decided from that time that it would not be my life,” she said.
“Coupled with that, my abuse [by her father] was morbid because I was the only child in the home at the time and not having any adult to help me, I was quite fearful — I was afraid every single day,” McKenzie added, noting that she experienced the ordeal from age 14 to 16. “The abuse started with a five-hour beating… my flesh was open, I wanted to go to the hospital but I was told I couldn't go. I even had 20 days of beating with a heated hose and sometimes naked.”
Through We Inspire Women Limited, McKenzie said she hopes more authentic stories, like her own, will be shared, so that women and girls can develop the courage to make strides despite challenges.
“We are all a part of each other's journey. It means that we need to take responsibility not just for ourselves, but how we treat other women and girls because no woman is an island; we need each other to make consistent and impactful changes,” she said.