SHE’S a former international model turned children’s book author, and Margo Morrison says she’s committed to adding to the trove of child development resources locally.
A researcher and founder of the website Childhood Central, Morrison, who has a bachelors in psychology and a masters in psychoanalysis, has spent the past four years working in child research in Jamaica.
“I founded Childhood Central to provide credibly-sourced and culture-specific information to support childhood development,” the 39-year-old told All Woman. “It is important for me as a black woman to use the knowledge and tools that I have gained in this field to advocate for and represent my community because there is still a huge gap in representation, particularly as it relates to our children and families.”
Born in St Mary, Morrison grew up in Kingston with a single mother and an extended, close-knit family.
“I would say that my close-knit family shaped my life. My mother was a single mother, but I did not realise that until I went to high school and learnt about the family unit. I thought it was normal to grow up with siblings and cousins and aunts who took turns to care for each other’s children, and to have an uncle who acted exactly how I thought a father should be.
“By all measures, according to research, children from single-parent households have poorer outcomes than those who are raised in a nuclear family. However, this was not the case for me, my siblings or my cousins. This is also not the case for many of us who grew up with this type of extended family structure. And the reason is that a close-knit family with loving adults, where all the adults were responsible for all the children, protected us from the poor outcomes that research said we were supposed to have.”
She said this discrepancy fuelled her interest in the science when she started studying psychology — the discrepancy between what she was learning and what she knew existed in her community.
“I asked myself a lot of questions, was there bias in the research? Maybe the research is valid for people who lived outside of the Caribbean and did not have our kind of family structure. Or maybe what children really need is loving, responsible parents who are doing their best. These are the things that have led me to where I am today.”
Until last year Morrison worked as a research manager for a government agency, and before then, before her studies, she made waves on the runway.
“My mother had very high expectations for us and because of this, she worked hard to get us the best education and good things in life — things neither she nor my grandmother had,” she shared.
“I did well in school and followed the tradition of going to Alpha Academy like my cousins and my sister before me. When I was in fifth form, finally bowing to the pressure of my classmates to enter Miss Alpha, I was scouted by [Saint International’s] Deiwght Peters.
“During rehearsals for the Miss Alpha pageant, I was approached by one of the sixth formers who was organising the event. She said there was a model scout who wanted to meet me. I was so shy! I could not even look at him! He told me, in typical Deiwght fashion, that there was something about me and I was going to be a star!”
She started doing local photoshoots and fashion shows, then, with Peters as her agent, flew to New York.
“The trip was a major success. I worked with top New York photographers and stylists and was on option to shoot for magazines and campaigns. However, since I was still in school, I returned home after two weeks. My mother made it clear that I needed to finish school first, and it was another two years before I left Jamaica to pursue my modelling career. I landed in London and started working immediately. Literally! I got picked up from the airport and was driven to my first photoshoot!”
Her modelling career took her all over the world, walking fashion shows for top designers in London, Milan, Paris and New York. She did campaigns for Nokia, Adidas and Diesel and shot for multiple magazines.
“It was an amazing experience, and I learned so much about myself and the world,” she shared.
So what prompted the move from model to being wholly immersed in child development?
“Yes, it was quite a big and unusual leap! I did well in school and, in fact, I had been accepted to The University of the West Indies (UWI) the year before I left Jamaica to go to London. In my teenage mind, I figured that since I was going to be a ‘star’, I would make enough money to come back home and go to UWI, so I deferred my entry for one year. But, as we know, life does not always go according to plan. I was working a lot, and I realised that the fashion industry was a seize-the-day kind of industry, which means once you get your opportunity, you take it and run with it like hell! There was no stopping. So wanting to make the most of the opportunities that were open to me, I put off university.
“However, in the back of my mind I knew that I had to go back to school. I also knew that I had to have a plan B for the next phase of my life when I would be too old for modelling. I started studying part-time while juggling modelling. At 30 years old, I retired from modelling. Having completed my degree, I pursued a master’s degree in psychoanalysis. It was while doing the degree in psychology that I learned about Freud and his theory of psychological development. Then it clicked — everything starts in childhood. It made complete sense to me. My own experiences made sense, the love and stability in my childhood were the buffers that prevented me from becoming a statistic; and just like me, many others too. Childhood was the answer! I felt that I could be most useful in this capacity.”
Asked about the things she has found in research that made her realise that the area lacked coverage, Morrison said although psychology and the field of mental health have contributed much to our understanding of the human mind, it is still a Western science.
“It is still predominantly white and because of that, some prejudices and biases have existed in the discipline for decades which have resulted in our exclusion and under-representation. Black people, women and children, have largely been ‘othered’ by the science. The discipline of psychology is based on the views and theories of white men that were adapted to everyone else. And much like everything that we learnt in school, our experiences were never front and centre. Our problems were never explored from a position of empathy and understanding. We had to fight for that, and we are still fighting for that. So, it is important for me as a black woman to use the knowledge and tools that I have gained in this field to advocate for and represent my community because there is still a huge gap in representation, particularly, as it relates to our children and families.”
She also said providing culture-specific information is important.
“Indeed, there is research and many websites dedicated to child development. However, these are all from high-income countries. While the information provided is useful, most of it has to be generalised because they are not specific to our culture and setting. So it was important for me to focus on that and figure out a way to source information that was relevant to my community and the concerns of my society.”
Morrison’s independently published first book, My Happy Baby, adds to the genre of children’s stories, and represents our culture on a grand scale. The book, written in melodic poetry, follows the journey of a happy baby and her adoring parents as they marvel at her growth and development.
“Combining my love for children, writing and poetry just made sense, it was the perfect union!” she said.
She said the book was inspired by her mother and a dear friend who had given birth to twins during the pandemic.
“Her babies are so happy, and it was inspiring to see how love can be manifested in a child’s well-being and development. This is the same kind of love that I felt from my mother as a child — the type of love that made me feel precious. And it is this love that millions of parents have for their children. It is the love that, even as adults, can still reassure us, mend us and put us back together when things fall apart.”
It’s her hope that more parents will remember how important they are to their children’s development and that every moment and interaction matter. “These early experiences are building the foundation and laying the path for their children’s future,” she said.