Community Builders: An Interview with Anya Cherrice
Anya Cherrice built her community, Navigating Culture, with the mission "to cure homesickness and heal loneliness." She guides people to make meaningful friendships, deep connections, and form a healthy community. She sat down to talk to Panion about her work and her journey from a small island nation to her work in the US as a community builder.
Panion: Thank you so much for chatting today, Anya. Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
Anya: I grew up in Trinidad & Tobago. It’s a tiny Caribbean island that’s seven miles off the coast of South America. I moved to Boston when I was 19, and then after graduating college, I moved to San Francisco where I spent 4.5 years, I’m currently in the middle of planning my next move.
P: You have an incredible community you've created. Can you tell me a little bit about Navigating Culture?
A: Navigating Culture has existed in many different iterations. At first, I wanted a place to tell my stories as a black, immigrant, Trinidadian woman trying to navigate life in Silicon Valley. As I spent more time writing and creating content for the blog, I realized that what I was trying to do was much bigger than a blog, I was trying to create a movement.
It’s taken some trial and error to get to a point where the business’ mission reflects what I’m actually trying to do and say, but I can finally say that, we’re here!
P: Who did you create this community for?
A: So, while Navigating Culture’s content will still appeal to the Multicultural Millennial, the public focus and brand promise is focused on 1st and 2nd gen immigrants. For Navigating Culture this refers to people who were born in one country and then immigrated to another and people whose parents were born in a different country compared to their place of birth and where they were raised.
P: That's wonderful. When people move they often struggle. Sometimes with the language, often with feelings of isolation and loneliness. What do you think are some of the causes of loneliness?
A: Well, in addition to the typical, traditional causes of loneliness, I think that loneliness can be caused by a lack of clarity when it comes to the type of people we want in our lives and the types of energy we want to be surrounded by.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how can you know what to focus on? If you don’t know what your values are, how do you know if you align well with someone?
I also think loneliness can come from not feeling connected to the people in closest proximity to us. For example, you can be as open, engaging and interesting as can be, but if you live and work in a community of people who simply do not share your values or who do not want to engage with you, your relationships will be superficial at best and that can feel very lonely.
P: What makes a meaningful friendship?
A: A meaningful friendship is one where you feel validated, heard, understood, and seen. It’s one where you both take the time to get to know one another and enjoy each other’s company. A meaningful friendship is also one where you both can challenge each other and call each other out on any b.s. if necessary.
P: Meaningful friendships seem to form naturally out of strong communities. What are the top benefits of belonging to a community?
A: It’s as macro as knowing you belong somewhere, knowing that there are places you can go where you are celebrated, not just tolerated, having people who take care of you, and who you feel happy to take care of. And it’s as micro as knowing you have people to spend major holidays with or who will come to visit you if you’re in the hospital. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s finding clarity when it comes to who you want to be surrounded by.
P: You have been quite successful as a community-builder. As you said, you've learned through lots of trial and error. What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to grow a community?
A: Here's a list!
- A) Trying to be someone that you’re not.
- B) Acting as though a real community is forged in a day (community-building takes time).
- C) Not paying attention to how potential friends treat you (if people aren’t engaging with you, don’t force it).
- D) Being afraid to make the first move.
- E) Thinking that because you spent a certain amount of time with someone means that you have to continue spending time with that person.
P: What are your 3 top tips for people trying to build a community?
- Get clear, about who you are and what you like and the type of people you want in your life
- Don’t be afraid to try new things to meet people, e.g. if the salsa class isn’t working out, try a professional networking meetup.
- Not everyone is for you and that’s okay! Get good about knowing what your cut-off meter is with potential friends, and you won’t feel like you’ve wasted any time if things don’t work out.
P: How can allies help support communities of people of color right now?
A: This is a big question and there are so many experts that are speaking on this and that can be researched. I don’t have an answer that can fit in a 1 - 2 sentence blurb, however, I will say this:
1. Listen to black people and people of color when they share their experiences with you. 2. Research how you can actively participate, it’s not enough to just post on social media. 3. Apologize. You’ve probably dismissed and reduced a black person’s and POCs accounts of discrimination or microagressions. Be humble and sincerely say what needs to be said.
P: How do you see the future of community building in the context of changing technology and the “new normal”?
A: It’s a lot easier to meet people BUT we will have to get more discerning. Sure, you can connect with 50 people in your neighborhood that also love to play basketball, but is this enough to develop a deep friendship? Maybe, but probably not.
We’re going to have to get a lot more clear on who we are and what we want the people in our lives to represent and share with us so that we can make better decisions about who we want to invest more time in.
P: What are some of the Panion features that you think will be most powerful and why?
A: I do like the ability to create several different communities of your own for different reasons and I love that you can also create events for those communities right in the app. Instead of connecting 1-on-1 and trying to move everyone off-app to plan an event together, you can do it all within one place.
P: What inspires you?
A: Hmmm, a lot inspires me. I think that people not giving in to the limitations of society expects them to be and do, instead, they chart their own path inspires me. I think people being brave enough to not feel like they have to be brave all the time inspires me, it makes me feel like I have the permission to be a more whole person.
Things that are novel inspire me because they force me to broaden my perspective and show me new ways of doing things. Then I'm motivated to take this same breadth of perspective back to my own work.
P: Apart from community-building, what are your personal passions and interests?
A: I love salsa dancing. I love dancing in general but took up salsa dancing about 3.5 years ago and absolutely loved it. I met most of my favorite people in San Francisco through salsa and so I owe the art form a lot.
I love to have people over to my home and throwing parties and trying different recipes. It may be a shocker but I love bringing people together!
Anya Cherrice is the CEO of Navigating Culture - a community platform that helps first & second generation migrants struggling to navigate two cultures learn how to self-validate, remove self-doubt and find confidence so that they can achieve ‘The Dream” without forgetting their values and where they come from.