Profiles
Black migrations:

How our journeys shape us

Growing up in New York, the stories of Leslie White's parents' emigration from the Caribbean to the US have long served as precious reminders of the importance of hard work and humility. Today, these stories instill in her a strong sense of cultural identity and fuel her ambition.
Read On
Read On

I’m a first-generation American, a proud product of parents who emigrated from the Caribbean for more opportunities. When I was younger, my parents frequently shared stories of their upbringing with my older sister and me and took us “back home” to visit our family in their native islands. These experiences, marked by contrasts of the simplicity of life on a small island versus the convenience of my childhood in the suburbs of New York (Westchester County), are my reminders of the importance of gratitude, hard work, and empathy, while instilling in me a strong cultural identity and pride in my heritage.

In my granny's (paternal grandmother) garden in Delvins' village, Montserrat, BWI (age 4)

My father moved from his native Montserrat — an island in the Caribbean Sea known for its volcano, Irish connection, and the song Hot, Hot, Hot! — to the United States when he was 17, along with his older brother and their mother. His older sister had previously moved to the US, while his three older brothers decided to settle in England with his father. Montserrat is a very small island, and, at the time when they were coming out of school, there weren’t many opportunities. For my father, as a non-citizen, the job market in New York City was limited, however, he found a decent job at the American Thread Company before volunteering to join the US Navy, where he started his career in Information Technology. This was a time when he was witnessing the Vietnam War, the East-West Germany border issues, and the Cuban crisis all at the same time. He spent four years in the Navy, including a stint in the Philippines. Upon returning, he eventually worked for JP Morgan Chase on Wall Street in computers systems and software programming, retiring from a management role after a two-decade long career there.

In St. Kitts, my maternal grandmother owned a grocery store and bakery and rented homes to the community. My mother was only 13 when her mother passed and was raised largely by her father along with her five siblings in her native island of St. Kitts (and Nevis.) When my mother first moved to the US, she took business classes and became a stenographer. But she quickly realized she wanted to go in another direction, and so, started nursing school and went on to work at St. Luke’s Hospital as a dialysis nurse.

lwhite father navysm
lwhite parentssm
My father in the Navy; my parents in the 70s.

The principles my parents instilled in me— of the value of education, dedication, and being accountable — resonate with me every day of my life. Coming from the Caribbean as immigrants, my parents raised my sister and me with the mindset that failure was not an option: it was expected that you’d work hard and get a career befitting your capabilities. I remember my mother working 12-hour shifts and often taking on doubles. But irrespective of how tired she was or how long her shift had been, she’d always check our homework. I was 9 years old when my mother passed. Her two sisters, who lived nearby, helped raise my older sister and me. 

I also get my entrepreneurial spirit as well as my deep love for and responsibility to my family and community from them. Back in Montserrat, my paternal grandmother’s home was the only one in the neighborhood with running water and indoor bathrooms and, so, they happily opened up their home to neighbors. I also have many cousins on both sides of the family who serve as role models and examples for me.

My older sister (striped top), some of our first cousins, and me at a past "White Cousins' Luncheon"

I grew up going to events organized by the Montserrat Progressive Society of New York and when I was old enough, it was obvious to me that I’d get involved with the organization. I developed their website, made their newsletter digital, launched their social channels, took over the education committee, and helped launch the communications committee. It was gratifying to be able to work with a group of people who were family, friends, and my community and then figure out how I can leverage these skills in my career as well.

Now, as a seasoned digital marketer, I can trace my passion for the Internet back to the early days of Netscape and America Online. Due to the nature of my father’s job, we always had PCs at home. My father was also one of the first in our neighborhood to bring the Internet into the home. During college, I focused on the principles of marketing, along with a continuing interest in the then still-evolving Internet and its growing role as a driving force in business. That’s when I began building websites and started dabbling in affiliate and search engine marketing. My digital marketing chops began at the very early crossroads of marketing and the World Wide Web. And if you ask my father, I got my head for business and Digital from him!

This story is featured as part of our Black History Month series "Black migrations: How our journeys shape us", which highlights black professionals at AlixPartners recounting how their family migrations have influenced their paths both professionally and personally.