Throughout her career as a storyteller, wellness advocate, community builder, and all-around creative, Chantal Miller has cultivated a sense of sisterhood.
That ideal extended beyond her many titles as she searched to create meaningful connections with other women and find spaces that regularly celebrated Caribbean culture in London. It was a desire that Miller says stemmed from a lack of representation of the Caribbean community despite their long-held and impactful contributions to British society.
As someone who was born in the UK and raised on the Eastern Caribbean island of Nevis, Miller wanted to create opportunities for women and girls in the Caribbean and throughout the Diaspora to collaborate and learn from each other. She wanted to see women of Caribbean heritage connect across borders.
“I thought, you know what, I need to do something. I need to build a community in the UK where women and girls of Caribbean heritage can gather, can break bread together, can build a community and can build ecosystems, but it was just a thought, right? I thought ‘I’m going to do that one day,’” Miller tells ESSENCE.
That day came in 2015 after Tropical Storm Erika caused severe damage and claimed several lives on the island of Dominica. Miller wanted to do something to help and held a brunch fundraiser in London to support relief efforts. She says she didn’t realize then that the event would mark the start of Island Girls Rock (IGR), a non-profit organization that facilitates diasporic collaborations, builds networks, and provides mentorship and inspiration through immersive events and workshops.
“The concept grew organically and just did its own thing, regardless as to what my strategic mind was saying. I thought no we have to build a strategy and we have to do this and that, but the community led Island Girls Rock. The community was like, ‘Yeah, we are ready for you. This is needed. What you’re doing is needed, and we need you to do more.’ That was truly the beauty of it all,” Miller shares.
Over the past eight years, the organization, which started with that one community event in London, has evolved into an impactful non-profit with a core four-person team connecting and collaborating with women and girls of Caribbean heritage in the UK, USA, Caribbean, and beyond using a unique six pillar focus.
These pillars include “Island Girls Rock Joy Filled Events,” where Miller and her team organize and participate in events that celebrate island culture, traditions, and achievements to create a sense of unity and pride. They also prioritize physical and mental well-being, providing resources and support to help Caribbean women lead healthy lives with its “Island Girls Rock Wellness” initiative.
IGR also centers programming that promotes a love for reading and amplifying community stories with its “Let’s Get Lit initiative” and “Island Girls Rock Podcast.” Additionally, the organization explores Caribbean cinema and culture through its “Chill With IGR” series featuring films, conversations, and other events.
“When we get messages from mothers and fathers, that’s what makes everything worthwhile. When we can hear a little girl say I love spending the day with people that look and sound like me and my mommy. That’s the reward,” she says.
“When a filmmaker that we have championed and supported from way back when now has a series that’s on Hulu, you know, and she’s reaching out to us to say ‘thank you for believing in me from the beginning,’” Miller added, referencing the organization’s support of Jamaican American author Charmaine Wilkerson and her debut novel Black Cake. It has since been turned into a major streaming series produced by Oprah Winfrey. “Those are the biggest rewards. That’s why we’re here.”
Most recently, IGR launched its “Bloom Where You’re Planted” initiative in partnership with The Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. It’s a mentorship program with a mission of providing guidance, support, and inspiration to girls and women of Caribbean heritage. This initiative is meant to help young women grow and thrive, regardless of their circumstances.
“Bloom Where You’re Planted feeds into the idea that you can be anything, anywhere, no matter what. So we reached out to some amazing Caribbean women and said, look, we want you to come down and spend time with a cohort of girls,” says Miller.
The first cohort met earlier this year, focused on art, and featured an artist from the Bahamas who worked with 20 girls and women. That group has since had its first art exhibition at the Charlestown Art Gallery in Nevis. Other programs will focus on storytelling, filmmaking, and other topics.
The Island Girls Rock model is also expanding to other islands with the recent implementation of an IGR ambassador in St. Lucia and soon-to-be-announced ambassadors in Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas. These young women will lead programming based on IGR’s six pillars meant to encourage, engage, and inspire young women of Caribbean heritage.
“What we are doing here is breaking down this myth of women not being a sisterhood, of Caribbean women not being for each other because we very much are,” says Miller.