Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you?
I was born in St. Thomas, Jamaica which is east of Kingston; my childhood was spent surrounded by a large and loving extended family. Even though we didn’t have much we had a lot of love and laughter and still do. I am the eldest of five siblings and numerous cousins. I immigrated to Canada in 1988 to continue my education. What stands out for me about living in Jamaica as a child was that we were a tight knit family and we all knew we could always count on each other for whatever support we are in need of. This is still the case to this day even though we are all separated by vast distances.
Was there any person or persons that influenced your childhood the most?
My grandmother Wilhel McLeod and my mother Pamela Hamilton have both been my inspiration and motivation. I watched them work very hard to provide for us and they also helped others even though we did not have much for ourselves. They taught me to go out and get what I wanted in life and to never give up. I credit them with instilling many of the values I hold dear today!
Even though my grandmother has passed on, she still manages to motivate me. So much so, that I named my Jamaican business after her. She is the one who instilled in all of us how to treat others and what my responsibility is to those who are less fortunate than we are. As a result of those values, I have been a sponsor of children through World Vision of Canada since 1989!
What is your educational background?
I obtained a 3-year Business Administration diploma from Algonquin College, and in 1996 I enrolled in the Certified General Accounting program through CGA-Ontario on a part-time basis while working in a local public accounting firm, and I obtained my Certified General Accountant designation in 2002.
Could you describe your day job?
As the owner of Marlene L. Grant Professional Corporation a Chartered Professional Accounting Firm, my days are very demanding and hectic and sometimes I have to reschedule tasks to meet with a client or deal with a client’s emergency; a typical day is spent returning emails and phone calls; reviewing clients’ corporate year-ends files and tax returns; tax planning and or strategic sessions with clients to ensure that their needs are being met; providing leadership to my team of four staff members; business planning and implementation; Some days I start or end my day attending board meetings relating to clients or as a volunteer treasurer.
You received the Black Canadians Role Model and Ambassador award in 2014 and before that, the Nepean Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the year award in 2011. Could you tell us about these awards and what they meant to you?
The Nepean Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the year looked at a number of criteria one of which was community involvement; I was and still am very active in my community such as in the role of treasurer in a number of organizations as well providing free tax seminars for business and self-employed individuals through the Ottawa Public Library since 2008, I was nominated by a number of individuals for this award as a result of that community involvement. I had not expected to win this award because I was one of ten business women in the community that had been nominated for the award. I was just honoured that individuals in our community felt that I deserved such recognition. The award means a lot to me because on October 19, 2011 I was diagnosed with Lupus and it was one of the lowest points in my life, the following night October 20, 2011 I won the Business Woman of the year award and I was reminded of my philosophy of never giving up and how things can turn around from an extreme low to the ultimate high in a manner of hours.
The Black Canadian Role Model and Ambassador award is an award recognizing Black Canadians who have contributed to our community and Nation as a whole and once again some individuals felt that I needed to be recognized for all that I have accomplished and my community involvement, they nominated me to be selected for an interview and to be considered a role model and ambassador, when I conducted the interview the questions forced me to really talk about myself and what I have accomplished since I have become a Canadian and I realized that I could be an inspiration to someone and as I was going through the process I realized I inspired myself. This award is very important to me to be recognized in my community as a role model and ambassador, because I believed that we are in charge of our own destiny and that when we can mentor others to help them achieve their full potential.
You are probably one of the very few Black women who are Chartered Professional Accountants and Certified General Accountants, a profession that is dominated by white males. Have you encountered any problems or challenges in your career as a result of your race or gender?
No I have not encountered any problems or challenges in my career because of my race or gender.
What advice would give to a young black girl aspiring to enter your profession as a career?
Find yourself a mentor to help guide you, surround yourself with like-minded individuals who will uplift you not people who will discourage you. We are all capable of achieving success we just have to reach out and grab it, some of us are more confident in our abilities and will go out and take our opportunity and some of us will need someone to give us a shoulder to climb. I have been a mentor to a number of accountants over the years some just before they started their own practices and others starting to look at my profession.
Looking at Canada’s black population, there seems to be a divide between African and Caribbean communities on the one hand, and Anglophone and francophone communities on the other. Do you agree with this perspective and if so what can be done to remedy this divide?
In some cases yes it is and I am not sure why that is and in other cases I have seen them working together for the betterment of our community. I am one of the founders and treasurer of the Network of Black Business and Professional Women founded in 2011 to provide a network for us to showcase our accomplishment and to provide mentorship and a way to share our knowledge with each other. We are all from different countries, background and professions and what we have in common is that we want to uplift and empower each other. The black community as a whole can learn from that and come together to discuss what our impediments are and how we can achieve the changes we need to grow as a community.
Over the years, have you seen any change in the status of the black population in Canada? Are we any better off now than say, ten or fifteen years ago?
We are better off now, we are achieving more and it is more visible, I have family in the United States of America and I have a brother and a nephew there and they face so much more issues than we do here in Canada.
There are some segments of our community which claim that black men do not respect black women and vice versa; that we tend to defer to other races when we interact with them, especially white Caucasians. Do you agree with this perspective?
I can only speak for myself, I deal with each person based on their merits and not based on their race. Growing up in Jamaica we deal with each other respectfully. Jamaica’s national motto is “out of many one people” and I live by that motto.
Looking at the Black population in Canada, what do you see as our greatest challenge and how do we resolve it? What are our strengths?
I believe our greatest challenge is having the broader community as a whole view the black community in a more positive way. We can resolve this by participating in every aspect of our society to ensure our voices are heard and help mold our society. Our strengths are looking at all the black Canadians that have paved the way for us and how they persevered in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Our greatest strength is all of us that have achieve success and continue to achieve that success and the fact that we are asking these questions show that we are ready for the success that is waiting for us.
Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?
No matter where you come from you can achieve greatness we cannot change the past just the present and the future. Your past does not define you it helps shapes you, what you do with your present and future is up to you. Some of us are not strong enough to overcome our past by ourselves but we can seek the help we need in order to do so.