If you’re a local social media addict, you might have seen the Youtube video ‘American Learns To Speak Jamaican Patois‘ making the rounds on social media about a year ago, featuring my girl Donalee Curtis teaching her friend, makeup artist JKissa, some current patwa (that’s how I like to spell it) phrases. Their hilarious patwa experiment even made its way to Smile Jamaica, It’s Morning Time on TVJ. “My family and friends were calling me and sending me videos of themselves watching it. That was such an amazing feeling. All I want to do is make my country proud, even if it’s just through a fun video. As for JKissa, I think she is just as shocked as I am,” she said.
If you cast your mind back about four years or so, you might even remember Donalee from her time as the host of iVu tv’s The Wkndr show for eMedia Interactive Limited, which is where she and I met.
Following this, she headed back to the US, where she has lived since she was a child. She weighed her options, comparing the digital media landscapes in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, before deciding LA would offer the best opportunities to learn about the industry and global standards. The weather was also a plus. In LA, she landed a gig at Endemol Beyond, the digital arm of the Endemol Shine Group, which has produced and/or distributed a long lineup of top-rated programmes around the world, from reality shows to sitcoms and dramas, talk shows, game shows, and children’s shows, including Big Brother, Fear Factor, Hot in Cleveland, The Steve Harvey Show, and Deal or No Deal.
At Endemol Beyond, Donalee was part of a small team that, under the leadership of Youtube queen Michelle Phan, launched ICON Network, a global lifestyle channel. “I led the charge on the company’s ICON Summit, a creator-focused learning and collaboration summit, and built the the ICON Ambassador Program, where I hand-picked up-and-coming talent and mentored them. I’ve also had the pleasure of styling Michelle for several public appearances including the Streamy Awards, Forbes 30 Under 30 (2015), People Magazine, The Today Show, Dr Oz, The Steve Harvey Show,” she said. “Endemol was a fantastic place to learn. We were such a small team, I would get tasks thrown my way and literally would have to figure it out as I go. It was awesome being trusted with so many important responsibilities and learning from some of the best in the business. Endemol Shine Group is the largest independent production company and studio in the world! So when I say I was learning from the best, I mean it.”
It should come as no surprise then that she waded into the world of Youtube for herself, starting her namesake channel last year. “I got into vlogging because I wanted to share more of my story. Also because I used to be on camera prior to moving to LA, I found that some of my old viewers were curious to see what I was up to,” she said.
Donalee has big plans for the channel, which is currently lifestyle focused. These plans include more content highlighting Jamaican and Caribbean culture, in addition to expanding on her current eco-friendly living and DIY interests.
In addition to her new media/Youtube goals, she is also committed to uplifting other women, and one of the ways she goes about this is with 12totwo, “an intimate brunch experience for women, by women.” The name, which was voted on by the group of women attending the first brunch back in February 2015, is literally the time period of the event – from 12 noon to 2PM. She started the brunches as a way to combat the socialised tension that often exists between women, having been in some “sticky situations” herself. “I couldn’t believe that we treat each other like this. I didn’t want to believe that women being catty to other women was a reality, so I started inviting random women to brunch!”
During the first year, brunches were held at restaurants in and around her Downtown LA neighbourhood. Wanting a more controlled and intimate environment, the events were moved to her home this March. “At the first home brunch, I hired a chef. Wanting to outdo myself, I decided the next one should be a yoga brunch. It wasn’t until I told my dad what I was doing and he urged me to grow it as a business that I started going outside of my personal network and inviting the general public,” she said. (Tickets for the October brunch are currently available via Eventbrite, if you’re going to be in or around DTLA on the 23rd.)
Each 12totwo brunch is intimate – 15 to 20 women – and themed, with activities such as yoga, self defense, improv and floral arrangement. The one rule in place, besides the obvious ‘no boys allowed,’ is that attendees can’t sit next to someone they know. Instead, they’re encouraged to mingle and strike up conversations with new people. “We’re not trying to make besties, just have conversations with different people,” she said. “I like to keep it small. You’re at least guaranteed to have a few meaningful conversations, instead of it turning into a networking thing where you’re just passing around business cards.”
Like her Youtube channel, Donalee also has a bigger vision for 12totwo. “Short term, I want to create a powerful and beautiful experience for all those involved. Whether the women choose to treat it as an ephemeral experience or join the community, I hope those few hours make a lasting impression on their lives,” she said. “Long term, I want to grow it globally. I want to be able to do pop-ups around the world. Also, I would like to organize 12totwo retreats, starting in the Caribbean.” Jamaica is top of the list, of course.
Q: What is your philosophy in life?
A: Oh boy… Be reckless with your dreams.
Q: My website is called Written by Tracey, so of course I have to ask, what was the last thing you wrote?
A: The last thing I wrote (other than a entry in my journal) was a blog post for the 12totwo website.
Q: And since I firmly believe reading puts the FUN in fundamental, what is the last thing you read?
A: I am currently reading The Mastery of Love by don Miguel Ruiz, and before that, I read The Four Agreements by the same author. That was a life changing book! I love it.