Cranla refused to let her ʽstrikes’ define her
In high school, as she sought advice from a guidance counsellor about becoming a psychologist, Cranla Warren was told to "focus on something more attainable".
Because she was a Black female from a single-parent home, becoming a secretary made far more sense, the Canadian counsellor said.
Another strike against her: she was an immigrant, having left Bermuda as a seven-year-old with her mother Sheila Williams Warren.
None of that mattered to the then 14-year-old, who stuck to her plan and is today the vice president of leadership development for the Institute for Health and Human Potential and wears many hats as an organisational psychologist. Dr Warren recently made news across Canada when she was put on a list of 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women.
A Bermuda flag will sit beside her picture in a book highlighting each of the honourees for their "social, educational, political and professional accomplishments".
"I think it was my first year in high school [when I went to] my guidance counsellor saying I want to be a psychologist, I want to be a family therapist, I want to find a way to help people," Dr Warren said.
"Even though my parents were divorced, I felt so loved across the band of the Atlantic Ocean – from my mom to my dad to my extended family. I never felt a lot of turmoil. I never felt a lot of conflict. [But] she said to me, 'I don’t know Cranla, you have too many strikes against you. You're Black, you're female, an immigrant from a single-parent family.'"
Dr Warren, who "hadn’t defined [herself] in that way before", was told to "go for something attainable", to get a job as a secretary.
"There's nothing wrong with being a secretary at all except I wasn’t coming to her to ask for help to be a secretary," she said.
The exchange was also contrary to the messages she got from her family, of Black pride and seeing her ambitions through.
Dr Warren left the guidance counsellor and went to the principal who quickly connected her with a new adviser.
"The rest is history. I got into McMaster University for undergrad and into the University of Toronto for grad school and then [received multiple degrees] after that because I really believe in lifelong, continuous learning and just being a student, for myself, of human behaviour."
It is a story she often shares with the girls she mentors through a charity in Toronto, Trust 15.
"With those girls I show them another way. I say don’t allow society to prescribe for you what you can and should and only can be," said Dr Warren who saw how "courageous" her own mother was when the two of them left "99 per cent of their family" in Bermuda for "bigger opportunities" in Canada.
"My father, Cranston Warren, very unselfishly agreed and signed the papers to allow us to go," said the former West Pembroke Primary School student.
"I spent every summer back in Bermuda visiting with my dad and my stepmom and family. July and August I was there, swimming at Admiralty House and jumping off the rocks and down in Spanish Point right up until probably about my teens when I started to work in the summers."
The 100 ABCWomen award came as a surprise. Dr Warren, who was chosen from "several thousand" nominees, has no idea who the three people are who put her name forward although Marcia Brown, the executive director of Trust 15, made the list in 2020.
The biennial award was started by Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada, who felt that the extraordinary things being done by Black Canadian women should be documented.
"In Canada there is a hierarchy and its White man, White woman, Black man, Black woman – it's not spoken about, it's really implicit and unconscious and covert in many ways. So this is elevating the contributions of Black women, making them visible," Dr Warren said.
"Dr Augustine also honours their home country. Many of us weren’t born in Canada; many of us immigrated to Canada. There is a book [that accompanies each list] and in the book they put the flag of the honouree. So mine will have my name and my picture and there will be a flag of Bermuda to show where I came from, to show my roots."
Family and friends have "been really excited and proud".
"They don’t really let you know [who has nominated you]. The whole idea is you're being honoured for who you are and what you bring," said Dr Warren who was also recognised for her work with The Community Equity Action Team, a group she and fellow Bermudian Oonagh Vaucrosson are members of in Stratford, Ontario.
She is proud of what she has accomplished as a volunteer and also at the Institute for Health and Human Potential which offered guidance on staff retention as businesses coped with mass resignations last year.
"We specialise in emotion and social science so neuroscience, emotional intelligence and how all of that connects to leadership, how it connects to collaboration, how it supports innovation and employee engagement at work. You may have heard of The Great Resignation that bit a lot of companies last year, our approach is really around building trust and meaningful connections – leaders with their team members – and supporting just what I call humanness. When people feel seen and heard and valued, that really aids in retention. We really do our best to live those values here and then we coach and teach our clients to develop those competencies and values as well."
Her hope is to return to the island as soon as possible.
"When things are feeling a little more safe to travel it will be the first place we go. We used to travel as a family there probably every two years because my dad's still there," she said.