CREATIVE SPACE #23 of 2021 (uploaded October 26th 2021)
CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition running here on the blog. It continues to expand across other media platforms (e.g. AntiguanWriter on YouTube). CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on Wednesday 27th October 2021 in the Daily Observer newspaper:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #23 OF 2021 – “WOMEN CAN DO THIS TOO”: BUTTAZ ON CHANGING CAR CULTURE
Men are better drivers than women. That’s one common myth. Yes, you read that right, myth. Another myth, women tend to be more distracted drivers. Even some women believe this one. Let’s not even get in to how men are shocked – shocked, I tell you – when a woman can drive stick, or show up out of the ether, unbidden, to ‘help’ when a woman is parallel parking, as though she bought her license. What does gender have to do with cars? Nothing ideally, but we are socialized in a reality where car culture is considered a very masculine space and people act accordingly. A reality in which women like Renee Edwards-Ambrose – licensed aircraft maintenance engineer, winning drag racer, and Lady Mex car maintenance workshop lead facilitator – are minorities in their field of work and field of play. Renee is doing what trailblazers do, though, she’s working to change the culture and bust myths.
This one is true though, she said: “Women can’t handle basic repairs.” Back up. She’s not saying we are incapable of handling repairs, just that many of us lack the know-how. “And that’s unfortunate; and I think because I saw that issue I decided to go down the path that I’m going right now with teaching women how to just do basic, basic, basic things that can prevent major repairs…a lot of them are scared to even ask the question to other persons because they don’t want to seem dumb.” Don’t get smug, dudes. Renee continued, “There are some men that don’t even know how to change a wheel and I have had men in my workshop as well.”
If the mission is to level our potholed roadways and make sure we all know what we’re doing out there, Renee is on the job.
Six hundred-plus locally – mostly women – have been emboldened to get to know the jumbie under the hood (don’t worry: nuh jumbie under dey) in her Lady Mex workshops since 2016. This year, she levelled up, partnering with Sagicor General Insurance to offer the course via an online platform – going “from 20 persons in a session to 200 persons on a platform”, participants logging on from across the region and as far as the US.
This is only the latest barrier broken by a woman who’s already notched several firsts in male-dominated fields. She is the founder and CEO of the Caribbean first all-female drag racing team Lady Horsepower Farm (now LHF Motorsports). She was, in 2014, the drag racing association’s woman drag racer of the year and nominee for sports woman of the year. In 2020, she was the first Woman of Wadadli awardee for sports.
“When persons hear about drag racing or car culture, they never think that a woman would excel tremendously and be a trailblazer in that particular sport,” Renee said, putting her journey in to perspective.
It was a journey that began when after leaving Antigua Girls High School, having told her parents “I want to be a pilot, an engineer, a drag racer, and a mechanic,” she set on her course of study for engineering, segueing to avionics which is the study of electronic systems and equipment designed for use in aviation. While she didn’t find work in her field immediately on returning to Antigua, she subsequently applied for a LIAT scholarship to study aircraft maintenance and engineering (“the only girl for the first batch”) and on completing the four-year programme in 2011 went to work for the airline. She did so up until LIAT was grounded by COVID in 2020.
But not even a pandemic could pause her brand building – there’s, among other brand building activities, her podcast (RealLyfe Driven Conversations), her Youth Training and Development Cricket Academy for women and girls in Antigua, and, of course, Lady Mex workshops.
It started as a free LHF service under the umbrella of the Women of Esteem Foundation “where we actually conducted it with around 50 young girls between the ages of 11 and 16.” Churches and various organizations followed, the demand cueing Renee in to the initiative’s revenue earning potential.
The curriculum: “This is how you check your oil, this is how you change your wheel…when it comes to maintenance, preventative maintenance is so much cheaper than reactive maintenance; so, when you check your oil, what are you looking for, why do you check your oil, why do you check the different fluids, if you hear a specific noise, what in the world could it be, what are the different parts that are very important within your car…so these are the things that we teach persons…we try as much as possible to educate, in layman’s terms …how to actually take care of their cars, and as time progress, we will start doing how to service your vehicle, how to change your breaks, and have small sessions of these kinds for persons that want to do more with their cars.”
In 2022, she said, part of the plan “…apart from teaching about how to take care of your car with the basic essentials is to actually teach people how to drive manual transmission vehicles.”
Renee’s teaching methodology is make it fun – or “sprinkle some Renee on it.” This applies even to section headings – e.g. The lights on the dashboard or Wenk dem light ah blind me so. Goodie bags with branded water bottles, notebooks, coloured cookies shaped like tools (screwdrivers, pliers, hammers) are just some of the in-person treats. Her workshop December last was Christmas-themed; “so I had the balloons that look like a Christmas tree with a star, and the theme was green, and, you know, I tried to make it interesting so that persons have a wonderful experience and at the same time, learning.”
For the online component, to give remote participants that in-the-room feeling, “I was able to do videos for the practical aspect of it and also have informational slides and educational slides with voice overs…and also they had the opportunity to ask questions through that portal…and then at the end of it we had a webinar.” Another plus, participants are able to learn at their own pace within a given window. “I am going to continue the digital platform and I am also going to add a lot more courses through the digital platform. How do you actually change your oil as opposed to checking your oil, how do you probably check your spark plugs, how do you carry out a six-point walk around on your vehicle; these things I would put on the course itself.” Of course, once it’s safe to do so, she also hopes to return to in-person workshops and more.
“Within the next five years, probably even less than that, three years, I want to actually have my own physical space for my workshop. It’s not going to be a mechanic shop, like the conventional mechanic shop. What I want it to be is a space where women and men can learn and also, of course, have probably like a pedicure station and a manicure station. So, let’s say you want to come in and learn how to service your car, or have your car serviced, and learn in the process, you can still get your nails done or get a foot massage or something while learning at the same time. I just want that to be a space just to house everything that’s automotive related to my brand in real life. So anything’s that’s motorsports related and Lady Mex related that all is going to be housed under one roof… and I even will be able to extend my online platform to actually probably do live sessions within that space…the horizon is wide open.”
All images above supplied by Renee Edwards-Ambrose, except for the image from the WOW awards which is from the Women of Wadadli awards facebook page.
Media links about Renee and/or Lady Mex:
A link to my previous interview, for Caribbean Beat magazine, with Renee (and another trailblazing Antiguan-Barbudan female, ‘the racing beautician’ Lisalis). 2014.
A link about that time Renee took the Lady Mex workshop to Anguilla. 2017.
Sagicor announcement re its team-up with Renee. 2021.
For my parking pet peeve and the driving skill Renee had trouble mastering, see the video of our interview at AntiguanWriter on YouTube.
Video excerpts below.
About those myths re women and car culture:
Ten Things about Female drivers that aren’t True (and 10 that are) by Natasha_B writing at HotCars
1, Women are worse drivers than men
Renee: “Statistically women are safer and better drivers than men. And what you find even outside of driving women tend to measure twice and cut once, whereas men dem dey jus’ kinda leggo no hand, whenever they feel like doing something, they just do it and don’t really think about it. So, I think that’s a myth and statistically it’s been proven that it’s a myth.”
2, Women are more likely to drive distracted
Renee: “That’s true. (“We have to fix hair, put on make-up, put on eyelash”)… I try my best to advocate for safe driving…(as for her cell phone, Renee tries to leave hers in her bag) it’s important to use Bluetooth for persons that have Bluetooth attached to their audio system in their car; it’s super important. Make-up can wait.”
“Outside of your documents, outside of your up to date license, all of that, and your owner’s manual, here are some of the things that are nice to have inside of your vehicle:
First aid kit
Jumper cable or jumper pack
Renee met Shawnisha Henctor, the first Antiguan and Barbudan to make it to the West Indies Cricket Team (Women), at the Women of Wadadli Awards in March 2020. They were seated at the same table. Within months, she had been contacted about stepping in as her manager. That has expanded to deepening involvement in sports management, specifically cricket through the Youth Training and Development Cricket Academy. “Now that I’ve seen the gaps and I see the problems (with regards to training and development), I’ve made it my business to spearhead a platform where more women and girls will have an opportunity to use cricket as their transport in to what they want to do.”
Here’s where you can listen to Renee’s podcast which includes interviews with other female race car drivers.
(image supplied by Renee Edwards-Ambrose)
Renee is also a pageant winner (Carnival Plus International in Trinidad and Curvy Idol competition in Atlanta in 2014), model, and influencer.
If you would like to be featured in a future CREATIVE SPACE or to pay for a (web only) sponsored post (on jhohadli.wordpress.com exclusively), BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.
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