This June, Island Origins Magazine proudly celebrates our fifth anniversary. Since 2017, we have been dedicated to sharing powerful stories about leaders and visionaries in the Caribbean and diaspora. To honor this milestone we speak to our founders David I. Muir and Calibe Thompson, reflecting on the origins of this publication, why they passionately believe in the importance of Caribbean stories, and what they envision for our treasured readers in the future.
At first, media producer Calibe Thompson and photographer David I. Muir were not looking for long-term business partners. Both are self-assured and fearless but approach creative endeavors with different flair. Such personalities could easily butt heads or pull apart with divergent visions. Yet, since launching Island Origins Magazine and media agency Island Syndicate, together they have grown far more than they could’ve predicted.
“I’ve always been kind of spectacular,” laughs Muir with his signature blend of sincerity and cheek. “But I’m so much more spectacular now as a result of five years of business with Calibe. She’s also been kind of spectacular.”
Containing a chuckle behind her smile, Thompson agrees. “When we started this project, for me, it was the first time I was engaging with somebody putting in a similar effort and commitment to what we were doing together.”
Neither set out to start a magazine. As Jamaican-Americans circulating around the vibrant Caribbean creative community in South Florida, they had often run into each other at events and had developed mutual respect for each other’s work. They initially only joined forces to convert Thompson’s national public television series, “Taste the Islands,” into a live culinary event held in Fort Lauderdale.
For the event program, Thompson wanted to create something with more style and heft than a typical brochure, so they produced a magazine to tell the story of the show. They realized they had something special when people began eagerly inquiring about the next issue.
“We’re both unafraid to try things,” says David. “Once the question was asked, we wondered, ‘Can we turn this into a business?’” Thompson adds: “Here we are, eight Florida Magazine Awards later,” including a Charlie (gold) for best editorial writing, and several silvers for writing and photography.
Though distributed in South Florida, Island Origins transcended its home base, highlighting voices from across the Caribbean diaspora. From London to Toronto and Havana to Port of Spain, the publication’s culture, business and current events stories feature people whose accomplishments are often overlooked by mainstream media.
Luminaries like music icon Wyclef Jean, President Joe Biden’s senior campaign advisor Karen André and Carnival Cruise Line VP Marie McKenzie have graced the covers. And inside, the pages unfold the full breadth of Caribbean experiences from LGBTQ coming-out journeys to Olympians striving through the COVID pandemic toward the 2020 Summer Games to carnival costume designers reimagining mas traditions. The audience expanded even further with the launch of the companion website, IslandOriginsMag.com.
Through it all, Muir and Thompson remain in awe of the readers’ support, particularly those from outside the Caribbean diaspora. In the early days, Muir could not believe how quickly a stack of new issues disappeared from the stands. He at first thought someone must be throwing them out, until, first hand, he witnessed person after person picking up copies.
While multitasking during an interview, David looked out at a wall lined with copies of the covers with pride. The magazines themselves are lovely, but they mean so much to him because of what they signify: Their commitment to telling Caribbean stories and doing so well that it was recognized and rewarded. “We’ll do much bigger and greater things in the future,” he said.
The success of the magazine and other creative projects has expanded their mission toward more ambitious platforms. They developed Caribbean culinary event The Taste the Islands Experience into a popular annual series on Fort Lauderdale’s social calendar. During the pandemic in 2020, they also launched Island SPACE, a nonprofit organization and museum dedicated to creating room for more Caribbean stories as told by Caribbean voices.
The museum features a permanent exhibit displaying items from centuries-old artifacts to modern treasures like Jamaican Olympic record-holder Usain Bolt’s track shoes. Their event space also hosts lectures, art exhibitions and important social events from the first in-person meeting of the pandemic period’s Caribbean consular corp to this year’s upcoming emancipation-themed exhibition and program series.
“I want it to be a Caribbean version of what they built in Washington, D.C. for the African American community,” explains Thompson about their vision. “Our story is not told in the ways we tell it, except where we are.”
Last year, the team behind Island Origins also won a major contract to produce destination magazines called “Explore” for Broward County’s tourism agency. While developing a publication, media agency and museum, Thompson and Muir have had to roll with the punches in navigating new ventures. “We’re not business people. We’re artists who have started some businesses,” says Thompson. “We’re figuring it out as we go along.”
With this in mind, their next steps will focus on further developing their own business acumen, cultivating committed partnerships with business leaders, engaging more robustly with the community, expanding their social media presence and strengthening their team. Tamara Philippeaux joined the team in 2021 to support business development efforts and has since earned a spot as the newest partner at Island Syndicate.
“We’re still in that building process,” says Thompson. “But we believe that success really depends on the tribe you build around yourself. And we’re proud of the foundation that we’re laying for the people in our community.”