Jamaica | Small Business Development Officer at Urban League of Broward County
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African proverb
J.R. McFarling helps Urban League of Broward County’s entrepreneurship clients navigate roadblocks and implement programs they can leverage to build their legacy. Though the organization advances lives through education, business services, community development, justice, housing and healthcare, McFarling’s focus is on minority small businesses. With a 15-year history in business development, McFarling has found that his work at the ULBC marries his skillset with his strong desire to impact the community.
Hailing from Spurtree in Manchester, Jamaica by way of Boston, Massachusetts, he admires the grit of the Jamaican people each time he visits the land of his birth. He relies on the internal compass — calibrated by those humble beginnings, his parents’ voices and an innate mental determination — to steer his actions, mindset and motivations. He also still loves to engage his talents as a former DJ when the opportunity arises.
Here’s a little from Caribbean trailblazer J.R. McFarling on his induction into the business world, his current work with the Urban League of Broward County and more.
What inspired your interest to get involved in business development?
I think a big part of my inspiration stems from my origins because I choose to keep fresh what my starting point was- Jamaican born from Spurtree, Manchester Parish. We lived in a home that had (at the time) four generations and it was busy and hectic. Fortunately, we had a small community that would always pitch in to help each other.
After migrating to America young and having to scratch and claw for everything, my youthful days were a motivator. Growing up in Mattapan (Boston), Ma and being in the public school system didn’t afford us great opportunities, but I personally didn’t let that set my watermark. Instilled in me by my parents and grandparents was pride, determination, hard work and perseverance.
To this day I reflect back on my childhood and even the struggles my ancestors had before me. Life was hard, but we had love. When I go home it’s always a nostalgic moment. As I grew older, visiting my birthplace continues to reveal the grit of our people and their desire for better. Ultimately, this motivates me to help where I can. In my current role at the Urban League of Broward County, I have an opportunity every day to give back, and I do so proudly.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishments or contributions?
I believe every day is an opportunity where I can uplift and encourage business owners and entrepreneurs. Reminding them that “all things are possible” and assuring them that they are on the cusp of doing great things has to be part of what we communicate. While the odds may seem to be stacked against some, I tell them not to lose sight of their goals or hopes. This is the greatest daily accomplishment and what I love the most as I serve in my community.
This passion and tenacity are embedded in me and some of my high school journey epitomize this drive and passion to “never let someone set your watermark.” I can recall my high school football coach, who was also a guidance counselor, telling me that I would never play D1 football as I wasn’t big enough. That motivated me like nothing else.
I proved to him that his opinion didn’t matter and I incorporated weight lifting and a better diet into my regimen. Upon returning to school in the fall of my junior year they saw a different person. Soon after, they were pleading with me to switch positions and play multiple roles on offense and defense.
When challenged, I stood up, earning a football scholarship and proudly played at a D1-AA school (Northeastern University). This story is what helps me to look at others, see their pain points and believe in them. The goal will always be to help them look past their current situation and focus on the goal which leads to the prize.
What are some challenges you have faced and how have you overcome those?
Having spent 15+ years working in business development has been very fulfilling. So when my wife and I relocated from Boston to South Florida. finding another job equally fulfilling was difficult to track down.
While working at other organizations down here, business development remained my passion. Initially the light was flickering on whether I could secure a role that allowed me to “give back” (so to speak) yet again. I stayed sharp, worked hard and believed that my gifts would not be waisted.
I’m grateful to the Urban League of Broward County for their decision to hire me where my skill set would be properly utilized and where I would make an impact in the community with each and every person I interact with. In this line of work, resources are always needed. But with great leadership, we are able to navigate roadblocks and implement programs our client base can leverage to build and grow their legacy.
What was your first job and how did you rise in the ranks?
My very first job was an elementary school-aged snow removal expert. Yup, shoveling snow for my neighbors was a great way to earn pocket money and at the same time see the smiles on their face.
In Boston we get a lot of snow and, for me, I was always looking to capitalize on that. This little Jamaican kid up north doing something many [other Jamaicans] have never seen, let alone played in. That experience was fulfilling and what being a youth was all about. Without realizing it, I was giving back to the community even at a young age. It didn’t pay much, but I had that entrepreneurial drive and was always wanting to help others.
If we believe, prepare and stay ready, we can seize when opportunity present themselves. The same tenacity exhibited as a youth still permeate today. I stay ready and prepared to seize the moment. It’s the same mindset drilled into our children as they grow older and that I impart onto entrepreneurs I encounter. As a former athlete, I know that 80% of everything we do is mental. That same rule applies to our professional pursuits. If we can just get out of our own way, great things can and will happen.
What would you like to see change in the current political/social atmosphere? How do you plan to be a part of that change?
I would simply say that over the previous four and half years, there was a major shift that unearthed a lot of things we thought was nonexistent, or at least muted. Under the calmness was percolated hatred and defiance by those we elect and put our trust in.
Going forward we need to do our research and make certain we can see behind someone’s promises. We must remain vigilant in unmasking those with malicious intent and corrupt motives. “Birds of a feather flock together,” so pay attention to who people align themselves with. Personally, I will remain vigilant, and I will use my voting voice in all aspects. If each we all take this seriously as US citizens, we can contain and control what lurks beneath.
What is your greatest career strength?
My greatest career strength is definitely my ability to listen, empathize and be solution-oriented. I’m a believer in the quote that says, “If you give a man a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, they eat for a lifetime.” In business development, I’m able to accomplish this with every interaction as I try to uplift and give a sense of hope where someone may want to throw in the towel.
What is one piece of advice you would pass on to the next generation?
Life’s experiences should not define you. What’s inside you should be the compass that steers and calibrates your actions, mindset and motivations. All you’ve experienced doesn’t define you. It’s your story to write, not someone else’s to interpret.
What does the word “family” mean to you?
Family is everything! Family is comfort, assurance, normal, not normal, peace, hope. You love, laugh, cry, share, grow, reflect and pray together. Without family one would ask, “who are we?”
What are you most grateful for in your life?
I’m most grateful to be surround by a loving wife who chose to take this journey with me. She is the anchor to my soul and a wind of fresh air every single day. I’m also extremely grateful for my family near and far (especially our kids, my siblings and my loving mom who are all still in Boston).
What would you like to see change within the Caribbean or Caribbean diaspora?
As we grow professionally and expand our centers of influence, it’s important that we leverage any and all opportunities to “give back.” If we can’t do it financially, then help by educating and/or volunteering. I would certainly want to see those of Caribbean descent prosper while also continuing to find ways to impact their countries and communities. We are making strides and need to continue this.
Who was the most influential or inspiring person in your life and why?
I would say three people. My wife who is beside me through thick and thin. She encourages me to chase my dreams and allows me to be vulnerable and comforting. My mom who is grounded spiritually and whose unwavering love gives me a sense of invincibility. Lastly, my twin sister who is the calmer version of me and keeps me level when the boat begins to rock.
What is your favorite traditional childhood meal from your home country?
There are three. One of my favorite is Oxtail with rice and peas and spinners (dumplings). There is something about the gravy that’s just hugs my taste buds. The other dish is soup. My absolute favorite is cow foot and beef soup. The body and flavor profile is unmatched. Lastly I would say Jamaican fried fish. This is oh so tasty and can be breakfast, lunch or dinner.
What are your favorite extracurricular activities?
I was a DJ for many, many years. That journey began when I was a freshman in high school. Growing up in a home where music and dancing was central to all entertainment, I was drawn to it from a young age. To this day, I still feel this way. Anytime I have a free moment, I will jump on my iPad and put a few mixes together and vibe to it. I love all music (Gospel, Soca, Reggae, Spanish, Afro Beats, etc.). I also love to entertain, so if the opportunity presents itself and I can light up my grill, I do so with music in background of course.
What is your favorite Caribbean tradition?
I would have to say Christmas time. In Jamaica, it wasn’t about gifts at all. Family and community would celebrate with food, music and drinks and we’d just enjoy our time together. Cooking was always fascinating – a piece of firewood and a large pot could produce the best meal you will ever taste. Most definitely, the holiday season in Jamaica (in my opinion) is unmatched. And even when I was younger, we always knew the reason for the season.
What was your upbringing like and how has that influenced who you are today?
My upbringing was somewhat disjointed in that I left Jamaica young and then my parents divorced just before middle school. I had love from both parents and anyone who has or have had west Indian parents, you’ll know they expect a lot and push you towards excellence in everything you do. While they both wanted to see me blossom, it still was odd when they split up. If you’ve ever been in this situation, it can be hard, but we must remain determined to change the narrative. In other words, it doesn’t have to be the end for your growth into adulthood.
When I began making real money, I was fortunate to buy my first home and help out both parents whenever I could. Because I love family gatherings, that was a huge part of my home and included both of my parents. We began family traditions and that mended a lot of wounds.
I lived a clean life and didn’t really get into trouble, even though there was a lot happening round me. I was a jock in high school and went on to play college football and also become a radio personality/DJ.
After graduating and entering the financial services industry, I remained tethered to working out and being a mobile DJ. I climbed the ladder fairly quick at a previous company in the financial service industry and it’s benefits were amazing. I was afforded the opportunity to travel all over the country and abroad.
Today I reflect on the good old days knowing it lined up nice for me. I may not be financially wealthy, but I’m rich in culture and will never forget where it started and what it takes to persevere.
What would people you know find surprising about you?
I’m a fairly good cook. I love cooking and can make almost any dish, except baked goods. I’m also very handy. I can fix almost anything around the house, which does wonders for our repairs budget. From tiling to painting to plumbing to landscaping and roofing, there is very little I won’t try to fix… with the exception of electrical, I leave that to the pros.