Caribbean Carnival celebrations bring many things to mind: great music, gorgeous costumes, good times, beautiful people. Well, one of those beautiful people is 36-year-old entrepreneur Michael Neville, also known as J’ouvert Mike.
J’ouvert (pronounced JOO-vay or ZHOO-vay) is the official start of the Carnival celebration, so if it’s part of your nickname, you must be the embodiment of the party! “Soca gives me endless power,” says Mike. “It’s the source of my infectious energy and stamina.” J’ouvert Mike attended his first Carnival celebration as a teenager and has since attended them wherever they’re held—from the Caribbean to the U.S. to Canada.
Mike was partly raised in Anguilla and speaks with a lilting Caribbean accent, so it might come as a surprise to some that he’s an American-born white guy. “There have been many misconceptions about who I am and why I do what I do. But I don’t allow myself to listen to the opinions of others who know nothing about me. You can’t control negative people and you can’t feed into their negative energy,” says Mike. “I just celebrate life in the most euphoric and beautiful way I know—through Carnival. I spread awareness of the beauty and history of Caribbean culture to a broader audience.”
J’ouvert Mike is a study in branding and is well known in many communities. How does someone like him break through the static and make an impact, despite what might be perceived as huge odds? “Be authentic. And seek first to understand others.”
“For me it’s about highlighting my friends and supporting their businesses—many of whom are doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and educators—and thereby breaking down the stereotypes,” he explains. “Demonstrating that we may be of different races, yet we embrace the same culture and values.”
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