Cheryl Devonish, the woman behind Fearless Steps, creates modern hand drawn greetings cards for people of colour with positive and diverse imagery and messages. Fearless Steps has been featured in The Voice newspaper, an Enfield newspaper, and trade magazine Greetings Today. In 2016, she was invited by Sonia Brown MBE to speak about her business at Digital Catapult in Kings Cross. She also sells bookmarks, tote bags, stationary and inspirational journals.
Cheryl had the idea for Fearless Steps in 2015 when she was off sick from work and went to look for a card for a friend. ‘I went in a few shops and not one card was right for this particular person. I thought “I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to do my own.” I wanted the cards to be different.’
‘I wanted to get the cards hand drawn. My daughter was 15 at the time, and I started working with her school friends. I asked her arty friends to draw. They loved it. I paid them a small amount for each drawing so it was a way for them to make a bit of money. I put their name, age and Instagram profile on the back to promote their work.’
‘I thought, “If I could get youngsters to draw, it’s a positive way of reflecting young people. They could show their talent.”’
Cheryl explained that it’s important to see more diverse greetings cards. ‘[BAME people] have been ignored long enough, we’re not reflected anywhere. We don’t really exist in the mainstream media – you’ll see a token image every now and again, but it’s not good enough. Our children feel disconnected. They don’t know their rich history, where they’ve come from and the contributions we have made in this country. A lot of young people believe there’s nothing here for them. They don’t feel like they have a future here, which is so sad. It’s important for our children to see that there are positive images. There are cards they can pick up in their image with inspirational wording. This one says: Dream big, reach for the stars. Anything is possible, everything is achievable.
Cheryl explained that the wording is just as important as the imagery. ‘The wording is from my heart. Everything I go through I put in a card. I think it helps people with life and their own struggles.’
Cheryl worked as an investment banker in the city for 27 years before she was diagnosed with a rare illness called chorea – a neurological condition that effects movement. She started getting symptoms in 2013. ‘I couldn’t walk straight. My balance went. In the end I was talking a bit funny, it was just weird.’ She was diagnosed in February 2015 at The National Hospital of Neurology. ‘Symptoms are very similar to a stroke.’
Cheryl said that coming to terms with her illness has been challenging. ‘I think I was a bit stressed out – my job was really high pressured and I was in a difficult marriage. I was off sick for nine months and I couldn’t go back. I don’t think I took it very seriously. They told me I had chorea and I was like “OK, I can deal with this.” I put on a sort of mask. I was so determined not to let it stop me that I didn’t actually think about the illness.’
According to Cheryl, the doctors had only seen one similar case in 20 years. She was treated with antibiotics and steroids after testing positive for streptococcus and thankfully many of Cheryl’s symptoms reversed. ‘It cleared up, but it still left me with some symptoms. I get tired and haven’t got the energy I used to have. I still have pains and I still get movement in my left hand – it fidgets a lot.’ Cheryl explained that it can be a very lonely illness and would like other sufferers to get in touch so she can set up a group, as suggested by her doctor.
Cheryl said: ‘Working in the city makes you really selfish. I never saw my local community. I feel that I was stopped in my tracks to do this. I’ve got to get it out there – I’ve got to lift my community.’
During her recovery Cheryl rediscovered her faith and she told us that it has been incredibly important to her journey. ‘I always had faith but if I’m honest I was a church goer out of habit. Now it’s different, there’s a spiritual connection. I’ve learnt so much in the last three years and I’ve met the most amazing, kind people. It’s helping to pull me out of a hole I’ve been in.’
Cheryl explained that the name Fearless Steps is highly significant to her. ‘Fear has kept me from doing a lot of things in life. I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the years and not done them because I’ve been scared. I’m not usually a risk taker and starting this was a big risk for me. I thought, “You need to be fearless and take some steps to move up and achieve.”’
Cheryl wants her work to inspire young people. ‘I think we have a lot of very talented young people in Tottenham and Edmonton who have been overlooked. My daughter, Nicolle, is 18 and has just gone off to university. There are lots of academic, well-grounded black children from two-parent and single-parent homes. There’s thousands of black children in university. Why don’t we see those images? The media portrays predominately negative stories about black children. The majority are not in gangs, they are in loving families.’
Next year Cheryl hopes to change the wording in her cards. ‘The wording is going to really help people. I’ve been going through a lot, I’ve been struggling. It would be lovely to receive a card that offers words of encouragement. She read the words from her card aimed at men: Continue to aspire to great things. Hold your head up with pride, nobody can stop you achieving your goals. Remain focused and dream big, celebrate and enjoy.
This article first appeared in the Craft issue of Discovering Tottenham which was released in November 2018.