BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
NEW YORK — Life started out for Santoya Fields as Harlem Renaissance artist Langston once wrote “no crystal stair,” yet she refused to be another statistic. Her faith in a higher power, her training at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts (PCCA), and a trip to New York City at 16 years old would lay the foundation for her future success.
Fields grew up in a single parent household making her part of the 67 percent of African-American children living under the same condition in the United States.
“My mother, raising five children, did the best she could with what she was given.”
She grew up in a household where resources were stretched, but being poor was only one piece to the puzzle of her lacking a sense of self. “I had a lot of self-doubt because there was abuse in the past,” she said.
Fields was sexually abused as a young girl and that caused her to question her self-worth “and not believing that I was enough.”
This beautiful and vibrant young African-American woman, with neatly plaited long black braids passed her shoulders, swiftly pointed out that as an artist those feelings of self-doubt and lacking are things that “you have to get over or work through.”
“As an artist going into an audition and you feel you’re not enough or worried about not having enough money, all of that will be translated to the audience,” Fields averred. Holding on to such a negative mind-set can “block you from receiving the things that are meant for you.”
When Fields left St. Petersburg for New York City 11 years ago with $600 in her pocket, she was determined to leave all of her past struggles behind.
“I had to do a lot of re-parenting,” said Fields “when I came up here to be honest, and I’m still doing a lot of it!”
Fields said she walked around midtown Manhattan near the Ailey School awe struck; knowing deep inside that New York was where she belonged. She had been accepted to attend the Alvin Ailey School of Dance, and Marymount Manhattan College. A bright and artistically gifted 18 year old had the world at her fingertips. But life has a way of making what looks simple and straightforward more complicated than it actually is.
“I think it’s the self-doubt that got me to stop,” said Fields as she continued to discuss the residue of a past that refused to fade away.
“I left Ailey at the end of that summer and didn’t continue to pursue dance after that.” Although she struggled with the remnants of a rough childhood, she yearned for those inspirational voices that encouraged her in the PCCA program at Gibbs High School.
“I wasn’t at PCCA anymore where Ms. Page and Mrs. P kept telling us we’re good enough. They wouldn’t let us quit,” she recalled.
Transition to Marymount Manhattan College
Fields was living with a close friend in East New York and working late nights at Duane Reade in Manhattan. One single event would eventually put an end to that long nightly commute.
“One night I was coming home from my late night shift at Duane Reade and this guy was trying to rob me. By the grace of God, there was a car out there with the lights on. When I ran to it, I pretended to talk to someone because no one was in it and the robber ran away.”
When Fields told her roommate what happened, her friend said that it wasn’t safe for her to live in the neighborhood anymore because she comes home so late from work.
After she discussed her options for the future with her best friend, Fields enrolled at Marymount Manhattan College in the fall of 2003 following her Summer Dance Institute at Ailey. She also decided to move in one of the college’s dorms in midtown Manhattan. For the next year, she worked on discovering and learning about herself and what she wanted to do next with her life.
“I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and that’s what led me to sports journalism,” Fields stated.
While she was attending Marymount, she decided to major in communications and journalism. Her goal was to work at ESPN. In her second year in college, she got an internship with ESPN for a show called “Quite Frankly” with Stephen A. Smith. A year later her big break came when she was hired on by ESPN’s creative works department, MAGGIEVISION, where she worked for four years.
Transition back to “soul” purpose
Fields’s job with MAGGIEVISION prepared her to return to her “soul” purpose and first love, the performing arts. At one point in her young life she held a very critical view about people working as artists.
“Before going into the arts, I looked at artists as sort of like flaky people, you know, just off like living this fantasy world and I didn’t see much substance in it. I didn’t think they were intelligent and provided something to society,” she said.
What Fields described is the stigma attached to being an artist. It is quite prevalent and has existed in all societies for millenniums. However, Fields’s early point of view about artists would change when she experienced the healing potential of the performing arts.
Ironically but not surprising, she returned to her sole purpose in life after many twists and turns in an explosive way by now working in not just one but multiple performing arts venues in New York City.
Fields just did a jazz show at the Brooklyn Music School Aug. 7. To get ready for the concert, she worked with world renown opera singer Lina Tetriani whose recent successes include her appearance as “Violetta” in “La Traviata” in her return to Sarasota Opera House, and her highly acclaimed interpretation of the role of “Lora” in Wagner’s rarely heard first opera, “Die Feen,” under the baton of Marc Minkowski at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.
Before Fields went on vacation overseas in 2013, she worked as an actress in an independent film about the legendary Eartha Kitt.
“When Eartha was young, she was living with a woman whom she thought was her mom (but wasn’t), and she got married to a guy that didn’t want Eartha around because she was too light-skinned. So the woman sent Eartha to New York to live with her mother who already was raising two of young Eartha’s cousins, Gracie and Willie Stern, and they wound up abusing her. The woman that I played in the Eartha Kitt film was Gracie.”
Fields said that she had many soul-searching conversations with the film director Marishka Phillips about the role of one of the abusers. The young actress described playing the role opposite of what she had once been a victim of was a cathartic experience, and for the first time she could truly start coming to terms with and letting of a turbulent past.
“For me, it hit home really, really deep. She got me to this place that it became a healing energy. It was really amazing,” she said. “Nobody knows that place that I had to go to become this abuser. The little girl [Eartha] was just six years old.”
Over the next five to 10 years, Fields would like to work in more independent films and further develop her singing career. She wants to go into creative life and career coaching for artists as well as for people in business.
She affirmed that one day she would like to do a Broadway show and would like to return to Florida in the summers to work with girls who may struggle with self-worth issues and help them find that creative self-inside, so they can evolve into what they were meant to be in life.
“Everything I’ve set out to do comes effortlessly to me now,” said Fields.
She hopes to be an inspiration to her little sister, Lanika, who was always there for her when she performed locally. Surely, Fields is an inspiration to every young person who has a dream or aspiration to succeed no matter how challenging life may have been in the past. After all, it’s not where you’ve been but where you end up that counts!
Congratulations on following your dreams, and becoming one of St. Pete’s Finest.
This article is a two-part series on artists from St. Petersburg who have moved to New York City to pursue their dreams. The next article will be the results of an inspiring conversation with six gifted individuals who are not only achieving individual success but are helping each other achieve success.