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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

KEEP YA HEAD UP

Mr. West, Mr. Fresh

"There are certain things you can't teach. I've found you can't you teach someone to have a hustler's spirit.  I was a hustler. When odds were against me, I found a way. I never took no for an answer." -  CDW

Contributing Correspondent: LaVonne R. Harris


The office building is a centerpiece of one of many prestigious Bronzeville blocks. At the pinnacle of this building is it's crown jewel, MG Media's Carl West. As I enter his office, he is working with a young intern, who has recently been promoted. The intern is seated at the computer, working under West's watchful eye.
Carl West posted up at recent event

West breaks from the work to acknowledge my arrival. As he moves toward me, a tall, lean man, dressed in dark jeans and a sky blue shirt, covered by an oxblood sweater - he maintains eye contact as his spotlessly shined shoes make it across the large room. He smiles as he shakes my hand.  

Like most successful men, he is happy with what he's built through hard work and has little patience for excuses. He's blunt, and at times, this can be mistaken for arrogance. But when he's mentoring students, his committed, caring, paternalistic side is evident. He is passionate about service.  

“My life could have easily gone in a different direction. But I had an extended family, and three cats from the hood who pulled me aside. They were a little older, but they took the time to holla at me. Not in a preachy way, just as concerned young brothers. That is a basic principle of mentoring. Each successful black man needs to stop and holla at the brothers on the corner. Not driving by in their slick rides and yelling - “Pull your pants up!” 

We laughed about the fact that the people who do this intend to help - and then his tone becomes serious again. “We really need to stop and talk with brothers on the corner like we would talk to our friends about sports, cars or whatever. We have to build relationships. They see successful men driving by or leaving their houses, but they don't know what those guy do; but if we build a relationship, they'll ask us. This is how we can change our communities and this is how we will change lives.” 

There is a point in every interview that a reporter tries to reach. It is either the essential question or the essential truth of a person. I realize that I have reached this point. This is Carl West. So I ask him if he realizes he's building men.

“We need strong men. A man has two primary duties (1) to provide for and protect his family. This can mean monetary or non-monetary means; and (2) to support his community. So if I can play a role in building the character of black men … It's what we need and I'll do it.”

His blackberry rings. A politician is calling - something about a project their working on and an upcoming gala. Another call, this one about his radio programs. Then a couple texts. Next, the intern needs help with the layout. It's interesting to watch, and there is plenty of reading material nearby.... Jay-Z's Empire States of Mind and Jim Collins' Good to Great. When he returns to sit near me, he continues our conversation as if there was no pause. 

“I do this for myself, my daughter, and my loved ones. I also embrace my responsibility to give back through mentoring and charitable contributions to black entrepreneurs and artists alike. I have a mentoring program through several local high schools. Then almost as an unspoken apology for the interruptions, he answers my next question before I can interject, giving two comments back to back. “My two basic fundamental principles are economic wealth and mentoring. It's simple. If you want power, you must have economic wealth. If you want to decrease violence, you must create jobs.”  

By now it's late into the evening - Johnnie Taylor soulful blues tracks waft through the air, mixing with the faint scent of jasmine incense from somewhere in his office. We are free styling. West loves being a father. Photos of his daughter adorn his office and grace the cover of his some old magazines. At some point, maybe while he was grabbing his gear to leave, he shares that we are in the midst of a renaissance - like the Harlem Renaissance. This a Hip Hop Renaissance. it's about creating our own cultural and professional milieu so that it sustains us spiritually and monetarily. 


This infuses West's energy, as he heads off toward another meeting, a business venture, a gala, a partnership, and a new frontier. Think Boondocks, Shonda Rhimes, Russell Simmons. Think publishing, media, hip hop, Chicago and Carl West.  

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