Jason Derulo on How TikTok Revived His Career

Your first introduction to Jason Derulo may have been through smash hits like “Whatcha Say” and “In My Head,” but it wasn’t until the advent of TikTok that his career took another life. In a revealing interview with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show, he tells how. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.

Getting Into TikTok

Carlos Watson: Were you on TikTok before COVID or no?

Jason Derulo: Nah. No, not at all. So I started in March and started by doing one challenge and I was like, “Oh, this is fun. Let me try it again.” And then I just caught the bug, man. It was one of the things that kind of got me through this whole situation.

CW: Now, how did you know that it was going to take off, or did you not know, you literally were just having fun? Because when I got on TikTok, you were one of the first people I started seeing a lot, and I felt like you were one of those people who was at the gold rush early before everybody else.

JD: You know what? Definitely, that’s the case. I did have a feeling that it was next up, I had a feeling that it was going to be the next big thing, so I’d be lying if I said that. But I didn’t know that I was going to blow up the way I did.

And I think it has a lot to do with it being a very level playing field. It’s an app where if you got good content, you’re going to be lit, you know what I’m saying? It’s just that simple. No matter if you’re somebody that’s known or somebody that’s unknown, anybody can be popping on the app.

TikTok Profitable?

CW: Now, how big a business is it compared to something like YouTube or Instagram or what have you? Because I’ve talked to folks in the Kardashian family before who make a ton of money on Instagram, on Twitter, on all the other platforms, but what about on TikTok? Is TikTok as good a business yet as those other ones?

JD: I think it’s a bigger business right now. Because it’s the hottest new kid in town, right? It’s the newest, it’s the wave, it’s what everybody is talking about. And the viewership can be so high. I mean, I have videos that have hundreds of millions of views. Right?

If you’re a big brand in the world and you want your brand to be seen, TikTok is where you’re going, because it’s the new hot shit. You can either put on a commercial and you get like 3 million views or you can give a young kid on TikTok that money and you can get 40-50 million views. It depends on where you want to put your money, but I think most brands are betting on TikTok, and you can see why.

Family

CW: Hey, Jason, tell me about your parents. What do your parents do? Were they into music and you’re like the second generation, or were you the first one to break through and really set this path?

JD: So my uncle was James Brown… Nah, just playing. Nah, no music in my family, man. I just kind of came out of nowhere and I was just instantly obsessed with music at a very early age. My mom was an immigration officer.

My dad was in import/export business so he had his own business. And yeah, it was not really a musical environment at all. They would play music in the house, but that’s as far as it went.

CW: It’s funny, I feel like there’s a little quiet Haitian sensation thing going on in the country right now, whether it’s in sports, whether it’s in music, etc., I feel like quietly you’re seeing … Even in politics. I don’t know if you saw the woman who got elected to congress out in Utah, her family, Mia Love, was Haitian.

JD: I have, man. Even from Kodak Black, you know the rapper. It’s kind of like we’re popping up all over the place, man. I think it’s a beautiful thing to see obviously, that being my roots, my upbringing.

Being Haitian is … I’m just so proud of who I’ve become and I’m so proud of my country. So to see other Haitians doing it in a major way is always a beautiful thing to watch.

Career Post TikTok

CW: Yeah. Tell me about the last year, because interesting to me, I felt like you were maybe in not as good a spot in your career a year ago. And it felt like maybe the limelight had gotten away from you, and all of a sudden it feels like fresh air has come at you. A, Is that right? And B, Given that, how do you treat the people that were walking away from you a year ago, like Warner Brothers in 2020 when they probably have a different point of view on the opportunities around Jason Derulo?

JD: Yeah, man. I was definitely in a totally different place. I was on Warner Brothers for 12 years. And through that process I’ve gone through four different regimes. And what I mean when I say that, for viewers, is basically four different staffs have come in throughout my career.

So I’m talking from CEO down to the mailing room, everybody’s gone, everybody’s fired, whole new staff. Four different times in my career. How the hell am I supposed to catch a groove when it’s somebody new in my face every couple of months? It’s crazy.

Meagan Good on How She Stayed True in Hollywood

Known for her roles in Think Like a Man and Saw V and co-starring in and co-directing If Not Now, When? Meagan Good is used to having a packed schedule. Which is why her recent interview with CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson on The Carlos Watson Show is a must-see. You can find some of the best cuts from the conversation below, and the full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.

How She Started

Carlos Watson: How did you get involved in acting?

Meagan Good: I started when I was 4, doing extra work on Doogie Howser and Amen, and all that kind of stuff. And it was more of a hobby. My mom, one of her best friends had her daughter in acting, and my mom [asked], “So who do you work with? An agent or a manager?” And we went in and at first the manager actually didn’t want me, they just wanted my sister. And as time went on, they decided to give me a chance. And I just did it like most kids, went to ballet practice or dance class. Afterward, I just went to auditions. And I don’t think I really took it serious, like, “Man, this is something I really want to pursue,” until I took a year off when I was 12. And then I was like, “I love this. I really, really love this. And I really want to do this.” And so when I came back that first year, the first thing I booked was Friday, and I had a few speaking lines in it.

Her Evolution

Watson: How have you changed over the course of what has been your 20-plus years of getting the chance to do really good work?

Good: I have changed a lot, I think. When I was younger, it was like, “I just want someone to give me a chance to show them that I can do something dramatic.” And Eve’s Bayou was that for me. I was like, “I just need a chance, I just need a chance.” And then after that I went on and I was a Nickelodeon kid for a number of years. And then I think after that I was like, “OK, now what do I want to do?” And I remember having a conversation with Terrence Howard when I was about 19, and he had just come off Sparks. And he said to me, “You’re young. When you get off this show, don’t do another show. Wait. Wait until you’re married. Wait till you’re about to have kids. Just wait. Go travel the world, play different characters. You never know when your next job is going to come. You don’t have to have stability, just be free and just enjoy the craft.”

And that really stuck out to me, because that next year I did feel really trapped on the show. So when I left the show, I didn’t do TV for a full decade, unless it was an arc or a guest spot or something like that or a reoccurring [character]. And that’s what I did. I was like, “I just want to travel. I just want to not know what’s next.” And then also, I was in a unique stage of crossing over from child actor to adult actor. And at 19, I still looked like I was 15. At 22, I was still playing 16 in a movie. And so that was an interesting time because it was like, “OK, now I just want to be able to cross over.” And so then I became the sexy girl and the sex kitten. And that was really fun in the beginning, and then it was like people think that’s all I can do. People think there’s nothing else going on up there. How do I show them that there’s more to me and I can do more?

So then it became trying to get characters that were more grounded, that were not about how I looked physically, but more about what I could bring to the table uniquely. And that was a journey too, and I think going back to TV at 30 was really me saying … I chopped off my hair at 28. I was like, “No more long stripper hair, no more weaves. Let me just chop it up. Let me just focus.” And then going back to TV was like, “How do I showcase myself in a way where you see something different in me than you’ve seen for the past decade?” And so yeah, TV did that. And then it got to, “OK, now I’ve been able to show that I’m something different. What do I really want to put into the world? What do I feel like is something unique to me that I’m excited about?” And it was like there’s not enough women in the action space. There’s not enough women of color in the action space. I never looked up and saw myself there.

The first time I really saw myself in a movie was Waiting to Exhale or Set It Off or The Women of Brewster Place. Those type of movies. And so I just was like, “What about the action space?” So then I’ve become really passionate about that for the last few years. [I] never was a workout person, ever. And decided at 35, I was going to get myself in the best shape of my life. And I did. And then I ended up booking Shazam! in the DC Universe and trying to grow on that with Monster Hunter and just develop some different things. And I am excited about that. And then that kind of approach, getting ready to have a family, it makes me more excited about the action space because I want to show that you can start this and you can start a family. And you can go back to this, and you can still be badass. As a matter of fact, you’re even more powerful when you’ve accomplished that. When you’ve accomplished bringing life into this world. So yeah, that’s where I’m at right now.

What She’s Up to Now

Watson: I know you love to stay busy. Tell me about your new projects.

Good: So Monster Hunter is out today, and excited about that. Basically the director, Paul [W.S. Anderson], was like, “Do you want to come play?” And I’m like, “In South Africa? Yeah. And do some action, and do some sci-fi, and do some just crazy stuff in the desert all over Africa? Absolutely.” And I’ve always been a big fan of Milla Jovovich. I’ve been following her since The Fifth Element. And to me, she is one of the ultimate badasses as an actress. She’s done a lot of what I want to do, which is she carved out this niche space for herself. She said, “This is what I want to do. I want to be badass doing it. And I want to do this kind of thing, and I want to do it with my husband. And I want to bring my kids around the world with me. And I want to have my whole little life doing this cool-ass thing that I love doing.” And she’s done that, so I think that’s really been … I mean working with her and seeing that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

And then I also just directed my first film, which is If Not Now, When? And I had so much fun doing it. Me and Tamara Bass co-directed it. She wrote it. We both co-produced it. We both co-starred in it. And it was my callback to when I saw Waiting to Exhale. I saw myself for the first time. I saw what was possible and what I was capable of, and then started dreaming a different way. And I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, so there wasn’t a lot of examples besides whatever was in my household. And so I was like, “I really want this generation to have that kind of movie.” And then the stuff we talk about. My character deals with addiction. And she had her daughter when she was 17 on the floor of her high school bathroom, and now she’s struggling with opioids. And each one of the women have an interesting, unique story that I don’t think gets explored in film enough.

Can the Rolls-Royce of Cannabis Reach the Masses?

  • Hard to extract, cannabigerol (or CBG) has largely been ignored in favor of more popular cannabis extracts like CBD and THC.
  • But new research shows it brings unique medicinal benefits and carries the best qualities of CBD and THC, without getting you high.
  • That’s sparking a race among cannabinoid firms to extract CBG more efficiently, paving the way to transform a rare, expensive cannabinoid into one that might be available more readily.

April Hatch first read about the “the mother of all cannabinoids” in a 2011 article. At the time, the hard-to-pronounce cannabigerol (CBG) appeared equally difficult to extract.

Then last year, Hatch — a registered nurse in 33 states — finally sampled CBG oil. “I put it under my tongue and within 20 minutes of taking 6 mg, I could immediately feel my shoulders loosen up,” says the Kansas City native, who’s the founder of Cannabis Care Team, a group of registered nurses advocating the medicinal benefits of cannabis to patients. “I was like OMG, wow, from all the research I read, this stuff actually does work.”

It’s a conclusion that’s poised to fundamentally reshape the cannabis industry. CBG was discovered in the 1960s but for decades has been ignored, its uses unclear and its economics difficult to support. CBG is the first — and so, parent — cannabinoid to form as the cannabis plants grow. Yet by the time the plants are normally harvested, it gives way to more familiar cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). CBG constitutes less than 1 percent by weight of most cannabis strains by that point.

But a growing body of recent research suggests that CBG can directly help improve our immunity, sleep, mood and appetite. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, improves bone health and positively affects bladder, skin and bowel health. Some studies have even suggested that it might help with cancer treatment.

2880px-Cannabigerol-skeletal.svg

Skeletal model of cannabigerol showing a linear configuration of the double bonds.

Most importantly, CBG appears to marry the best medical properties of THC and CBD. Unlike THC (and like CBD), CBG doesn’t get you high, so there’s no risk of addiction of the kind that we’ve seen with opioids. Yet like THC, CBG appears to interact directly with the cannabinoid receptors in our brains, making it more effective than CBD — which does not share this mechanism.

It’s literally a treasure trove of medical potential.

Roy Lipski, CEO and co-founder, Creo

This unique therapeutic potential is now spurring an increasing number of companies — like Avicenna, Creo and American Hempseed — to develop innovative new ways that allow them to produce CBG in higher quantities. The global cannabinoid-based pharma industry is expected to be worth $50 billion by 2025, and experts believe CBG could supplant CBD and THC as the dominant force in that market.

“It’s literally a treasure trove of medical potential that’s been off-limits for [the] last hundred years,” says Roy Lipski, CEO and co-founder of Creo.

The Farm Bill of 2018, which loosened restrictions on the cultivation of hemp, promised to fundamentally change the cloud of prohibition over cannabis. And Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has promised to legalize marijuana. But those legal shifts by themselves won’t help CBG as much as they will aid its offspring, CBD and THC.

Because harvested hemp strains contain only 1 percent CBG, you need 20 times as much cannabis extract to produce quantities on par with CBD. Alternatively, you could harvest cannabis plants early, during the six- to eight-week flowering cycle before CBG is converted into other cannabinoids. But then, you only get CBG and not other cannabinoids. That’s why tiny bottles of CBG cost anywhere between $50 and $200 at the moment. It’s been called the Rolls-Royce of cannabinoids. “To be able to extract it out and get it to just CBG is a pretty expensive process, so the price is pretty high. Much, much more than CBD,” says Roger Brown, the CEO and founder of ACS Laboratory, the largest cannabis-testing facility on the East Coast.

Cannabis Shop In Krakow

CBG appears to marry the best medical properties of THC and CBD. Unlike THC (and like CBD), CBG doesn’t get you high, so there’s no risk of addiction of the kind that we’ve seen with opioids.

Source Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty

But companies are finding ways to adapt. One way is by genetically cross-breeding different cannabis varieties to yield higher amounts of CBG in mature plants. American Hempseed, for example, is offering seeds with 15 percent CBG to farmers. Other companies are developing more efficient extraction processes, some by using solvents like ethanol, carbon dioxide or butane to extract cannabinoids.

Still others are going for even more radical solutions. Creo is turning to an extraction process that uses fermentation. It’s taking the enzyme responsible for producing CBG and then using metabolic engineering and a high-tech brewery to separate and purify the cannabinoid. “If you want to take this ingredient and make consumer products, you want that consistency and purity that the fermentation process can give you,” Lipski says.

That’s what medical professionals like Hatch are looking for. For the moment, she’s not recommending CBG to patients because of the absence of FDA approval. But she has “patients who are taking CBG and are doing really good on it.”

It’s only a matter of time before CBG receives that broader acceptance, says Brown of ACS Laboratory. “There are a lot of people who are naysayers and don’t believe in it, but I believe in it,” he says. “I think it actually works.”

Correction: An earlier version of this feature incorrectly identified Creo as a cannabis company. It works with cannabinoids, not cannabis.

Sevyn Streeter on Making It Big ‘in God’s Timing’

Singer Sevyn Streeter reveals how she added songwriting to her already impressive résumé in an interview with OZY CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson on a recent episode of The Carlos Watson Show. You can find some of the best cuts from the conversation below, and the full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.

Origin Story

Carlos Watson: Tell me about your music. When you introduce yourself to people, how do you introduce yourself? When people say, “What do you do?” what do you tell them?

Sevyn Streeter: When people say, “What do you do?” I say, “Well, for one, I sometimes write your favorite songs. I sometimes perform your favorite songs. I’m sometimes your best friend in your head. I’m sometimes your therapist.” It’s a number of things.… So, what is it that I do? I feel like I’m here to service people.

Watson: How did you get into music at [age] 9? Somebody told me you got your first record deal at 9. That sounds unbelievable.

Streeter: Well, it wasn’t my first record deal. I did Showtime at the Apollo when I was 9. That’s when things got real for me and I started to realize, “Oh, I actually enjoyed this music thing.” Like, “I enjoy singing for people.” So Showtime at the Apollo, I auditioned at 9, then I performed there when I was 10. And it was just … it just began from there. It was my first time being on television, it was my first time on an airplane ever when I was 9 years old. So it was like all these new experiences for me.

Watson: But you had a lot of confidence? I can tell you came to it. It sounds like you came to it good already. Like you were good.

Streeter: I feel like confidence is something, it builds every single day. You know what I mean? Every day there’s some area of my life I’m saying, “Ooh, why did you make that decision that you knew wasn’t quite the right one? And if you did, it came from a place of insecurity or fear.” And so I’m learning how to pinpoint things. First I had to learn myself, and when you’re in groups and when you’re in record deals from the time you are 15, all your life, you always have somebody constantly telling you who to be, how to be, how to act, how to dress, how to wear your hair, how to wear your clothes. You get that all your life. So I think becoming confident, it’s just trial and error when you were raised that way. 

Switching Gears

Watson: I’ve been seeing people … all of a sudden go from songwriter to singer, or at least get recognized more for … singing, and kind of come, if you will, from behind the scenes a little bit. … Do you feel like you want to be singing more, and you want to get more credit for all that you do?

Streeter: No, I think that’s the beauty of being a singer-songwriter. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I can’t even pick which one I love more. I can’t pick. I can’t say I love to be a songwriter more than I love to be an artist. They’re like children, do you feel me? I can’t choose. So I think that when you’re a creative, period, you’re just drawn to whatever pulls you at that moment.

Watson: How did you learn how to write songs? How did it come about? How did you learn how to write music? How does someone learn how to write a hit song?

Streeter: Trial and error, throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. I’ll be honest, I write trash songs even up to today. First you have to figure out what style is appealing to you. What’s appealing to you? Because I think that it starts with it coming from something that you naturally are drawn toward, a vibe you naturally love. 

Watson: How do you describe your type of music? ’Cause I heard you mentioned Aaliyah as an inspiration. And people say R&B is back, and [in] a lot of ways to think about. How do you describe your music style? What do you say to people? How do you think about it?

Streeter: My music is very melodic. I’m really big on melodies. I love melodies. And then you have the flip side of it where my music is very sexy. It’s very sexual. It’s very sensual. It’s one of those things, for example, excuse my French, but if you see, like, a really bad bitch, she’s amazing. She looks amazing, she smells amazing, she feels amazing. And in the back of your head … And she’s given you a vibe, know what I mean? There’s a vibe. You can feel a little chemistry, feel a little mood, and you think that you know you’re going to be able to knock that down, but you’re also not quite sure if she’ll let you. It’s that space, that in between, I think there’s something really sexy about that, because I’m a woman and I have never felt more like myself than I do now, and you’ll hear that in my upcoming project. It’s a little mixture of a couple of different things.

Gotta Have Faith

Watson: What kind of advice do you give people about dreaming fearlessly?

Streeter: For me personally, I have moments where I lock in, I pray to God, and He gives me perspective and He tells me either to go around it, jump over it, remove it. It’s the guidance, it’s the guidance. It removes the fear. It literally tells you whether to go over the thing, go around the thing, because the truth of the matter is it doesn’t really exist. For me, everything that I feel like I want down here on earth, I know the one who created it all. So why would I have any fear of anything that’s down here? I don’t, we shouldn’t. And you have to find that thing that helps you gain perspective and look at things through that type of lens. Because for a while, a couple years back, I didn’t look at things through that lens. And since I have been looking at things through that lens, I have not been happier. I have not been more at peace. I have not had more clarity, more wisdom, more confidence, more … I just feel better. I wish that for everybody, I pray that for everybody. But you got to find something to believe in.

Watson: When you think about what you want to be true about your career, is it true right now? Are you excited about what is true today and/or are you open to something else in addition?

Streeter: I’m extremely excited about what is true today. And that’s because anybody who knows me and you can ask them, I just believe that everything is in God’s timing. And I have thought that way since I was 9 and 10. My family, they’ve always preached that to me, everything in God’s timing. So let’s say when I was younger, if I didn’t get a role, or if I didn’t get a part, the message that my family would feed into me is that everything is in God’s timing. And just because that was a no, or that felt like rejection, it doesn’t mean that it is. And then, honestly, 10 times out of 10, something better always came back around. So I learned that at a young age. And right now at the current moment, it’s music for me, and it’s been music for me for a very long time. But it’s something in it that feeds me and there’s more for me to birth in that space. So I’m just going to keep listening and birthing what it is I feel the need to birth and go from there. But no, I feel like I’m right on. Everything is exactly where it should be and how should it be.

If You Think Deep Dish Is Chicago’s True Pizza, Think Again

The deep-dish pizza has been living a life of lies. 

The pie, so big and so thick that it makes you wonder if it’s still even pizza, has been parading around as Chicago’s ambassador, putting itself up against New York and New Haven pies. It’s gotten to the point that deep dish, like the “The Bean” and Chicago’s unforgiving wind, have been ingrained in people’s minds as a Chicago staple, even though it’s not.

The deep dish is neither Chicago’s first nor its favorite pizza, and it’s definitely not the most consumed. In fact, the deep dish wasn’t even made by Chicagoans. There is a sham going on, a stolen identity. The true Chicago-style pizza is tavern style — a thin, crispy-crust pizza typically made with pinched sausage and Giardiniera peppers and cut into various square sizes (boosting its share-ability), and it’s time it takes the throne as Chicago’s official pizza.

If you’re not from Chicago, you’ve probably long assumed that deep dish is the city’s standard, and it’s not your fault. When you look at the towering, dense walls of cheese complemented by its crispy, crunchy base, it’s easy to see how the narrative has lived on. Many have been caught up in the PR spin that has robbed the tavern style of its fame.

The culprit? Lou Malnati.

Conceptually, the idea came from a Texas-born Chicago transplant named Ike Sewell who offered deep dish in his restaurant, Pizzeria Uno, back in the mid-1940s. That’s where Rudy Malnati Sr. worked, and he passed the tricks of the trade onto his son Lou Malnati — whose name is now synonymous with deep dish. “[Sewell] had the American idea that bigger is better, that pizza wasn’t just something you had with the meal — it was the meal,” says John Porter, a former U.S. Pizza Championships judge and organizer of the Chicago Pizza Tours.

But for the longest time, burgers were America’s go-to when it came to eating out. It didn’t matter if you had tavern style in the ’20s or deep dish in the ’40s, the craze was shakes and fries, with red meat to match. It wasn’t until Lou’s mass promotion, coupled with the pizza boom of the late ’60s, that the deep dish caught on, and it hasn’t really slowed down since, as witnessed daily at the 55 Lou Malnati locations across the city.

“[Lou Malnati] was a master marketer,” says Steve Dolinsky, a longtime Chicago food reporter and author of Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town. “There was a line down the block when he opened back in ’71 because he had done such a good job promoting it.” 

U.S Restaurant Sales Estimated at $1.7 Billion

A piece of deep-dish pizza sits on a table at Gino’s East restaurant in Chicago.

While deep dish started in the early ’40s, tavern style can be traced back to the Prohibition era of the ’20s and ’30s. Even though there was a ban on liquor, hundreds of taverns across the city covertly distributed alcohol and served free square, thin, salty bite-size slices of pizza to keep the guests drinking.

You could find these taverns in every neighborhood of the city, unlike deep-dish offerings at the time, which were concentrated in the downtown area. This is why tavern-style pizza is the true Chicago style: It is everywhere throughout the city’s neighborhoods. “Think about it,” says Dolinsky. “Where could you find a tavern-style pizza on the Gold Coast or on Michigan Avenue? If it’s only available in two places from 1943 to 1955, how is it Chicago’s pizza?”

But what’s worked against tavern style’s publicity is exactly what makes it the authentic Chicago pizza. It’s not as flashy as the deep dish, but it’s consistent and reliable like the people. The deep dish is pricier and too heavy and rich to eat every day, but tavern style is practical and shareable, a win-win for the city’s hardworking people.

The draw of the deep dish is its absurdity, not its greatness. And I get it — you’re going to want a little something extra in your life from time to time. But it’s still time to set the record straight: The deep dish has stolen the spotlight for far too long, and it’s time for tavern-style pizza to take the crown as Chicago’s true pizza — not to mention a slice of the fame.

The Rise of the Black Architect

  • Kimberly Dowdell, the 37-year-old president of the National Organization of Minority Architects, is leading the charge to diversify the people who create urban spaces.
  • Having members of the community help physically shape their communities would have far-reaching impact.

Just 2 percent of the approximately 116,000 architects currently licensed in the United States are African American. Only 0.4 percent are Black women.

Yet somehow, at only 11 years old, Kimberly Dowdell knew this was the career she wanted.

Growing up in inner-city Detroit in the early 1990s, Dowdell was accustomed to boarded-up buildings. That included the core of downtown where she’d see really big, largely abandoned, beautiful structures that were ghosts of their former selves.

The Hudson’s department store, in particular, was special to her. It occupied a full city block and was the second-largest department store in the U.S., behind Macy’s in New York. Although it closed the year she was born, its hulking presence was always there. It wasn’t until one fateful day when her art class was assigned to create apartments out of a shoebox, however, that her eyes saw the department store in a new light. Up until that point she wanted to work in health care like her grandmother, but the homework resonated with her and made her want to practice a different kind of medicine.

To envision a new future for a place, you really have to understand that community and understand what its needs are.

Kimberly Dowdell

“I sort of saw being an architect like being a doctor, but for cities or buildings. That healing the department store would help heal that part of the city,” she says. So Dowdell wrote down Woodward Avenue — the main drag in Detroit where Hudson’s is located — in hopes of returning to do just that. Twenty-five years later, she is healing cities, just not the way she thought she would.

Dowdell, 37, is the president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), the second-youngest ever to hold the post. She helps introduce children in middle school and high school to the profession through a mentorship program and a camp. She developed the 2030 Diversity Challenge as part of a task force with the 60 largest architecture firms in North America to more than double the number (from 2,300 to 5,000) of Black licensed architects in the next decade. And on top of that, she’s working on projects in various Chicago neighborhoods as principal architect at the global firm HOK.

“It shows her dedication to the organization, building bridges and forming partnerships to make it happen,” says Tiffany Brown, national executive director of NOMA and founder of an initiative called 400 Forward, which aims to seek out and support the next 400 women architects and designers. “We both come from humble beginnings and are dedicated to making the road to architecture easier for those coming behind us.”

Dowdell began her schooling in architecture early, earning a scholarship to attend Cranbrook, an elite boarding school outside of Detroit famous for its art and architecture, for high school, before a five-year bachelor of architecture program at Cornell and a full-tuition fellowship for public administration at Harvard. Although she never got to restore the department store before its demolition, Dowdell soon realized a lot of cities are challenged with similar issues and that it’s not just the architects, but city government, developers, construction and other corporations that are all involved in the process. “I later learned that’s really not how it works, but the architecture bug had already bit me,” she says.

That bite came with a new outlook on life: using design as a catalyst to improve the quality of life for people living in cities. But it’s something she says will take a lot more people that look like her to accomplish. “To envision a new future for a place, you really have to understand that community and understand what its needs are,” she says. It’s why she remains vigilant about firms relying on talent from within a particular community before they reshape its landscape. “If it doesn’t involve the community’s voice, it can be very disruptive and, frankly, traumatic for those communities that have to undergo change without their input or voice.”

Diversity in architecture also helps combat the problematic side to development, like when gentrification disrupts a neighborhood. When contractors, developers and designers have input from people in the community, they will make more well-rounded and thoughtful decisions.

So why does the field lack diversity? Brown boils it down to factors you’ll find in many professions: disenfranchisement, systemic barriers and a lack of financial support. To become a licensed architect, you need an (expensive) college education and to pass several exams that cost more than $1,000 — for which you’ll probably need to take expensive study courses to make the grade. “The best solution would be for all of us, especially firm leaders and the entities that control access to our profession, to join forces and incorporate solutions to these barriers together,” she says. Dowdell is on the case.

The Diversity 2030 Challenge was made possible by partnering with the American Institute of Architects’ Large Firm Round Table — an organization made up of 60 of the largest architectural firms in North America. They are committed to hiring more architects of color, in part by recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities. Similarly, Dowdell has grown NOMA from 900 to 2,400-plus members while traveling around the country, visiting schools and showing face. Visibility matters.

Just ask Morgan Medley. The 17-year-old high school senior launched blackgirlsDRAW — a platform aimed to spur the interest of young girls to seek architecture — in August after hearing there were only 500 Black women in architecture.

Medley invited Dowdell onto her show to share her story. “She inspires me because she is so intentional about what she believes and she never backs away from her desire to increase African Americans and women in the field,” Medley says. “By 2030, my goal is to be in that increased number of licensed African American architects.”

The only thing stopping such progress would be inaction from entrenched architecture firms — which is why Dowdell and her cohorts will keep pushing. “Without action behind the many discussions on this topic,” Brown says, “we will still be trying to address these statistics 50 years from now.”


What Going to Bed With Garcelle Beauvais Reveals

Garcelle Beauvais is a media mogul who is aware of the weight her platform carries. She sat for a revealing hourlong interview with OZY CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson for a recent episode of The Carlos Watson Show. Below are the best cuts from the full interview, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.

Breaking Into Modeling

Carlos Watson: Did you know you were a beautiful girl, I guess, at the time?

Garcelle Beauvais: No. I mean, right before I started modeling, people would say to my mom, “Is she a model? She should model.” But we didn’t know what that was. We didn’t know what to do, and how to get about it. But I have a really great story to tell you, though. …

So a friend of mine asked me if I wanted — we moved to Miami when I was 16 and a half — and he said, “Hey, I’m going to be an extra in a commercial. Do you want to be an extra too?” And I was like, “What’s an extra?” And so he’s like, “It’s an orange juice commercial for two days.” And I was like, “Yeah, no problem. I’ll do that.” And so by the end of the second day of shooting, one of the leads was this really pretty Black girl, so I got the nerve to go up to her and say, “I want to do what you’re doing. How do I do that?” Because she was the lead. Right?

And she wasn’t having it. She wasn’t helping me. She didn’t care. At all.

CW: Love that. Love it.

GB: So then I found out what agency she was with. And it was Irene Marie, which is an agency in Fort Lauderdale at the time. So I asked my mom to borrow her car. I drove up to Fort Lauderdale with not an appointment. I don’t know how it works. And I stopped at a red light. And when I stopped at the red light, I poked my head out to check my makeup. And at that time I decided I needed lip gloss. So I’m going through my purse, looking for my lip gloss, and a hand comes in the car and scares the hell out of me. It was a woman who was at the traffic light behind me. She saw when I poked my head out, came in, and she said, “You should be a model. Here’s my card.” And I kid you not, Carlos, it was the agency that I was driving to see without an appointment. It was the actual owner of the agency herself.

CW: You know what is so great about that? It means that you were loved from up above.

GB: It means that somebody up above had something special in mind for you. I mean, you can’t make that up. I mean you could, but that’s …

CW: And so why do you think your mom did let you go?

GB: I think my mom knew the opportunities. And the reason why she brought us to America is for opportunities. And I think a little bit, she probably was living through me, and wished she had done it herself.

On the ‘Going to Bed With Garcelle’ Podcast

CW: Yeah. Are you learning anything or are you the master?

GB: No, I am learning. I am also participating. But it’s been really fun. It’s really liberating. I feel like … especially how I grew up, women didn’t talk about sex. My parents didn’t tell me about sex. We didn’t talk about anything like that. So growing up and being a woman in my own skin, I feel like we can own our sexuality. You can’t put an age on it. You can’t. … It’s OK. And this is how we really talk when we’re hanging out, so it’s been really fun. And I have a celebrity and a real girlfriend always as my guests. And boy, do we go there. I’m blushing just even thinking about it.

CW: All right. So give me an example. What is …

GB: What can I say here? What can I say on your show?

CW: … You can say it all. You can say it all.

GB: We ask women if they would name their vaginas.

CW: And …

GB: Yes! Some women do. Some women do. We ask what kind of positions do they like? I mean, we’ve really talk about what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. What are our turn-ons and turn-offs? What can a guy do to turn you off? We talk about it all.

CW: I want to hear the turn-ons. Give me the-ons.

GB: Oh, my God. For me, it starts with cerebral. I really want to have a conversation with someone, right? And then it’s romance, for me it’s — want to have a conversation with someone. And then it’s romance. For me, it’s music. I love R&B. I love a nice dinner, wine, and then whatever happens, happens.

On ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’

CW: But I mean, for you playing yourself, but in a way you’re not really playing yourself, are you? Because I assumed that at some level, they want it scripted a little bit and that they also …

GB: Not at all. That was the one surprising thing, that it’s not scripted at all. That was really jarring for me because I thought, ‘Oh, they’re going to tell me what to do. We’re going to start, we’re going to ….’ But no, they just really get the women together, and when you get eight modern, strong-willed women, there’s bound to be drama. And for me, being the first Black woman in Beverly Hills, it was really important for me, one, to be myself, two, not to fall into the traps that people expect us to be, you know? Especially Black women, being labeled an angry Black woman. That’s not my thing, that’s not how I roll, and so that was really important, that I was truly myself, and I pulled it off, yeah.

CW: Did you learn anything in that? I don’t want to force fake lessons that weren’t there, but sometimes, these life experiences do either make you reflect on something or teaches you something or what have you. Have you learned anything as a result of being on that show?

GB: You know, I always think I’m a tough cookie, but I felt like there were times that I got emotional rather quickly, and I think it’s because those buttons were pushed or I was really tired. The first season, I was shooting Coming to America in Atlanta, I was shooting another television show in Nashville, I was shooting Housewives, and then I have two 12-year-old boys that are in school and doing sports, so it was a lot. So I hit a wall at one point and I was just like, I had it. We were in Rome and these women were fighting. I’m like, “We should be so grateful. Look where we are. Why are we fighting?” And then the tears started coming, and I was like, I’d rather be with my kids.



Don’t Panic — You Could Just Go Into Business

It doesn’t seem to add up. Combine the pandemic with more than a quarter of a million dead, high unemployment, a health care system in crisis and a recession, and you’d presumably have a formula for entrepreneurial doom. But Whitney Williams didn’t get the memo.

While entrepreneurship, especially among Black women like Williams, is proof that the American dream still exists, this is a decidedly shaky time economically. U.S. jobless rates reached an all-time high in April, and department stores, entertainment giants, travel agencies and other sectors of the economy have seen the writing on the wall. Globally, economic growth in 2020 is expected to fall by 4.9 percent, according to the World Economic Outlook, marking the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Williams, a 28-year-old Atlanta native, fell victim to this downturn when she was furloughed in February. But she didn’t let that keep her down: Williams decided it was a good a time as any to launch a new business. She’s now the CEO and founder of Whit Marie, an activewear brand that doubles as a wellness and lifestyle blog.

“When I was ready, I said to myself: ‘You’ve just got to do this. … No one is going to wait for you,’” she recalls, noting that she applied for her employer identification number (EIN) in June.

Turns out, she was far from alone.

U.S. business startups are being launched at the highest rate in 13 years.

That’s according to the Census Bureau, which reports that there have been 3.2 million requests for EINs this year, dwarfing the 2.7 million in 2019. 

A new study from BryteBridge, a consulting group that helps small businesses and nonprofit startups, backs up this data. According to BryteBridge’s CEO Brian Davis, the firm has seen a 22 percent spike in new business and has helped launch more than 1,800 businesses this year.

Much like today, there was a rise in business applications following the housing market bust in 2008. But today’s startup rate (37.5 percent) tops that of 2008 (31.6 percent), so what about 2020 is driving entrepreneurs to come out of their shells?

Partly, it’s because the recession is driven by different factors this time around. Unlike a housing market, people understand and accept the ebbs and flows of the stock market, which has seen remarkable results: While some big companies have been hard hit — J.C. Penney, Pier 1, Century 21, J. Crew and many others have filed for bankruptcy this year — the Dow Jones keeps going from strength to strength as companies like Pfizer, Amazon and Clorox see stocks soar.

But part of the drive to work for oneself, of course, is linked to the shakiness of the job market. Being laid off or furloughed can be a great incentive for taking control of one’s destiny. Add to that a lack of government stimulus funding, and you have families vowing never to be that vulnerable again.

According to Allen Adamson, an NYU adjunct professor in the School of Business and cofounder of marketing consultancy firm Metaforce, the pandemic is a “phenomenal disruption” that has snapped our collective world in half, forcing us to see things in an entirely new way. “If we were trying to start a business in normal times, people wouldn’t pay attention to it,” Adamson says. But there is “phenomenal entrepreneurial opportunity in this world,” he adds, because it needs to be “reimagined.”

Entrepreneurs should be careful nonetheless. BryteBridge’s Brian Davis cautions would-be founders about making the leap into business before looking at the big picture. For example, 70 percent of nonprofits experienced decreased revenue due to COVID. “’Giving Tuesday’ paints more of a positive picture than what’s happening with nonprofits,” he says.

Williams, meanwhile, is looking forward to her company’s official launch party today. She clearly enjoys being her own boss.

Kimora Lee Simmons on the Rise of the ‘Blasians’

Kimora Lee Simmons is an entrepreneur, fashion designer, TV personality, author, philanthropist, model — you name it. And she reveals all in an interview with OZY CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson on a recent episode of The Carlos Watson Show. You can find some of the best cuts from the conversation below, and the full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.

Starting Out

Carlos Watson: Did [you] think this would take off? 

Kimora Lee Simmons: I had no clue, I was a little country bumpkin. “Exotic” — not sure if it’s a compliment. I was odd: I’m Black, “but you’re not” — because she’s Asian. Just the same crazy, vibrant personality. She always wanted to get out. She needed to travel, fashion, the business of fashion. She was bullied, then her life changed overnight. Tried to always think of how she can take her business to the next level, be international.

Watson: So what would have happened if you hadn’t been discovered, do you think? None of us know for sure, but play that game of sliding doors. What would’ve happened if modeling hadn’t come along?

Simmons: I know for a fact, because I do this every day, I would’ve been a doctor. Anybody in my family can tell you, and I know people say this all the time, but mine is really, really true. I am, like, a frustrated, closeted doctor. I know so much about medicine, surgery, drugs, laws, so much stuff. I would’ve been a doctor, which also turns into a vet, as a doctor for animals and I love animals, or I would’ve been a lawyer because I loved to argue and I want to be right. But all of that comes from education, medicine, going to school. I just graduated college a couple of years ago. I got derailed, I always say, hanging out with that bad crew. Look what happened to me.

Kimora’s Legacy

Watson: How did you get into business in the first place? Because neither your mom nor your dad is an entrepreneur, are they?

Simmons: No. My mom worked many years for the government. Social Security. She’s an immigrant from Korea. She’s Korean Japanese. My dad was very much a businessman. He’s the first Black U.S. marshal.

So yeah, that’s pretty enterprising, and yeah, I think I definitely have that spirit. I have a spirit of a hustler in me. I’m from St. Louis. And I mean that in the good sense of a hustler, like hustle, go get it by any means necessary. Not like hustle hand-and-eye trick. I don’t trick. There’s no tricking going on here, Carlos. OK? It’s all very straight.

Watson: Tell me about the restart of the business. What made you bring back Baby Phat Beauty?

Simmons: Well, we relaunched Baby Phat in general. Baby Phat Beauty is just the latest thing that we’ve offered, but I think Baby Phat in general, we’ve been rolling out for the past good year and a half or so. And I think really right now it’s about retro brands. Baby Phat is very much a legacy brand. It’s a heritage brand. I started out with, well, myself, before I even had any kids, but from when my kids were very young, they’ve been behind the scenes, on the runway, doing everything with me. And now they’ve grown up. They’re 18 and 20, at Harvard and NYU. And they are involved in every aspect of business. So we are minority-owned, women-owned and -run, Black-owned. It’s a great time. It’s a great time to be alive. It’s been a tenuous time, but that’s one little silver lining to my cloud.

And, I don’t know, in terms of fashion and the movement, people love that. And they say what goes around comes around, but yeah, it’s a retro situation and that’s big right now. If you look at fashion across the board, in terms of the fit of your pants, the color, the way the coat is cut, everything is a little bit retro, a little bit like from the past. That’s what’s chic. Even streetwear, even athleisure, athletic wear. Everything is, yeah, it’s retro.

Race and Politics 

Watson: What about running for office? Because something tells me you’d be magnetic. People would be covering you all the time. You would have interesting ideas. You’d bring different people to the table. You wouldn’t be afraid of a big idea.

Simmons: But what office would it be and how would I get there? I don’t feel like I’m groomed for politics, but if I could get in there, I would be all those things.

Watson: Tell me about this moment you think we’re in. You have your girl Kamala Harris, Black and Asian. You’ve got Naomi Osaka, the young tennis superstar, Black and Asian as well. You’ve got your boy Tiger Woods, Black and Asian as well.

Simmons: Yes. They’re called Blasians. We are called Blasians — blazing Asians — and some other things too that we probably can’t say because I’m not sure which, where, how this is airing, but let’s just say blazing Asians. We’re Blasians.

Watson: But it literally feels like in a way Kamala Harris is going to open up lots of lanes for people and is going to open up lots of new conversations and thinking about not just gender but race differently. Do you think that that is in some way the future that Blasians may be especially able to bring together various kinds of people?

Simmons: I know for a fact that we are able to do that because I know a lot of Blasians like you just named … and we’re very dynamic and very capable.

You just look right there at how well that all mixes together, yeah, the answer is yes. We’re dynamic. We’re in all walks of life and business and politics. And absolutely, I think that Kamala represents a shift, represents the future, which is what in an odd way was said about me when I was younger, even though we’re talking about politics and mine was fashion, but it was like, “Yes, she is the face of the future.”

I think in that sense, it’s a very good time for us. Maybe that’s too joyous of a word, but that’s our silver cloud, silver lining to this moment. Absolutely, she’s the face of the future. This is the movement of the future. I think in this case, I actually am very hopeful that that will be the case. It’s about what they represent that I find to be so hopeful and I find to be right on message and I find to be the motivating force and the look to the future. Absolutely. It’s what it represents. Not really how old or how did they do this. Nobody’s perfect. I get it.

Meet NASA’s Dopest Engineer

  • Dajae Williams, 26, is a quality engineer at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory who also makes hip-hop songs about science and math.
  • While making STEM more accessible, she’s using her rise from an underprivileged home in St. Louis to inspire others.

Dajae Williams was in seventh-grade math and the topic of the day was the quadratic formula. The concept had been notoriously difficult, so her teacher assigned a remix to the accompanying jingle to be presented in class the next day. 

Williams, who tells me Soulja Boy was “literally popping at the time,” chose his No. 1 single, “Crank That,” to pair with the equation, tracking the “X equals negative B” lyrics over hard-hitting 808s and high-hats instead of … well, nursery rhyme.

She not only earned a standing ovation and passing grade, but it laid the groundwork for her academic and musical career. Today, Williams is a 26-year-old quality engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who, under her brand Listen Up Education, fuses hip-hop with math and science to help introduce underprivileged kids to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. 

I’m not the first to mix education and music, but I’m the first to have swag behind it.

Dajae Williams

“I’m just really good at mimicking songs and turning it into something that will help me remember things,” she says. 

She’s more than that. Williams is verified with the blue check of approval on Instagram, has two singles on Spotify, boasts YouTube videos north of 150,000 views and is consistently being booked for speaking engagements by teachers. “People are wanting what I have because they see the power in it too,” she says. “I’m not the first to mix education and music, but I’m the first to have swag behind it.”

The swag consists of hoodies, jerseys, gold chains, Jordan sneakers and graphic tees with Tupac Shakur on them. You simply have not seen a scientist quite like Williams. That’s also the problem: There isn’t enough Black representation in STEM. African American women earn just 3 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 2 percent of doctoral degrees in STEM fields, and only 9 percent of computer science degrees are going to Black students.

Williams’ mission to reach this demographic was inspired while attending rap mogul Diddy’s Revolt summit in Miami three years ago. The discussion centered around advertising and marketing around hip-hop, which had just become the most-consumed music genre in the U.S. The conference was also the first time Williams noticed how much of a “unicorn” her gig at NASA made her. “People were so intrigued that I was going to be a NASA engineer and was also [at the summit],” she says. After seeing how much of a rarity she was in her new role at NASA and realizing the power of hip-hop, she decided to combine the two. And it was at that moment her musical career was born. 

But Williams didn’t always love math and science, nor school for that matter. In fact, she might not have been in that rare 9 percent had she not transferred schools in third grade. Growing up as an only child in a single-parent household in urban St. Louis, schooling wasn’t precisely her focus. And while she describes her home life as underprivileged, she adds that her mom did a great job hiding it from her. “It wasn’t until I grew up that I got to see that we were surviving off of less,” she says.

Her break came thanks to St. Louis’ Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation — a desegregation program that transfers city students to suburban school districts and suburban students to city magnet schools. Her move to a predominantly white school with ample resources resulted in respect from her peers, who were already self-starters and overachievers, and teachers who took time to cultivate the potential in her. “I gained the skill of getting close with my teachers so they can see me as a human and not a number,” she says. “It works in my favor because I get the extra help.” 

Connecticut College professor Marc Zimmer, author of The State of Science, which devotes a chapter to disparities in STEM, says that kind of mentorship is crucial for students of color. “Someone who helps you and puts the time and effort in and to see the potential in you is a really important factor on all levels,” he tells me. “She probably had her confidence because she got bolstered up in the seventh grade.” 

It’s a confidence that would help her throughout college and situations that, while common, discourage students that typically look like her. During Williams’ sophomore year at Missouri University of Science and Technology, she was forced to go back to St. Louis Community College to play Division III basketball after choosing an engineering internship over basketball, which, at the time, was paying for school. But she did not let it discourage her: After a year back home, she won a different internship, this time awarding her a scholarship that would land her back at S&T where she’d eventually graduate with honors. “I think the drive she had to get to a school, have to give that up, go to a smaller school and to come back speaks to her motivation on wanting to accomplish something,” says Dr. Stephen Raper, associate chair of undergraduate studies at MS&T.

From connections via Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Williams went on to earn an internship at Apple, putting her on the radar for NASA. She thought the first letter from NASA was a joke, but she took the interview. She was recently promoted to quality engineer, inspecting mechanical and electrical hardware.

Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. When Williams first landed the job, she wanted to quit and even reached out to HR with her concerns. “I felt like I was losing myself with all the code-switching,” she says. When she went home, she would talk differently and have unrecognizable habits and couldn’t connect with her family. The gold chains, Jordans and streetwear are her way to cope. “I felt like I always had to be two different people, and [I] was determined to find a way to make those two worlds blend.”

Now in her third year at the lab, Williams reminds herself that she is worthy to be there by doubling down on her Blackness. Much like what her seventh-grade teacher did for her, Williams wants to give others confidence too. “What I want people to realize is that I’m no smarter than anyone else,” she says. “Don’t sit there and think something’s wrong with you, [that] they just have a secret weapon that they’re not sharing with you.”

As for what’s next? “I want to be the Black female Bill Nye — where Fresh Prince and Bel-Air meet.”