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Young, Black and Doin’ It: The Wise Words of Kiante Young
by Tamara Leacock

Kiante Young is a phenomenal entrepreneur, who has already achieved a long line of accomplishments in his fairly young career. Young is presently and best known for his role as the publisher of Young and Doin’ It Magazine, a publication that speaks directly to urban teens and shows them various ways to strive beyond the challenges of an urban environment and achieve success. Raised in Harlem, Young grew up amidst the same challenges that many urban teens face today. However, the day of his graduation from highschool, he was able to rise above any hardships and make his mark in the media industry with the “Young, Black, and Doin’ It” brand he created to encompass all his business endeavors.
Initially, beginning with a television show on cable access called “Young, Black and Doin’ It,” he later extended his talents into magazine publication. Along with his accomplishments in television and magazine publication, Young has already written several books featuring a great selection of his poetry. One of his most renown books his poetry compilation, I Used to Be a Beast.

During the interview, Young stressed the importance of believing in oneself and viewing challenges as simple obstacles to step over. He also emphasized how his business life and personal life had become intertwined. And his accomplishments and wisdom are proof enough that his business has become his life. He surely has embodied the title of “Young, Black and Doin’ It,” encouraging black teens not so much by his magazine as by the example he sets through his own life.

Were you originally from Las Vegas?

And you moved to Harlem?

How was the move for you? Did it have an impact on your life?

Honestly I don’t remember; I was nine days old.

Did you have any role models growing up?
Yeah, there were a lot of role models for me. In particular, my number one role model- everybody who knows me knows this- it’s Damon Dash. He’s my favorite entrepreneur; he’s from my neighborhood. But I also like Will Smith a lot, and I like Magic Johnson. I appreciate anyone who was from the urban community but didn’t allow that situation to discourage them. But still aspired to do big things and made it happen. I like Puff Daddy too.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur when I was working for someone, and I was working very hard- probably around the same time I did the interview with you guys. I was working for a company, and I just said to myself ‘‘Wow, I’m really working very, very hard to help these people accomplish their goals, and they aren’t working as hard as I am. And, as an entrepreneur, you’re a visionary. And I just had a lot of different ideas, and a lot of goals, and a lot of things that I just wanted to accomplish, and I knew that I could make it happen. And so what I decided to do was to keep it real with you. In a meeting one day, I just had my head on the table ‘‘cause I was just pissed off at the situation. I just looked at them and said ‘‘You know something. I’m resigning."" Literally, just like that. And the next week I left. And I started my company. Fortunately for me, I had developed a lot of relationships. So, as I was literally carrying the boxes into my apartment from my job, I got a call from Coca-Cola. And they had a bunch of magazines that they needed to get rid of, and they hired me to distribute them across New York City. And that’s when I said to myself, ‘‘I’ll never have another job for anyone else in New York City again.

When did you first realize that you wanted to start a magazine?
I wanted to start a magazine, actually, when I was at Columbia. I knew that I liked to write. I always like to write- whether it was poems, or songs, raps, or whatever. I always loved to write. But the true power in writing comes in ownership, and having ownership over your material. Whether you’re writing for someone or whatever- whether you’re writing for your own magazine or publishing your own books or whatever. But actually, what happened was, when I was at Columbia, I called this magazine- I called a bunch of magazine- but I called one magazine in particular, and I asked them if I could write a column called ‘Young, Black, and Doin’ It" about young black people who are doin’ their thing. And she was like ‘No.’ but she says [to] send me some of my work, and I sent her some of my poems, and she published one of my poems. And so I was very excited about that. Right then and there, I knew that the whole bug for young, black and doin’ it, the whole doin’ thing, came about.

What steps did you take from when you first had you’re idea to where you are now- in terms of the magazine?
Well, the first thing I did was I met with a whole bunch of people who worked in publishing. I met with a couple of executives. Exactly, one of my biggest mentors is Darold Dye at Ebony magazine He’s been like really mentoring me with this project. But I had been talking Fred Jackson at Vibe magazine for a very, very long time. I just used to call him and ask him for advice. And then thirdly, I used to call and talk to the art directors at Black Enterprise. And they exactly took two hours with me and sat down with me on their lunch break and really laying out the magazine and giving me a lot of tips. Terrence Saulsby and J. Michael Rush. They sat down with me and really broke down the magazine and actually designed part of the magazine for me. They designed a whole section.

What type of skills and training do you need to start a magazine?
To start your own magazine, it takes a bunch of skills. First of all, you have to have a network of advertisers and potential sponsors. It’s not necessarily in newsstand sales. I do not plan on selling the magazine ever...never. I always wanted the magazine to be free. So, for me, what I did was to develop relationships with the advertisers. Secondarily, I had to learn how to design a magazine. Not just to design it, but more so to lay it out. And I had to learn the computer program. But this is just something I had taught myself a long time ago. And lastly, you have to form a relationship with the editor ‘cause you’ll have stupid little typos like I had in my first issue.

I think you already answered this, but when did you first think of the name ‘Young and Doin’ it’ and what other names crossed your mind when you were naming the magazine?
I’ma be honest with you. When I was at Columbia, and I had pitched that idea to the woman. I guess you did some research on me so you know I had a t.v. show on cable access called ‘Young, Black, and Doin’ it.’ So that’s really where the magazine stemmed from. And the reason I had called the magazine that was that I had created a brand around that. The television show, even though it was on public access, was extremely successful. What I did was, I would produce the shows, and I would make dubs of each show, and, on a random week, I would send it to a different press organization or a different executive or a different person so that I was constantly promoting and developing relationships. So I created a brand around the whole name of "Young, Black, and Doin’ It"-like people see me and say ‘Yo, ‘Young, Black and Doin’ it,’ what’s up.’ Just in continuing and developing the magazine, it was the next step.

Did you succeed at first or did it take a while from when you first had the idea?
My definition of success is anytime you’re a step closer to your goal. I had a goal of putting the magazine together, and the magazine came out. And it was very successful, in my opinion, but, then again, it wasn’t successful. Let me explain to you why: I had a lot of goals- Overall it was successful, but I had set goals for things that I wanted to do with the magazine. And, to be honest with you, I didn’t reach those goals. But, what I’ve always done was I’ve always tried to set really high goals so that, when I got halfway to those goals, I was like there. In my first book, I used to be a beast, I got a poem, and it goes like this, it’s called ‘The Sun,’ and it goes: Most people say ‘Reach for the moon, and you might hit a star.’ Kiante says, ‘Reach for the sun, and pick up stars along the way.’‘ You know what I’m saying. So that means like try to aim really high so that, if you don’t accomplish your goal, if you get halfway there, hey, that’s still good. And that’s what I did. The magazine was extremely successful-we’ve gotten international exposure, not only being featured in Japanese magazines, but also a career journalist had done a documentary on the project. It did a few a radios shows. The Daily News did something on the project. Crane’s New York Magazine did something on the project. More importantly, all the letters I had received from young people all across the country, who had really appreciated what we had done with the magazine. So that’s where the real success comes in, you know.

What challenges did you find in managing the magazine and working in the media?
The only challenge is like finding people you can depend on to support you. Anytime you start a new company, especially in publishing, publishing a magazine is very different from a lot of other businesses. And in order to be successful in this project, you can’t do everything. So you have to find people you can depend on, who you can trust to accomplish certain things. And for me, the challenge is not in meeting people because I have letters, hundreds and hundreds, maybe 400 emails from people who want to write, or who want to draw, or who want to design the magazine. Just finding the people, the right people, who you really think will benefit. Like, I don’t want a 40-year-old guy from Kentucky writing for a magazine that’s for urban teens. You know what I’m saying. But it would be another challenge getting advertising dollars. But, to be honest with you, it’s not really a challenge ‘cause, the first issue, I mean, for me to sell any ads, let alone sell probably 5 different type of ads is really good. Eddy's Grand Ice Cream sponsored us, Enyce is one of our sponsors, Timberland boots, and Fleet Bank sponsored the first issue as well. And, for that to take place is really accomplishing. And so, for me, this is something I would like you to instill in yourself and instill in people you come across. You are a very intelligent young lady and it’s obvious that you’re gonna do big things in your life. The only thing a challenge is is something for you to step over. And then, when you look back, you be like ‘Wow, I knocked that out.’ I don’t look at things as challenges; I look at it as an obstacle ‘cause obstacles are something that you jump over.

But did you think about giving up at any point though?
Hell yeah. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t because it’s very hard. Sometimes it’s not easy. But the fact that I’m moving forward, you know. I’m comfortable with that. The reality is, with any business, if you’re at point in your business where it’s a standstill, then you have a problem. But if you’re moving forward and you’re moving up, then I’m doin’ my thang, I’m straight.

How did you balance both you’re business and you’re personal life? Was it challenging?
My business is my life. Anything I do personal is based around my business. Just to give you an example, what I love to do is I like to go to the movies, I like to watch movies, and the reason why I go to movies, or the way that it intertwines in my business, is I’m a writer. I write books, you know. I have like four novels that I’ve written, and I’m actually looking to get published now. And for me, I go to the movies just to see the dialogue. You know like, in the entertainment business...when you’re older and get people in the business, there’s always a party, there’s always somebody promoting themselves at some party. In the entertainment business, when you get older and when you start really to network and get deep in the business, there's always a party. There's always somebody promoting themselves at some party. I mean,
with the magazine, we've done about 46 events since March. Sometimes I do 6, 7, 8 events each week. Like last week, we did 5 events at the Department of Youth and Community Development. In each borough they did events, so we supported those events. So there's always an event, there's always a party; there's always a private screening of some movie. So, when you're in entertainment, and as an entrepreneur, your business becomes part of your social life.

Who supported you in the beginning? Was it family and friends? Or did it come from elsewhere?
My grandmother has been my number one source of support. She is my number one fan, even when I had the television show. Like, one thing you'll learn is like, I'm not gonna call any names in my family, but one thing you'll learn is that people won't support you 'til you start looking good. When I had my television show, and it was crap, people were like 'Oooh, you think you're all that. Your show is garbage.' But when it was still crap and I was sitting with Damon Dash or I was sitting with the celebrities, they were like 'Oooh, aahh.' Or, when they see me on the Morning Show, then other people will call them and say, 'Oh my god, I saw your relative on this television.' And then they're like, 'Oh my god, he was on the Morning Show. That's my boy!' So people pop out of the woodwork. So, my number one source of support has been my grandmother. She's been truly, truly supportive. She and I are really good friends. Our relationship is really close. In terms of companies, Enyce has been truly, truly supportive, financially. They have always been supportive the Young and Doin' It. China Flowers, Lateef Lee, and Tony Sherman have always supported the Young and Doin' It project. But recently, I've become really good friends with Lateef Lee, who's become the marketing director there. And he's been really supportive of the Young and Doin' It project. And the reality is, with the business, it's not successful until it makes money, until people buy into it. And they were the first company who, to be honest with you, agreed to write me a check. It wasn't for what I asked. But it was still there; it was still a check.

How much has NFTE helped you across the years?
NFTE has been very supportive, actually one of the magazine sponsors. I use their office space. What NFTE did was actually help me with my business plan,
connect with a few people.

When did you first hear about NFTE?
Actually, when I was in high school. But see, when I was in high school, I was a knucklehead. All the other kids would be involved in the NFTE program, and I
didn't really wanna do that. I just wanted to party. It wasn't until I had graduated in high school- it was the day of graduation when I literally grew up because
it was time for me to bigger and better things. I always knew I was destined to do something positive/powerful.
How hard was networking and finding contacts?
That's not hard. That's my gift. I network easily. Anytime I've always had the ability to walk into a room, and when I leave, everybody knows who I am. Just to give you an example, I went to an event- actually Terri Williams, she's a celebrity publicist (she actually wrote an article for the magazine), but she
took me to an event, but she was surprised how I worked the room. It's all about who you know, not what you know. You ever meet people and be like, 'God you're dumb. How did you get that position?' 'Cause they know somebody.

How hard was it, being a young entrepreneur, to convince people that your business was legitimate? The thing is I developed relationships a long time ago. When I knew that I wanted to do a magazine, I started those relationships a year before, two years before I actually put the magazine out or actually told them about the magazine. It's funny because people I did tell about the magazine, they never gave me any sponsorship. I'm not gonna name any companies' names, but companies that I've done major, major events for, did not support the magazine project at all.

How was managing a t.v. show more or less difficult than managing the magazine?
It's different. And I don't look at things as hard or challenging. I look at it as something I got to do. The thing that's different is, with the magazine, the thing that I like more with publishing than television is that I can say 'I have a television show.' But until you see, then you see it. But I say, 'I have a magazine.' You're like, 'No you don't.' Then I'm like, 'Okay, pop! [holding up the actual magazine].' There's always gonna be challenges with anything andeverything you do...The hardest part is just getting the celebrities. Like, we were supposed to interview Kanye and he went out to Europe. But that's how th nature of it is. When you're a small fry, you're not important. It's all good. You gotta know your place.

What's a typical day in your business?
I get up. The first thing I do is I always check my emails, I'm constantly sending out my press kit out- just like samples of old magazines that we've been featured in. I'm calling and just touching bases with people. I'm calling the graphic designer. It depends on the day. Sometimes I have to do events, but it depends on the day. It depends on the day because, as an entrepreneur, it's like, especially when you're new, you find yourself doing a lot of things. I don't do everything in the magazine, but I do a lot of things. But it's all good. But it's very hard because I don't work, I don't have a job; I'm totally immersed in my entrepreneurship. So fortunately, I've been able to do a few deals here and there for my marketing company, but, you know, I'm focusing. I'm turning 100 percent into the magazine.

How long does it take to put an issue together, typically?
Depends on how fast you work. It can take two weeks if people do what they're supposed to do.

Do you have any present goals for your business?
I want the magazine, within two years, to be running itself. And after 2005, I want to start prospecting for a television show on network t.v. I have a concept for a television show. Next summer, I wanna take time and shoot a pilot for the television show, so I'm developing now. You always wanna start way in advance. So I'm developing those relationships now. I currently have an editor for the television show, so I'm just looking for the camera crew. Those are easy roles to fill, but you always want to plan ahead.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself successful. I see myself accomplishing your goals. This magazine has done three times better than I had imagined, than I had planned for it to do. From the press coverage alone, we've gotten so much exposure and for the international exposure that we've received. So, for five years from now, I wanna at least have published three books and have the magazine on television, and have the magazine at a circulation of no less than a million.

What was the first award you've ever gotten and what was the most meaningful award?
The first award was an award from Fleet Bank. It was the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. I appreciated that. But the award that I appreciated the most was from NFTE, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship And the reason being is because NFTE has been very supportive of the Young and Doin’ It project. And it just meant a lot coming from them. I also got an award from some of the people in Harlem- Ufswa, and that was in 2001. And I appreciated that because it was coming from the community. But the most important one was from NFTE. And actually, since you’re speaking about awards, I’m actually going to Washington going to compete in this business plan competition with entrepreneurs from all across the country. So that was like an award; it was a free trip, all expense paid.

What other interests do you have besides writing and running the magazine?
I want to do a restaurant franchise. I’m not gonna get into that because the idea is incredible. I want to do television production too. I want to e.p. (executive producer) a lot of things. I have a lot of relationships, so what I do is I maximize on them when the time is right. I’ma start off with the Young and Doin’ It television show and build from that. I got a lot of television show ideas. All of the novels that I write, all of the stories that I write can be made into movies. I write so they can be made like that. I just want to make a lot of money and then take the money and reinvest it into myself. That’s always been the Young and Doin’ It way. Anytime I make money, I reinvest it into something else. One time, I made about $2000 from a company, and I took and I printed out all my books. I took half of it and printed up some of my poetry, I used to be a beast.

Out of the all the people you’ve interviewed, who’s the most interesting?
Ice-T. Funny as hell. To be honest with you, there are two interviews that stand out to me out of all the interviews I’ve done. Ice-T, number one, because he called me one day and was like ‘Come to my crib.’ We were at his penthouse It was cool, but I was very, very nervous. And for some reason, I’ve never been nervous in front of anyone before. But for some reason, I’ve never been nervous in front of anyone before. But he was very, very warming. He was cool. We were there for like the whole day, and we ended up doing a three week series. Secondarly was Damon Dash, of course, ‘cause I’ve always liked him as an entrepreneur. And to be honest with you, he reminds, just seeing and listening to him, he reminds me of myself, just in terms of personality-wise and the fact that, as people say, ‘Damon Dash don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, he’ll just move onto the next person.’ And that’s how I’ve always been. I’ve never allowed a ‘no’ to stop me. And I think we’re the same sign; we’re both Tauruses. So, we’re both real bull-headed and militant.

Who do you decide who to put on the cover?
Basically, number one who’s hot. And, number two, the reason I did it with DMX was because Ruff Ryders had been very, very supportive out of all the record labels. And, to honest with you, I knew I could get DMX. Instead of killing myself getting this person, getting that person. We did Kanye in this issue because Kanye’s hot right now, number one. Number two, his story is really sexy to me. When I got to understand more about Kanye and his story and his situation, I learned that he started producing but, in reality, he wanted to be a rapper. He just happened to be able to make beats. So, it worked out.

How do you see yourself influencing urban teens?
I just want to influence them to realize that anything and everything they want to be is possible, number one. Number two, I want to show them that they don’t have to be a rapper, basketball player, or athlete, or whatever to be successful. I wanna show them that they need to stop selling crack, selling drugs. All my peoples have don’t that, and I got family that are still doin that. And, to be honest with you, it’s very, very important for me. Even if just one person reads the magazine and says, ‘Wow, I can be successful. I’m not gonna sell drugs anymore.’ Then I’m satisfied.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your life, in general?
You know, being an entrepreneur has become my life. That’s how I can answer that. I’m a very stubborn person, and I like things my way. And as an entrepreneur, hey, you get to have things your way- except when you’re working with clients. You have to appeal to your markets/clients. It’s helped me utilize my skills, my natural talent. I naturally can network, I can talk, talk you to death- we can sit hear and talk all day. I do a lot presentations. It’s given me an avenue to express my creativity.

What advice would you give young entrepreneurs today?
The main thing I always say when I speak at events is ‘Work hard and believe in yourself.’ If you want to make something happen, you have to work and believe in yourself. Make a plan (or business plan), talk to people who’ve already done it, go back to your plan and fix it, go to the library, do some research, go back to your plan and fix it. Then set it off; start your business. And that’s exactly what I did.
Among all the advice you’ve received, would you give it in return?
I mean, it’s the same garbage. Not the same garbage but it’s the same garbage that’s been passed all along and on and on. Believe in yourself. Until you see it in yourself and believe in yourself, it will be.

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