As cliché as it sounds, the phrase “don’t stop dreaming” can really be used in your life if you allow yourself to understand that what you need to accomplish takes time, and if you put the effort and work into it, the dreams actually become a reality. Seven years ago, I was a post-college grad who couldn’t find a job in the economy, and had to resort to going back to my high school job as a supermarket cashier to make ends meet. It was humiliating and awful, given what I had to go through during college with losing my mother, working all year round, interning every summer, and getting two degrees in the process. Seven years later, I stood as the sole reporter for one of the top entertainment publications in the world at the 2016 Tony Awards, interviewing and writing about legends such as Oprah Winfrey, Glenn Close and Carole King just to name a few. I made my hopes and dreams happen, and although I have only scraped the surface of what I want to do with my life overall, I made the progress necessary to make my own life happen. The secret to this, however, is not that hard to figure out.
To start, I finished school in 2009 with a Bachelors in Marketing/Communications and an Associate’s in Advertising/Communications from Johnson & Wales University. As previously mentioned, getting to that point was incredibly tough, as I lost my mother four months into my freshman year, which made continuing my education that much tougher. On the advice of a couple of friends, I went back to school shorty after she passed, and did my best to stay focused given everything that was going on around me. Two years after she passed away, I had an epiphany one morning and finally realized that just because someone else’s life ends, yours doesn’t have to. It was that realization that helped me get through the rest of my college years, work hard, and stand proud when walking across the stage at graduation and getting my diploma. It was one of the few moments in my life at that point where I felt accomplished, as it was a very David vs. Goliath type moment. Little did I know that I was facing an avalanche immediately after walking off the stage, that being… the recession.
The recession hit everyone, not matter what your age, sex, economic status, or any other related factor. For post-college grads like myself, it was incredibly tough as no one, I mean NO ONE, was hiring. I had friends of mine who went to Ivy League schools and they were struggling as well, which didn’t help my situation out at all. I was so poor at one point, that I would sell my DVD sets just to have $20 or $30 bucks for the week to buy groceries with. Looking back, I can appreciate these times as I understood the concept of “The struggle is real” so incredibly, that I never wanted to see myself in that position ever again. I went back to my old stomping grounds as a cashier and front end manager for a major supermarket chain, just to make ends meet, while ferociously looking for full time employment in the meantime. It wasn’t working. And my frustration got bigger and bigger as time went by.
Something that I have wanted, ever since I was around 12 or 13, was to write for a major music publication. I used to spend hours at Barnes & Noble, digesting Billboard and Rolling Stone Magazine, and was obsessed with the music at the time, how the charts fluctuated, and so much more. With that in the back of my mind, a friend of mine recommended that I started writing for a relatively new site at that point called Examiner. Examiner is an all-encompassing journalism site per se, with a bevy of titles you can write about. Being a hip hop head myself, I wanted the position of “Long Island Hip-Hop Examiner”, as well as “New York Music Examiner”, as I wanted to be able to write about other music as well. The articles all had to be fact based in order for it to be put on Google news, so I kept that in mind with the 2-3 articles I would publish a day. It got to the point where I was garnering 25-30,000 views per month, and was listed as one of the top 5 Music Examiners nationwide, giving me a sense of happiness and somewhat of a lightbulb that I was doing something right. That lightbulb was firmly lit shortly after when I was contacted by an agency who repped a massive hip-hop star, Grammy winner, and presented an opportunity that would really change my focus career wise and ultimately got me to where I am today.
T-Pain’s reps reached out to me regarding an opportunity to interview him about his line of Moscato and new mix tape that was coming out. T-Pain isn’t just some up and coming hip hopper with another mixtape that no one will listen to, he is a bonafide star who has been featured in some of the biggest hits over the past decade, not to mention making his own as well. I instantly jumped at the opportunity, and from there, my journalism career was starting to take shape. I interviewed other big stars for Examiner during my time there, including the lovely Jordin Sparks, however I felt stunted as I didn’t get the chance to really do what I wanted creatively. Examiner eventually led to me freelancing for AOL’s “The Boombox” for a bit, interviewing legends in the making like Hoodie Allen and legends period in Fat Joe, LL Cool J and Anthony DeCurtis, to name a few. Something was still missing.
I wanted the opportunity to write what I wanted to discuss, and not wait for approval from someone else to do so, based on their agenda. Three years ago, I started pitching myself to several different sites and people, and came across a friend of mine who worked for YouTube that had a friend who bought the domain for a site called Manhattan Digest. He was looking for someone to take it over creatively, and I jumped at the opportunity as I waited for something like this for three years. I assembled a writing team that was strong in their POV’s, diverse when it came to content and background, and due to those factors, made Manhattan Digest jump out of the gate from a basic domain to a full-fledged lifestyle and entertainment site. We hit 100,000 views in our first four months of inception, and was granted access to cover the MTV Video Music Awards that August, at Barclays in Brooklyn. Keep in mind, the site was only active for about 6 months at that point, and they only allowed about 140 press outlets on the carpet, in a sea of thousands of applicants. Yay indeed.
Over the course of the past three years, I have been able to do things for Manhattan Digest that I never dreamed would happen. Reviewing the top hotels and restaurants around the country, interviewing some of the biggest stars in Manhattan and beyond, and bringing this site to 1.5 million views in less than three years. Its bonkers. Back in October, I got one of the best emails of my life when I got the opportunity to start freelancing for US Magazine, one of the biggest celebrity publications in the world. I almost fell out of my chair when they took me on. Since I started working there, I have been able to cover events and meet people that I have always saw as untouchables in my lifetime, including Cynthia Nixon, Laura Linney, Bono, and Meryl Streep just to name a few. This all culminated in my covering The 2016 Tony Awards this past June for them, as the sole reporter.
As I stepped onto the beautiful red carpet, and saw the big sign that said TONY, I realized that all the hard work and effort that I have put in over the past seven years, have paid off. It’s amazing to me the amount of time it took, but when you really focus on an end goal, and understand that it is up to YOU to make it happen, you can really appreciate everything you have done to get there. It’s sort of like acing an exam that you worked so hard on in school, as opposed to cheating off of the smart guy/girl next to you. Put in the work, realize that there are no limits to what you want to do in your life, and when ubiquity hits, you’ll be happy. Trust me.