When Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, I like many other incoming college freshmen switched my major from Marketing to Political Science. His win in November of that year would validate my decision to study something that would ideally give me the tools needed to launch a career focused on changing the world. Many miles and states away from Texas, another hopeful black millennial was feeling similar, and his name is Kevin Beckford.
A quick glimpse at Kevin’s Instagram, you’ll see he self-describes as, a Child of the Highest. Unapologetically Black. Radically progressive. White House alum. Yalie (Yale alum). Educator. Bodybuilder. Class clown. With roots from Jamaica, New Jersey and Philly, in 2012, Kevin ended up moving to D.C. to serve in President Obama’s administration. I recently caught up with Kevin to learn a little about how he rises.
- Location: Washington, DC
- Current Gig: Special Adviser for a Government Agency (HUD), previously White House Policy Analyst
- Explain SWOTUS: Swolest Of The United States. Some friends of mine gave me the name. They took my phone and changed my Instagram name. I got tired of explaining what it meant, so I changed it to something else- but a few folks still call me by the name.
- One word that best describes how you rise: Taking an emphatic approach to what I do. It keeps me humble and attached to the purpose of the work. For example when I was a teacher keeping in touch with what the students were going through was always important to my work. Also while working in the White House Correspondent Office sometimes you’d come across a letter that you didn’t really understand, but being empathic required you to ask the tough questions of do I sample this for the President, or do I send it to an agency. Having empathy in these situations tended to make the greatest difference. I rise to empathy in order to really connect with the issues.
- Current mobile device: Apple iPhone 6s plus
- Current computer: Macbook Pro and a Dell Laptop
- First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today. I was raised by my grandmother in New Jersey. My whole family is from Jamaica. I had a background that was pretty standard relative to where I came from. My mother had her own issues-a whole host of them, unfortunately. My father was out of the picture. I was exposed to a lot of things at a very early age. Having an understanding of the situation that surrounded me brought on by unfair policies made me want to really be active. Being active in the NAACP and civil rights affairs and local government scene in my hometown helped set the stage for what was to come. When applying for colleges that was what I kept in mind for things I wanted to study and pursue. I ended up going to Yale, where I studied African American Studies and Political Science. I was actively engaged in the Yale NAACP as President, while tutoring youth and taking part in the Student Government. After Yale, I had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Cambridge on a scholarship for a year-long Masters program in African Studies. Then I went to the University of Pennsylvania where I did a Masters in Education and later started teaching. And in the summer of my second year of teaching, I applied to the White House and ended up getting wait-listed to join in the Fall. So when they called, I thought the opportunity to work for the first black President would be an amazing one for a couple years as an Associate. Afterwards I went over to HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) to serve as a special adviser focusing on ConnectHome, a initiative for broadband connectivity in HUD assisted housing.
- What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Gmail – absolutely couldn’t live without Gmail. I email myself notes, grocery lists, reminders, etc. Emailing myself is great because it’s a good memory exercise to type it out. In addition to Gmail, I’d also include Eventbrite, Facebook, Instagram and my Bible app. Oh, and my phone. My life is pretty much my phone.
- What’s your workspace setup like? Organized chaos. Always try to organize my things. Get things ready at the end of the day. Come into the next day and everything be disorganized. That’s primarily because when I’m working on something I like to be able to pull from everything I need that reinforces the task at hand.
- What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack? I wake up early. Always go to the gym. Knock out a personal task. Overall starting the day early allows me some personal time later in the day.
- What’s your favorite to-do list manager? I really like sticky notes. I know this sounds really silly or outdated, but I like writing out things and having a visual reminder. So that I’m constantly reminded of things that need to get done.
- Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why? I don’t really use it that much, but I have a dope portable sound system at home.
- What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? Gym. What’s your secret? And it’s because I’ve done it for so long. That’s why I’m the Real SWOTUS.
- What do you listen to while you work? It varies so tremendously. I am all over the place when it comes to music. I could be listening to Bounty Killa one minute, Kirk Franklin the next. If I’m writing I try to listen to a Tribe Called Quest instrumentals or Jazz or even some Robert Glasper. Also listen to combination of conscious 90s hip hop, that’s when I’m trying to get motivated and some more hype, think; Method Man, Redman, DMX. “Get it on the floor” [DMX] particularly, or Busta Rhymes ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ when I’m just in hype mode.
- What are you currently reading? Most recently, ‘Decolonizing the Mind’ by Ngugi Wa Thiongo, and ‘Of Africa’ by Soyinka.
- How do you recharge? I recharge in a couple of different ways. By hanging out with people. Also just taking care of myself. Going to dinners and movies by myself for example.
- What do you do when you want to forget about work? I spend time with people who don’t take themselves too seriously. Friends who just want to know me as a person, talk politics, gym and who know there’s more to life then that. Laughter for me is everything. Being to laugh always puts me in a space where nothing in the world matters more than what I’m doing at that time.
- Fill in the blank: I’d love to see Kenneth Blacks answer these same questions.
- What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Treat people well. Always. Don’t be an idiot or let people play you, but treat people well. This advice was always given to be by people who embodied this. My grandmother, a teacher from school and many others. I think life has been so good to me because I’ve always strived to do this. It has allowed for laughter, opportunity, and joy. If you treat people well, life will treat you well.
- Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans? Something that people find interesting about me, is that at my core I’m very down to earth. I would prefer a bar with trap music and strong drinks over a bougie restaurant with subpar food any day. I’m a very down to earth person and for better or worse, I’m not one to compromise who I am.
*This post was edited for accuracy and updated 1.19.17 at 12:53 pm.
The How I Rise series asks rising black millennial voices to share personal stories of success, hustle and more in their work to break barriers and change the world.
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Mariel Kanene is Founder and Editor of TheArtOfPersptive.co and lead storyteller with a focus on music, startups and travel. His passion for storytelling was born in Kinshasa, Congo and bred in Washington, DC where he resides. By day, Mariel spends his days slowly trying to change the world—one meaningful interaction at a time. He loves reading factual-fiction, good podcasts, traveling, health and fitness, foreign languages and good conversations over good coffee and even better rum. He hates talking about himself in third person.Thanks for stopping by. Always appreciated. Find me on: Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin | Website.