Monica Sekhmet Grant is the true definition of a Young Boss. She’s been employing workers, building organizations, and producing her own products since her college days. A native of Ypsilanti Michigan but raised in North Augusta South Carolina. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Monica shares her entrepreneurship journey, humanitarian initiatives, book launch and the future for Young Boss Media Inc. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you tell us about Young Boss Media Inc and the gap its filling?
Monica: Young Boss Media Inc. produces media that will empower under-represented communities to gain ownership over their image, voice and economic & political future. Hollywood and broadcast TV are under-represented in gender, age, ethnicity and sexual status. This lack of representation excludes certain groups from obtaining information and resources that have the power to enhance their ability to thrive in a challenging economy. Young Boss Media is on a mission to change that!
Our mission is to produce high-quality content that engages under-represented communities while building a multi-media network dedicated to social impact influencers and to cultivate an online and offline community of innovation, artistry, entrepreneurship and activism.
Alaba: What sparked your interest into the media space and how did you come up with the name?
Monica: By trade I was a community and labor organizer and I’ve always had a passion for economics. Around the age of 10, I started asking “Why are some people rich, while others are poor.” In America, the Old Boss is the plantation owner, the factory manager, the 9-5 hustle that drained your energy and only gave you enough money to make it back to work the next day. The Old Boss in media was the White Blonde Face with White Blonde stories that did not reflect my community but still dominated what we saw on television.
In 2015, I started producing shows in New York City for another entrepreneur name Bonnie Bruderer. I learned how to build a media network from her. On March 22, 2017, I launched my first talk show under Young Boss Media called Master Plan and the rest is history. We’ve grown into a global media network with 30 producers, hosts and interns producing content around the clock.
Alaba: Since the launch of your platform, what are your achievements? And how do you measure impact?
Monica: The greatest achievement is seeing my people happy. I get calls, texts, and emails everyday saying how powerful our shows are. I strive to make my ancestors happy. If they are pleased, then I am rich.
Alaba: Do you think luck played a role in your success story?
Monica: I got lucky being born in America, that’s about it. I worked for everything else.
Alaba: Did you venture alone? What was the hardest part in the early stages of the company’s growth?
Monica: Young Boss Media has 30 host, producers, and interns now but in the beginning, it was just me. I wanted to partner with people because that’s who I am by nature, but many people proved that they weren’t ready for the long-haul. I don’t believe in the get rich quick hustle. You put in the work every day, doing work that you love to do and then you sleep with a smile. That’sit. The rewards will come.
I learned to do things on my own and to trust my own vision. If I wanted something to be done, it’s up to me to do it. I prayed for the right people to come into my life and eventually they all did and at the right time too. I don’t’ let people stress me. I trust my instinct and if it’s not the right vibe, I keep it moving.
Alaba: How are you navigating the impact of COVID-19 in your industry? Are you post COVID-19 ready?
Monica: I love it, everything is virtual, and everyone finally sees the importance of independent media. It feels like I have been preparing for this moment since the 2008 recession and now that it’s here I’m calm cool and in control of my destiny. God bless all of those impacted negatively by Corona. We must remain safe and follow God.
Alaba: What is your plan for young media entrepreneurs especially the female entrepreneurs in terms of support?
Monica: Young Boss Media Activist Institute is a non-profit organization focused on increasing social justice activism and entrepreneurship via media training. We allow young people of color to produce TV shows, build websites and work behind the scenes of Young Boss Media. I teach our students how to be independent and not look for a job but instead they can be the one to create opportunities for themselves. I don’t baby my students. They must work for their respect. Entrepreneurs don’t take days off. They know that this is not a hobby. My students learn how to build an empire.
I give freely to all of my students regardless of gender or ethnicity but based on who they are I tell them the truth about what to expect in this industry. Women must speak up and not wait to be called on. They must learn to stop doubting themselves and to accept failure as a beautiful part of the process. Men must learn when to ask for input and not think that everything is about them. Every industry is becoming more women dominate, so they learn how to play well with others by working with me. For all of my students they must know that they can’t fool me. I’ve lived a full life and I know when you’re scamming and scheming.
Alaba: What’s the future for Young Boss Media Inc?
Monica: 24-hour programming of globally produced continent. We are looking for producers and hosts for our African initiative Young Boss Africa. I am also launching my 4th book, Mind Your Business and Prosper on August 17th, 2020. You can order it on YoungBossMedia.com
Alaba: Can you tell us about your humanitarian activities and your new book?
Monica: Humanitarian Activities:
Young Boss Media Activist Institute
Fight for Fight Campaign
Black Lives Matter
Climate Reality Corps
Organizing a Pan-African Credit Union in the Bronx
Organizing daycare workers, domestic workers, EMS workers and taxi drives into a labor union.
Mind Your Business and Prosper is the blueprint for business success. Written for students transitioning into adulthood, struggling to find their identity but are driven to have their voice heard and make an impact on the world. Monica proves that you don’t have to wait until you’re 50 years old to be successful. Instead, you can live an amazing fulfilled life right now.
Global Release is August 17, 2020.
Alaba: When are you coming to Africa and where would you love to visit?
Monica: As soon as possible. My DNA traces back to Kenya and Nigeria so those are first on my list. I also love and adore Senegal. I must get to South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and Mauritius as well. But honestly,I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures of Africa that I’m ready to spend most of my time country-hopping for the next year or two, recording and documenting my experience.
Alaba: How do you relax and fun fact about you?
Monica: I spend quality with my family, eating laughing and going to the beach. I enjoy talking to my Vice President Raphael about business ideas and him fully understanding my vision. We can’t take the people in our life for granted. They are special.
Fun Fact: I taught myself how to play the saxophone in college.
B I O G R A P H Y
Monica Sekhmet Grant is the true definition of a Young Boss. She’s been employing workers, building organizations, and producing her own products since her college days. A native of Ypsilanti Michigan but raised in North Augusta South Carolina, Monica studied business at Delaware State University because she wanted to understand how some people continued to get richer while others remained poor.
After college, Monica moved to New York City and made a career of empowering Black and Brown communities through life coaching and community organizing. “One builds personal power while the other build collective power. Each one is vital and should not be isolated.” Monica is an advocate for economic justice and fairness, for all communities especially her own. She believes that most men and women of African descent naturally desire to live in safe prosperous communities that support economic growth.
She has campaigned for workers’ rights with the Fight For $15 Campaign, the Service Employees International Union, and AFSCME International Labor Union. On March 22, 2017, Monica launched what would become the most rewarding project of her life, Young Boss Media. An idea to interview entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities quickly expanded into a television network consisting of young Black producers and hosts that never believed they would one day be on TV. Monica believes in giving people the opportunity to produce media that will uplift their community, even if their community is not hers.
Monica is currently based in New York City. On June 19, 2020, she announced the release date of her autobiographical, self-help workbook, Mind Your Business and Prosper: A Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Being Successful. Her goal is to provide mentorship to new entrepreneurs in a down to Earth manner that wasn’t available when she was a student. Mind Your Business and Prosper will launch globally on August 17, 2020. Young Boss Media is also expanding into Africa with Young Boss Africa, an initiative to highlight innovation among youth on the African continent.
Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine
Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)
Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.
Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.
In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.
Revolutionizing West African Food
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.
In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.
Visit Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity
Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.
Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.
“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.
One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.
Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”
One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.
In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.
“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.
A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.
Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Programme Application Opens
The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Africa’s leading philanthropy dedicated to empowering African entrepreneurs, opens applications on its TEFConnect digital platform (www.tefconnect.com) today, January 1, 2021.
This year’s intervention prioritises the economic recovery of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) and young African entrepreneurs, following the Covid-19 disruption to economic activities.
To address the unique challenges arising from the pandemic, lift millions out of poverty and create sustainable employment across the continent, the Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme will empower 1,000 young African entrepreneurs, selected from the 2020 cohort. The Foundation will also open applications to an additional 2,400 young entrepreneurs in 2021, in collaboration with global partners.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation, which celebrated ten years of impact in 2020, is empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. Successful applicants receive a world-class business training, mentorship, non-refundable seed capital up to $5,000, and global networking opportunities. The Programme is open to entrepreneurs across Africa, both new start-ups and existing young businesses, operating in any sector.
CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu stated, “The Tony Elumelu Foundation now more than ever is demonstrating our commitment to unleashing the potential of young African entrepreneurs, the key to Africa’s long-term economic transformation. The pandemic has created challenges across the continent, but we know that with the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s tried and tested Programme, we can execute the largest Covid-19 economic recovery plan for African SMEs and break the cycle of poverty in Africa.”
The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100million Entrepreneurship Programme, launched in 2015 to empower 10,000 entrepreneurs over 10 years, is now entering its 7th year and has empowered to date, over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs from 54 African countries.
Prospective applicants should apply on the digital networking hub for African entrepreneurs, www.tefconnect.com
Source: The Tony Elumelu Foundation
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