For the past 38 years, I’ve played the role of a conscientious observer. I’ve been content to share other people’s stories through videos, podcasts, raps, and articles. Essentially, I’ve been experiencing the world through an artificial lens.
Along the way, I lost touch with who I was and became more fascinated with the process of telling the story, than actually connecting with the people behind the story. This shows up through the multiple communities I’ve built over the years that have come and gone.
The purpose of this episode is to tell my story so you can connect with me as a person and in hopes that you better understand my motivations for producing this podcast and running the SoFlo Vegans Community.
My passion for communication began in middle school as a reporter for the school paper. I would win first place for writing a children’s book at the school literacy fair and acted in my first play as a member of the drama club. Inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg, I knew I wanted to produce films. So, I applied and was accepted to Hallandale High’s Television Magnet Program.
As a High School student, I would go on to learn how to produce websites, graphics, and videos. By the time I graduated, I worked for NBC producing a video package that aired on the 5:00 news and became a web manager for the Miami Marlins.
I would go on to receive a scholarship from the Marlins and attend Florida International University where I received my bachelor’s in Communications. I majored in Television Production and minored in education. During this time I would work on a short film as both a production assistant and boom operator. I also was hired as a production assistant at the 2004 MTV Music Video Awards.
In terms of work experience, I held multiple jobs since I was in the eighth grade. My first official job including selling door to door subscriptions for the Sun-Sentinel when I was 14. I would go on to work for Winn-Dixie, U-Haul, Discovery Zone, World of Science, Babies R Us, The Town of a Davie, Broward County Public Schools, and Blockbuster Video. For 87% of these jobs, I was either hired or offered a management position. Along the way, I held the positions of sales, inventory, cashier, customer service, bookkeeping, teaching, computer repair, and data entry.
While I was in college I became a substitute teacher and was eventually hired to teach at an elementary school in Davie, Florida. I ended up spending 14 years at Silver Ridge Elementary where I taught Fitness and Technology to every single student, became the computer tech, an aftercare counselor and supervisor. I would go on to develop and run Broward County’s first school operated summer camp program in 2008.
From 1996 until 2013, I clocked in more than 10,000 hours of producing web sites, videos, podcasts, LIVE events, graphics, and even managing organizations. I used these skills to launch my marketing company Lesaruss Media in 2007. In total, I’ve worked with over 150 different companies and communities. Some of these companies include Nickelodeon, Live Nation, Nintendo, Def Jam, and Sony.
During this time I also founded two media channels. The first was a network called Anime3000. I managed multiple podcasts that would go on to accumulate over 1 million downloads. I worked with some of the top global brands and traveled the country attending conventions as both press and talent.
The second venture was a music channel called Topspot USA that I co-founded with a friend. We would go on to host events, start a record label, manage artists, and interview over 300 major and independent musicians from the genres of Alternative, Hip Hop, and Electronic. Some of these artists included Ne-Yo, Pete Wentz from Fallout Boy, Flo Rida, Fat Joe, Tyga, and Jeffree Star.
In 2008 as I started to take stock in my health, I discovered a website called Beyond Diet and was able to breakdown and understand what I was putting into my body. As a result, I started eliminating certain food from my diet. This led me to discover veganism.
I found my routine and was really healthy on a vegan diet. I ended up dropping over 65 pounds. This would continue for a year until the summer of 2009. I remember that Summer because I planned a trip to LA for an anime convention that took place right next to the Staples Center. This also happened to be around the same time as Michael Jackson’s death. If you remember, they were holding his funeral at the arena. So seeing a circus of people dressed in cosplay, a swarm of news vans and thousands of distraught MJ fans was something I would never forget.
This turned out to be the summer where I stopped being vegan. The temptation proved to be too overwhelming and I started eating chicken, fish, and eggs again. I always make the joke that I’m probably the only person that stopped being vegan after visiting Los Angles.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that I decided to recommit to going vegan again. This time I knew to arm myself with knowledge and joined an online community called South Florida Vegans. This was a meetup group that held potlucks. At the time they had around 400 members.
This was a rough time in my life that I’m not ready to talk about. As a result, I didn’t attend any vegan events and kept mainly to myself. Even as I experienced some extreme hardships, I stuck to the vegan lifestyle. This became all the proof that I needed to know that I was vegan for life.
In the summer of 2014, my fortunes changed dramatically when I was hired as the District Webmaster for Broward County Public Schools. It was the perfect job, blending my passion for web development, graphic design, education, podcasting, and building communities. So, for the next three and a half years I put my skills to use and excelled at my job. I became the office vegan, with my new-found prosperity affording me the ability to eat healthy, exercise, and look the part.
Not too long after I landed the job, I decided I wanted to start a community focused on veganism. I had been creating communities since high school so I was ready. I even had the name Vegan Cartel in the back of my mind.
As I adjusted to the hectic 9 to 5 schedule or be an administrator in the marketing department for the sixth-largest school district in the country, I kept putting the project on the back burner. Not to mention during this time I founded a nonprofit called Chester is Cool that taught elementary students video production.
I would volunteer every morning at Silver Ridge Elementary before going to work. I managed the LIVE morning announcements and I also taught third, four and fifth-graders life skills and how to produce videos from start to finish.
As good fortune would have it, the organizer of the South Florida Vegans Meetup Group would step down and I received a notification to take over. I saw this as an opportunity to finally jump start my vegan community. I went to register Vegan Cartel and saw that it was already taken. So I decided to rebrand South Florida Vegans as SoFlo Vegans and unofficially started this community towards the tail end of 2014.
From 2014 until 2016, I began to develop the foundations for SoFlo Vegans. I worked closely with both FATVillage and Mass District providing my media services. I spent an entire year managing the marketing for Mass District pro bono. This proved instrumental in me learning about hosting events and working with different businesses in South Florida.
I finally attended my first vegan festival in the Summer of 2016. There I met Korin Sutton and Torre Washington for the first time. Looking back at photos, I recognized a host of other people that I now call friends. Back then I was just an island of one hiding behind my camera. In December, I attend VegFest Fort Lauderdale as press and ended up meeting someone that would go on to play an instrumental role in my life.
I was searching for someone in charge of press check-in and came across a woman on stage. I went up to her and she immediately asked me if I wouldn’t mind wearing a cow costume for 20 minutes as she talked about her book. She introduced herself as Susan Hargreaves from the organization, Animal Hero Kids.
Being a natural ham for kids, I immediately said yes. After dripping with sweat for almost an hour, we exchanged information and I committed to joining her organization. I would go on to support producing videos and making updates to her website pro bono, eventually joining her board of directors.
Through Susan, I officially met Korin Sutton and would be introduced to two other individuals that would go on to play a monumental role in me becoming the person that I am today. More on them later.
I want to thank Susan for not only introducing me to so many amazing vegans in South Florida but for also watering my seed of compassion that would make me also declare to be vegan for the animals. Up until that point, I would SAY I was vegan for the animals, but not really understand what that meant. In seeing her passion and getting to ask questions, it simply clicked for me and became a no brainer.
In 2017, I was ready to start ramping up the official launch of SoFlo Vegans. I began building the website and planning our first official event that took place at the Arts and Crafts Social Club in late April 2017. Leading up to the event, I held several meetings to gauge the needs of the community. This helped me realize that South Florida lacked resources for new vegans and led me to come up with our slogan of making South Florida a global hotspot for veganism.
After launching SoFlo Vegans in the Spring of 2017, I started attending a local accountability group called Axen or Action Club as it was called back then. This added fuel to my fire and inspired me to come up with something called a 100 Day Challenge. The concept was inspired by something I heard on the Tim Ferris Podcast.
“What might you do to accomplish your 10-year goals in the next 6 months if you had a gun against our head?”
I internalized this and changed 10-years to 5-years and 6 months into 100 Days. I decided that my 5-year goal was to quit my job and work for myself full time. It was at this time that I realized that I was trapped in a vicious cycle with all of my employers. I would keep getting promoted until I either hit a glass ceiling or became bored with the job. Both of these things happened with my dream job at the school board.
So, I set the 100 days with the conclusion culminating at the end of July. Committed, I did the research, set the intention, and started to tell close friends and co-workers about my plan. This was strategic to seal my escape hatch so I would actually follow through. My plan was to pull from my pension to fund Lesaruss and land new clients. At the end of the 100 Days, I resigned from my dream job and started my dream career of being self-employed.
Now we finally get to circle back to the two individuals Susan introduced me to. It was a chance encounter at Green Bar and Kitchen that I had an opportunity to meet Alison and Michele from Seed Food and Wine for the first time. Our brief introduction eventually led to Alison and Michele inviting me to join their planning committee for their 2017 event. I would go on to become the head of their marketing committee for the next three years, also supporting social media and emceeing multiple events.
Oddly enough, that’s not even the biggest reason why I am so fond of these two. The month after my first Seed experience, I was given a free pass by Michele and Alison to attend a transformational workshop called Gratitude. Gratitude Training would go on to change the way I look at the world and more importantly myself. Without that introduction, I wouldn’t have been able to get through the next couple of years of my life as I traversed the turbulent waters of being self-employed.
Due to the nature of the training, I will not share too much about what I did. The idea is to allow everyone to have their own experience. I would describe it as going over the owner’s manual of a car you owned your entire life, and then suddenly realizing the car can turn into a plane and submarine. How you decide to use the car from that point is completely up to you.
I am now able to catch myself when I’m out of alignment with my core principles. These principles include compassion, connection, creativity, and community. So from December 2017 until June 2019, I fully devoted myself to the training.
Fast forward to the recent events of George Floyd and the protests, I found myself feeling detached from everything that was happening. I didn’t allow myself to fully experience the outrage or even watch the video of his murder. This is a result of numbing the pain I felt each time another black person becomes to the topic of the national discussion on the news. I was content with just liking and sharing posts and continuing to focus on building community, connection, and leading with compassion through my creativity. Then I noticed something different.
I credit the rising tension of quarantine and COVID and also my recent curiosity with the QAnon Conspiracies. I noticed a war brewing between my collective community and for the first time felt like I understood both sides. I realized that I couldn’t sit this one out and just be the man behind the lens capturing the carnage. I sat with my feelings for a couple of days and I finally realized the significance of my journey up until this point.
My purpose is not to just build another community. I’ve been there and done that multiple times. Based on my experience, I will eventually lose interest and move on to something else. I took an introspective look at all of the events that I laid out for you in this podcast and saw how they were all connected. In essence, I’ve been on a hero’s journey to becoming a vocal leader in my community.
I’ve been blessed with over 20 years of professional experience as a communicator, working with some of the largest organizations in the world. I have the first-hand experience of how large bureaucracies work and have lived most of my life surrounded by people of all faiths, political ideologies, cultures, and ethnicities. Most importantly, I’m grounded in my principles of compassion, connection, creativity, and community.
On June 2, I decided to start a new 100-day challenge. At the end of this challenge, I will have put myself in a position to have the means to build a community model that can support anyone looking to create peace, harmony, and prosperity in their lives. I will share the results of this challenge in a future podcast. For now, I can say that my experience so far is truly astounding and reaffirms my belief in the mind’s ability to create limitless possibilities.
My intention for creating this episode isn’t to say I have all of the answers. It’s part of me stepping from behind the lens to become both the lead and narrator of my own story. I get to be courageous and share my experience and gifts with the world. This means experimenting with new concepts and ideas and finding partners who believe in a movement focused on compassion and awareness.
For me, compassion is a complex principle. It’s intrinsic in nature and requires me to meet everyone where they are because I believe they are perfect, whole, and complete. To be clear, saying they are perfect doesn’t mean I agree with how they see the world. Instead of letting my anger spill out in my message, I choose to focus all of my energy on building my community and being an advocate for all sentient beings.
I believe in a higher power and know that the most difficult experiences in my life always led to something extraordinary. So what we are experiencing right now could end up leading to an event or movement that ends up healing the wounds that continue to open with each senseless murder of unarmed black people.
One of the important lessons I’ve learned as a professional communicator is a power of simplifying my message and communicating so that people understand. This is why compassion is so important to me. I learn a great deal by closing my mouth and letting others speak. As they share their thoughts, I learn more about the world and their intentions. To me, what you say isn’t as important as how you’re being. By replacing judgment with compassion, I’m able to connect with other people and continue building community.
To me, not trying is worse than failing. The stakes are too high right now for me to become complacent and wait for the next person to take charge. I am committed to learning, listening, and using my gifts to spread compassion. As a black person, I will always use my platform to share our experiences. I will also use this platform to share experiences of women, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and any other oppressed community.
My focus right now is getting my house in order so I can be in service to myself, my family, friends, and my community. That’s the underlining motivation of my challenge. I invite you to support our SoFlo Vegans movement and provide encouragement for others that are going through a rough time. Hopefully, after listening to this podcast you know more about me. I hope one day to hear your story. Thank you for listening.