Because of 4 a.m. – The Excellence of Kobe Bryant

Excellence is the result of a prosperous, well-lived and fulfilled life. The excellence that we can truly achieve is up against a real enemy called mediocrity.

Mediocrity and the comfort it gives us is what keeps us from being excellent. Sometimes the painful tension of a struggle comes along to teach us how to tackle hardships with hope and burn mediocrity with motivation. It’s impossible to live a life of excellence without struggle. We often look at successful people and overestimate their talent because we forget about their obsession with excellence which inspires their willingness to outwork anyone else, outshine any appearance of mediocrity and overcome any struggle they face.

As I reflect on the life and legacy of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, excellence has to the best word to describe him. Kobe is considered to be one of the greatest athletes in the world — not just because of his talent but because of his excellent mindset and work ethic. When the horrific news broke that Kobe and his 13 year old daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash along with seven others, I was heartbroken and  immediately felt a sense of disbelief. Kobe, to me, was kind of like a big brother. Not personally. But I was in middle school when he made his announcement to skip college and enter the NBA at the age of 18, and he became one of the overachieving superheroes in pop culture whose hard work, intelligence and humility I found fascinating. He reminded me so much of the guys I grew up with that lived and breathed basketball. Later I would admire his obsession with excellence – a relatable quality that he was often misunderstood and disliked for.

My favorite off-the-court memory of Kobe was when he was on stage accepting the Icon Award at the ESPYs in 2016. Around this time, I’d started the routine of waking up around 4 a.m. to workout and get ahead of my day. The year prior I had experienced a series of major struggles, and I was determined to rediscover Aerial and redefine my purpose. As a fan, I admired how competitive and disciplined Kobe was. It reminded me of myself in some ways. So once I became relentless about my new pursuits and serious about repositioning my purpose, I started going to the gym at 4 a.m. in the morning. I began to see the results not only in my fitness and appearance but everything else became clearer and more precise especially in how I affirmed myself and invested in my relationship with God.

So when Kobe retired and received the Icon Award in 2016 at the ESPYs he addressed his fellow athletes in a speech that still sticks with me to this day:

“We’re not on this stage just because of talent or ability. We’re up here because of 4 a.m. We’re up here because of two-a-days or five-a-days. We’re up here because we had a dream and let nothing stand in our way. If anything tried to bring us down, we used it to make us stronger. We were never satisfied, never finished. We will never be retired.”

Kobe Bryant

Credit: Showtime/THR

Toward the end of the speech, Kobe quoted one of his high school teachers by saying, “Rest at the end, not in the middle.” Kobe Bryant obviously lived that quote, and will now get his rest. He didn’t become one of the greatest athletes in the world simply because of talent. He was great because he was willing to put in the work every single day.

4 a.m.

Seven times a week.

No matter the struggle.

It’d be foolish to think that God allows us to go through life with absolutely no hardships and difficulties. No matter how strong you think you, there will be something that disrupts your peace, shifts your circumstances, limits your livelihood, pauses your progress and tests your character. A struggle or a series of momentary struggles are guaranteed.

It doesn’t have to be life or death, or detrimental to success but the highs and lows will come, and most times the lows will be a struggle – a struggle to get ahead and move to the next level, to fix what went wrong, to get over a bad decision or a disappointment, to make ends meet or break into the right space, to mend broken relationships and pursue the right ones, to establish boundaries, to reach a comfortable position in life, to love yourself and to be fair to yourself, to stay healthy or recover from illness, to let go of resentment or guilt, to overcome hurt and loss, and to heal from anger, sadness and pain – the struggle no matter how it looks is real.

In the world we live in, results are usually tied to performance. Nowadays unfortunately, good enough is enough. Half-done, half-hearted, shoddy, non-committal, just to get by, low effort, low interest, low standard, low energy, unbothered, average attempt, smoke and mirrors, for attention and not for advancement, a failure to go all in and play full out, doing the bare minimum, less than what is required, lack and slack – all fight against the temporary privilege to push through a struggle in order to get better.

I can imagine that 4 a.m. workouts everyday year after year would do nothing but breed excellence, and for many of us, Kobe was nothing short of excellence.

So what’s your 4 a.m.?

What struggle have you overcome recently and how did you learn to see the beauty in it? When it comes to pursuing excellence, what discomforts are required to achieve your personal best and strengthen your character?

Struggles might hinder you but they don’t define you. They will discipline you but do not have to distract you. If we considered a struggle to be a temporary privilege, we’d admit that a struggle isn’t always bad. It isn’t. It can groom us for excellence and bring us remarkable rewards.

This blog post is an excerpt from my podcast Affirmations of Excellence, Episode 4: Struggles. The podcast is an offering of personal devotionals to fuel your week with excellence using personal stories and reflections, clear action steps, and guided affirmations.

Listen, rate, subscribe and share!

Aerial Ellis Podcast

More Than Music – Akon

His name is Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam but the world knows him plainly as Akon. He’s an American-Senegalese based singer and producer introduced to us through pop culture by way of some pretty huge hits, yet little has been said about his impact as an entrepreneur. If anyone is wondering why Akon somewhat disappeared from the public eye, at least on the U.S. music scene that is, it’s because he’s been building businesses and investing smartly.

With an estimated net worth of over $80 million, there’s honestly no way to keep up with his many business ventures. He’s gone from music to real estate and tech, to agriculture and energy – yes, energy.

In 2014, he launched Akon Lighting Africa in effort to provide energy throughout his home continent.  The company provides environment-friendly and cost-effective solutions to address concerns in more than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa that are without electricity, and to reach more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lacking access.

With a billon dollar credit line from a Chinese partner, Akon is leading a movement to illuminate Africa with more than 100,000 solar street lamps installed across 480 communities in 15 countries, along with 1,200 solar micro-grids and 5,500 jobs created.

This year, his company will begin developing utility scale renewable energy projects throughout U.S. and constructing renewable energy solutions for rural and low income housing communities.

Meanwhile, he’s launched his own cryptocurrency called Akoin and will use the currency to support the Akon’s Lighting Africa Initiative and position it to be the de facto currency in a Senegalese city he’s constructing on 2,000 acres of land gifted to him by the President of Senegal – a futuristic city he describes as “a real Wakanda.”

Never moving too far away from music, he has also purchased 50 percent stake in a music download service based in Senegal called Musik Bi that features over 200 internationally recognized artists. 

So if you’re wondering what happened to Akon, you’re out of the loop and have some catching up to do.

His unique perspective as an African born in American is cradled in a heart for his homeland – a perspective grounded in the belief that the only way to build the continent of Africa is with less charity and more revenue-generating businesses that create opportunities for local people.

This bag collector is not only coming up with market-driven solutions that impact the globe, he’s proving that he’s more than music.


This post is the part of The Bag Collector series – a spotlight posts that feature serial entrepreneurs of color each recognized for their ability to diversify in business, wealth and investments. These individuals exemplify what it means to be creative and unapologetic in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence, and ultimately collect the “bag” then use it to make greater community impact.

The Million-Dollar Mother – Mary Ellen Pleasant

In a time where women were seen as less than men, and black people weren’t seen as human, you’d think it would be remotely impossible to be a successful black businesswoman.

Her story is complicated but abolitionist, financier, real estate magnate and Gold Rush entrepreneur Mary Ellen Pleasant was a free black woman who dedicated her life to equality for African Americans shattering racial and gender barriers.

Born into slavery, Mary Ellen was the illegitimate daughter of the son of then-Virginia governor and a Haitian voodoo priestess. She was sold from Georgia to New Orleans, then later bought and freed as an indentured servant in Rhode Island. She eventually made Philadelphia home, married an abolitionist and became a conductor of the Underground Railroad in Canada. ⁠

Around 1848, Mary and her husband heard about the Gold Rush and saw it as an opportunity to move west to California. She came to San Francisco fleeing prosecution under the Fugitive Slave Act while continuing her work leading people from slavery to freedom and finding them employment. Arriving in San Francisco with a considerable sum of money left to her by her first husband, Mary Ellen invested it wisely. She established several businesses included laundries, dairies and restaurants — all of which became quite lucrative in a city filled with gold miners, politicians and businessmen.

By 1875, she had earned a great deal of money from her businesses and investments and used it to help establish the Bank of California. Mary Ellen continued the fight for civil rights and challenged Jim Crow laws ⁠in suing the North Beach Railroad Co. for not letting African Americans ride streetcars in San Francisco.

Today the Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park in San Francisco lives on the property that once occupied a 30-room Italianate mansion she owned on Octavia Street.

Searching her history you may find so much more about this woman. Mary Ellen was relentless and sometimes controversial yet she died known as “the Mother of Civil Rights in California.”

She amassed a fortune worth over $30 million and used much of that fortune to challenge the white supremacist status quo marking her million-dollar legacy in civil rights and black entrepreneurship.


This post is the part of The Bag Collector series – a spotlight posts that feature serial entrepreneurs of color each recognized for their ability to diversify in business, wealth and investments. These individuals exemplify what it means to be creative and unapologetic in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence, and ultimately collect the “bag” then use it to make greater community impact.

A Martyr for the People – Thomas Moss

Kroger and Publix, Wal-Mart and Target, every successful business has its competition. There’s inspired competition – the kind that motivates you, challenges you, and makes you chase after success. And then there’s competition that only wants to see you lose and drive you out of business. The story of Thomas Moss is one that undeniably captures the trauma of competition that black entrepreneurs faced while working to acquire wealth post-slavery.

In 1889, Thomas Moss and 11 prominent black investors, opened The People’s Grocery. The store was located just outside Memphis in a neighborhood called the “Curve.” News of this black owned business spread quickly and black people in the community began to feel empowered. 

Moss was motivated to attain wealth and invest into his community. A postman by day, he used earnings delivering mail to invest in his start-up idea of a community grocery store. He delivered mail by day and ran People’s Grocery by night. And, as family man in the community, his popularity lent great success to his entrepreneurial pursuits. 

With this cooperative venture for the store, a unique structure of its kind in those days, he ran along corporate lines and made his store the 5th largest wholesale grocery market in the country. Moss was an instant success. His store brought capital to the black community while also instilling a sense of pride. 

Sadly, his social nor economic status was able to save him from the racial hostility of the South. Across from Moss’ store was another store owned by a white man, and many white people in the community were not pleased. Many felt as if they shouldn’t compete for the black dollar and the People’s Grocery quickly became an enemy of their white competitors. Moss was confident. He ignored the animosity and persisted to thrive in business. He knew the blacks in the community loved him and would support his grocery store.

In March 1892, a series of racially charged fights broke out outside of the store. Two of Moss’ workers went outside to ease the tension. Moss along with his two workers were arrested and later dragged out of jail by an angry mob of 75 white men. They all were publicly lynched while in police custody. ⁠

Moss was asked if he had any last words and he stated, “Tell my people to go west. There is no justice here.” This lynching became known as the Lynchings at the Curve. ⁠Ida B. Wells, a famed anti-lynching journalist and a dear friend to Moss, was set to show through media that lynching had become a tool of economic terrorism and disenfranchisement and became a vocal champion to broadcast the lynchings as they spread especially among black male business owners.

Many black entrepreneurs lynched across the South were people who dared to be their own boss or were perceived as having too much ambition, property or talent. Moss’ lynching, like many others, was framed as an organized act of extralegal violence and a punishment for becoming an economic competitor to whites.

The success and sacrifice of Thomas Moss has major takeaways for us today. The idea that discrimination is alive and well is true but the promise that opportunities are endless for those who fearlessly pursue entrepreneurship is even greater.

For that, we have martyrs like Thomas Moss to thank.


This post is the part of The Bag Collector series – a spotlight posts that feature serial entrepreneurs of color each recognized for their ability to diversify in business, wealth and investments. These individuals exemplify what it means to be creative and unapologetic in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence, and ultimately collect the “bag” then use it to make greater community impact. 

Why Your Diversity Training Won’t Work

Earlier this year, Starbucks paused it operations of 8,000 stores for unconscious bias training. Soon after the announcement, I landed three new clients desiring to facilitate conversations and launch initiatives around issues of diversity and inclusion for their organization. The majority of my work, like others who work in this area, is spent customizing content for the trainings and crafting a strategy to support them. I predict more of these trainings will be a priority for organizations, and recommend that consumers hold them accountable for doing the work.

But there’s a major issue with diversity trainings. Many of them won’t work.

Even if you offer multiple trainings, or a series of events and workshops, the experience will have no impact if you have overlooked the most important element any organization must implement – a strategy.

Aerial Ellis Training Diversity Inclusion Intergenerational

Any training or learning event should be tactic inside a larger diversity strategy because most times when training is treated like an activity, the learning experience is much less effective and not seen as a deliberate part of the organizational culture. Without a strategic plan to support your diversity and inclusion initiatives, your trainings are merely an exercise.

Because corporate America has historically struggled to communicate the value of employees and consumers who represent cultural differences, the atmosphere or climate of an organization can have varying effects on employee outcomes and organizational effectiveness. In order for your trainings to work, they must be supported by a strategic plan that advances a dedication to diversity and internalizes a culture of inclusion.

A plan establishes diversity and inclusion as a strategic imperative. It means your organization is committed to the practice of diversity and inclusion and is not simply having a conversation. If your trainings are an attempt to develop core competencies for your employees that will enable them to work more effectively inside a diverse workforce and approach consumer audiences with greater cultural awareness, then a strategic plan should include a focus to examine trainings to determine their effectiveness.

Developing a plan can be based on a competency-based framework for practicing diversity and inclusion. A few proven models that can support your plan include Darla Deardorff’s Process Model of Intercultural Competence (2006), The Conference Board’s Report on Global Competencies (2008) and UNC’s Diversity Competencies for Leadership Development (2016). These examples offer competencies that organizations can strategically use as metrics for regular analysis and data collection.

Implementing a strategic plan ensures that diversity and inclusion will be:

• embedded throughout the organization

• engaged across functions and departments

• executed through communication with consumers and communities

• evaluated for effectiveness through business outcomes.

Aerial Ellis Training Diversity Inclusion Intergenerational

To value diversity is to be expected but to have measurable knowledge and skills on how cultural differences can work best inside the organization, and how to communicate effectively about those similarities and differences, is to be strategic.

Your employees may be relieved to know that your organization is attempting to have a conversation around issues of diversity and inclusion – trainings increase one’s cultural knowledge, ability to empathize, understanding of cultural differences and willingness to face challenges.

Unfortunately, if treated like an exercise, your employees can suffer from pressure to participate, resentment of false commitment and the likelihood of losing interest. Trainings should be not a “check the box” exercise.

Organizations cannot trade tactics for strategies. Conducting trainings for diversity is a wasted effort without a strategic plan in place to activate inclusion.

One of Nashville’s 40 Under 40

My 40 Under 40 interview was released in the Nashville Business Journal earlier this month. The content was exclusive so here’s a sneak peek of the feature. Enjoy!

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received, and what did you learn from it? 

Most recently, the worst advice I received was not to pursue a doctoral degree. Last spring, I enrolled in the University of Southern California’s Global Executive Doctor of Education program, and since, I believe its one the best decisions I’ve ever made. Initially, there were many people who highly endorsed the idea as a possible waste of time and money. With a master’s degree, a few businesses and a job as a professor, they felt the credentials I had were enough to carry me as far I wanted to go. I see some merit in that notion but I also saw this as a chance to deepen the connection between my entrepreneurial background and my role as an educator. I relish the opportunity to tackle intellectual problems and explore new areas of knowledge through global trends from around the world. Making this decision gave greater affirmation in knowing that not everyone will understand your vision. I have come to learn with this and past situations that the more you love your decisions, the less you will need others to love them.

What is the greatest potential that comes from Nashville’s growth?

I am both optimistic and concerned about the growth this city is experiencing. While we’ve seen amazing progress in significant areas, we’ve also seen issues like crime, gentrification, housing and transit become more prevalent as a result of our rising population. I believe that the greatest potential from this expansion is the opportunity to make Nashville an exemplar for diverse communities – a place where resources are allocated and room is made for residents of various socioeconomic levels to thrive.

What fictional character do you most relate to or empathize with, and why?

Not a fictional character but a biblical character, Lydia – a woman from the Bible whose story found in Acts 16 – is one with which I identify. Lydia was an intelligent entrepreneur who loved community and understood the value of relationships. She was humble, perceptive, assertive and generous.

What is your least favorite assumption about millennials?

I write in detail about millennials in my book, The Original Millennial: Lessons in Leadership, and address the many stereotypes and assumptions of my generation. I think there’s enough conversation about what millennials are and are not in contrast to other generations so I don’t speak to the stereotypes or assumption that could support common issues. I think those are rehearsed and, quite frankly, rather old. I believe the driving force behind the potential greatness within the millennial generation is our originality. Millennials always look for ways to make things greater, bigger, better, stronger and more practical. The best parts of millennials are found in the choice to change and evolve. The original qualities of past generations use commonly understood behavior patterns, which make them far easier to define, whereas millennials have the ability to defy category. We, and other generations, have to accept that and embrace it to overcome issues that could create barriers to leadership and collaboration.

What is your favorite social media platform, and why? 

I love YouTube. I am a creative at heart so I love the storytelling aspect of videos as well as the ability to research, find information, and be informed and entertained. I also love Instagram and WhatsApp.


Why #BlackGirlMagic Is More Relevant Than Ever

The gap in management, representation and compensation leaves room for the PR industry to champion African-American women leaders

BlackGirlMagic in PR - Aerial Ellis ColorComm Nielsen AWFAW PRSA

The evidence is real. #BlackGirlMagic isn’t just a trending hashtag or catchphrase, it’s a real-time, quantifiable illustration of how the consumer preferences and brand affinities of African-American women are resonating across the U.S. According to African-American Women: Our Science, Her Magic, a new report by Nielsen, African-American women are driving total Black spending power toward a record $1.5 trillion by 2021. Insights reveal that we have enjoyed steady growth in population, incomes, and educational attainment. This rise in influence and buying power as consumers is a result of our increased success in business and our careers.

But, another stat is much less impressive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) reported that below 4 percent of women employed in public relations were African American (women overall make up about 70 percent of the industry). With all of our magical abilities to drive product categories and shift culture as trendsetters, brand loyalists and early adopters, there’s no reason more of us shouldn’t be leading in brands and agencies as decision makers. Make no mistake – we are here, and have been here for decades – but the gap in management, representation and compensation for African-American women leaders in the public relations industry must lessen as we’ve further proven our power and influence.

Here’s how we champion “Black Girl Magic” in the PR industry:

African-American women are best at creating and cultivating community.

Our magic is made tangible when we establish opportunities for dialogue and work to make industry diversity actionable and accountable. Such efforts like the E3 Task Force, a nationwide agency diversity effort led by Edelman’s DC President Lisa Osborne Ross, empower diverse candidates to elevate their voices and emerge as leaders.

BlackGirlMagic Aerial Ellis Nielsen PRSA ColorComm

Credit: ColorComm 2016 C2 Conference

With the ColorComm (C2) Conference in Miami as the catalyst for the conversation, the task force went to work forming a quantitative study and hosting listening sessions, with mostly women of color in the communications industry across eight U.S. markets, to assess the barriers and dismantle the roadblocks to leadership. Similarly in advertising and marketing, there are still very few women of color in creative leadership roles.

BlackGirlMagic Aerial Ellis PRSA ColorComm AWFAW Nielsen

Credit: bohan Advertising

Ad Women For All Women, a program created and hosted by bohan, an independent, full-service advertising and marketing agency, introduces young women in high school and college to the opportunities available in advertising. The AWFAW program focuses on women and women of color specifically, but is part of a commitment to diversity and inclusion in a broad sense as well. Each effort, and so many others, indicates where we want to be and how we are willing to help one other get there.

 African-American women show a desire to lead and an ability to drive revenue.

Our magic is obvious as the Nielsen study reveals that 64 percent of black women agree their goal is to make it to the top of their profession. The study also reports that Black female entrepreneurs have grown by 67 percent within five years, totaling more than 1.5 million businesses with over $42 billion in sales and $7.7 billion in payroll. This kind of ingenuity is worth acknowledging and forces a response by placing more African-American women in PR leadership roles. Yet, in a survey of 51 agencies in North America, the Holmes Report and Ketchum Global Research & Analytics reported that women of color made $10,000 less than white women in public relations. This leads to the progression of African-American women opting out of agency life to create their own businesses or to leave the industry altogether. This is a clear sign of industry leadership passing on the untapped potential of ambitious African-American women, lagging on developing an organizational culture of inclusion and equity, and overlooking the intrinsic value we hold for leveraging business savvy for greater profits.

African-American women maintain a unique cultural capital.

Our magic is limitless as mainstream culture looks to us for trends and patterns. In most product categories, African-American women over-index against non-Hispanic white women for dollars per buyer and buying power, according to Nielsen. Also, 86 percent admitted to spending 5 or more hours each day on online/mobile platforms for consumer engagement activities and social media movements. As African-American women, our spending, watching, and listening habits are mirrored by other women and shape the way women of all ethnicities see themselves, states the report. While the behaviors, values and purchasing patters of African-American women have been long studied by corporations, our recent influence is proving that the cultural capital we embody has the power to extend beyond contributing a consumer point of view to now reaching leadership with a seat at the table in order to meet industry demands and address PR’s diversity deficit.

It’s confirmed. We are magic.

BlackGirlMagic in PR - Aerial Ellis ColorComm Nielsen AWFAW PRSA


We are an undeniable force as women influencers in public relations, as well as marketing, advertising and digital. Our position as creators, decision makers and game changers is indefinite, and will secure our presence as levelers in the future.

If the rest of the world is taking notice and recognizing “Black Girl Magic,” the public relations industry should be our greatest advocate.

What 4:44 means for black millennial leaders

What Jay-Z’s 4:44 Means For Black Millennial Leaders

In 1997, Jay-Z, a Brooklyn MC emerging in popularity and ambition, released his second studio album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Still perfecting his sound and his persona, Jay was at his hungriest then yet seemingly stuck between the rap game and the dope game, and the streets and the boardroom. Also in 1997, the African American community emerged as the fastest growing consumer base worldwide with a total purchasing power of $469.4 billion. As our influence climbed so did our access to education and entrepreneurship setting the stage for the youngest in our community – the millennials – to witness this growth and progression firsthand.

20 years later, Jay-Z is known as the legendary rapper holding the number one slot on just about everyone’s top five list. From beats to business – then Beyonce and Blue Ivy – he’s been able transcend all aspects of entertainment, leverage philanthropy for the cause and master entrepreneurship with the best of black excellence. His latest album 4:44 is proof, and most black millennials will agree. With themes like financial freedom, generational wealth, ownership and entrepreneurship all woven into dope, soulful beats, and not to mention, the slick short movies as videos for songs like Moonlight and Story of O.J., and an inside scoop from the Rap Radar podcast on TIDAL, 4:44 is a blueprint for black millennials who are poised to lead.

Yet, we still have a reality to face. In the Black community, money circulates zero to one time and one dollar circulates between us for only six hours, according to Nielsen, making us the least wealthy U.S demographic. However, Nielsen also tells us that the overall Black spending power is projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020. And with millennials representing 50 percent of the global workplace by 2020 making us huge influencers on how business works, the projected $162 billion that Black Millennials have in buying power along with undisputed cultural influence, means we as leaders must get serious about avoiding “living rich and dying broke” as Jay-Z said.

With new wind of inspiration from Jay and a major cultural shift at hand, here are four things 4:44 should inspire black millennial leaders to do:

black millennials aerial ellis jay-z 4:44

We must own.

“You walkin’ around like you invincible/You dropped outta school, you lost your principles” – ‘Kill Jay Z’

Millennials are only interested in purposeful work. School may teach you how to get jobs but there’s no guarantee school will teach you how to create jobs. Ownership is a priority because for black millennials the future of business depends on our ability to be employers. With all our smarts gained from school or otherwise, we must maintain the vision to be owners – own everything we can from property to businesses. Whether you run a startup in your basement or you jet set to make big deals, ownership is your key to financial freedom and generational wealth. For black millennial leaders to build legacy, we must apply compelling vision to own our own – whether it’s a website selling apparel or a food truck selling cupcakes. Without ownership, we jeopardize our progress. It’s about principle above all.

We must invest.

‘Please don’t die over the neighborhood/That your mama rentin’/Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood/That’s how you rinse it’ – ‘Story of O.J.’

Millennials are magnets for creativity and community. Whether you buy the block in your old neighborhood or cut a check to a local nonprofit, directing your resources to your own community curates and preserves its cultural originality. When you invest in the black community, you generate profits in pursuit of social goals. Use your profit to invest in your purpose in leadership. Remember, your profit is not just your money. You can invest your profits in form of time, advice and raw talents. Not only does investing foster loyalty to your community, it introduces a culture of openness so that solutions can be explored to help solve the problems we want solved and ensure a legacy for future generations for follow.

We must innovate.

“Y’all think small, I think Biggie” – ‘Family Feud’

Millennials are vocal about what we want for our lives. We think big. We create lifestyles that support innovation which means we keep an open mind about the way the world works. As black millennials, we have a legitimate role to play in the innovation of leadership. We must lead with incremental steps that make old ideas new again and repurpose the familiar into the unexpected. The cultural shift of innovation forces us to the frontline of leadership. When black millennials embrace innovation and build a culture to support it, we demonstrate intentionality in our leadership. When we deliberately and routinely think big, we show that innovation is a way of life. And when boundaries appear, we use innovation to push them by facing the fast-paced world head-on with no fear.

We must build.

“We’re supposed to vacay ’til our backs burn / We’re supposed to laugh ’til our hearts stops” – ‘4:44’

Millennials love life. We do not want to put our passions on hold – travel, food, love, technology, etc. Meanwhile, we are still building. Its part of the black millennial experience. We are building ideas that successfully raise awareness of issues facing the Black community and influence decisions shaping our world. We must use our collective power to build the future together —we must focus on outcomes, not hours, and results, not hype. We must have a challenge to continuously learn and do better. Though our ambition and zest for life may get us labeled as self-centered, what we really want is to get better at what we are doing, take care of our families and have an impact on the world. As we build, we must empower each other to eliminate the “me” mentality. When we do so, and do it together, we earn the power and privilege to lead lives of unlimited potential. Besides, “what’s better than one billionaire? Two,
especially if they’re from the same hue as you.”

In 4:44, Jay-Z masterfully proves the bond between cultural change and social entrepreneurship. Cultural change exposes problems by disrupting a system. This is a result of generations asking why. Social entrepreneurship solves problems by disrupting a system. This is a result of generations asking, why not? And, asking why not is what millennials do best.

Though Jay is a Gen-Xer and one of the most respected voices in pop culture, the so-called legends and power brokers from his generation aren’t the only ones responsible for creating the most exciting things impacting our culture these days. Increasingly, millennials are having the biggest impact on culture thanks to his influence along with others from Gen X.

If black millennials leaders intend to lead, and we are showing that we do, all the inspiration we need is in front of us.

the original millennial aerial ellis millennial leadership

The Opportunity for Millennial Leaders

By 2020, millennials will represent 50% of the global workplace, making us a huge influence on how business works.

Organizational leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that they soon will be unable to find the talent they need to succeed, with a shortage of suitably skilled workers as the single biggest worry. Businesses are competing fiercely for the best available talent to replace the retiring boomers in the upcoming years. Every year, more and more of that talent will be recruited from the ranks of millennials (PwC, 2011).

the original millennial aerial ellis millennial leadership

That means building leaders from the millennial generation can no longer be a delayed strategy for decision-makers in the workplace.

Reason 1: Millennials are critical to organizational success and sustainability

Reason 2: Millennials can quickly learn the ropes then come for the boss’s job

Reason 3: Millennials have options. We can decide we don’t want to work for someone

Reason 4: Without millennials, organizations will start to wane.

A report by PriceWaterhouse Coopers provides some insight into the minds of millennials. In 2011, the corporation carried out an online survey of 4,364 millennials across 75 countries under the age of 31 or under and had graduated college between 2008 and 2011. Seventy-five percent were currently employed or about to start a new job while 8% were unemployed at the time they responded to the questionnaire. The rest were self-employed or returning full-time to continue their education. According to the survey, 76% of respondents with a job said it was a graduate role, while 12% had a job that did not require a degree. The survey said that 54% expected to work for between two and five employers over their entire career.

This isn’t attributed to low attention spans and bouts of boredom millennials are believed to possess. This is a direct result of organizations determining that millennials aren’t high-level contributors because we’re not “one-size fits all.” We spend an average 1.5 years to 3 years working at a company. But working for two and five employers over a 40 to 50-year career suggests much greater longevity with an employer than that the perceived length of millennials’ employment, the survey said.

Millennials are vocal about what we want for our lives. Our careers are top priority. In fact, our generation sees a bigger picture for our work, leveraged by technology, freedom and creativity. This means we have the ability to add meaningful value to our work from anywhere at anytime, and we must be allowed to exercise that value in ways that others respect it.

the original millennial aerial ellis millennial leadership

Here are immediate opportunities we can take as leaders:

  • Ask your employer for the resources to pursue education in your chosen field and opportunities to keep learning through training, workshops or tuition reimbursement. Also, be prepared to invest in your own training outside of the office to make your skills as marketable and transferable as possible. Ask for time with your manager for an explanation for how your specific contributions add to the company’s bottom line and how the team benefits from the efficiencies you can create.


  • Ask management for leadership and personality assessments to better understand your traits as an intrapreneurial leader. Seek a professional coach and internal mentors who can advise you along the way. We are comfortable with transparency and want management to practice it as they are grooming us. We get the basic ingredients for success, but can gain valuable guidance as the benefit of some unconventional advice. Be prepared to make improvements along the way based on the feedback you receive. And, don’t be offended, even if you don’t agree with what comes out of the evaluation. Use it to your advantage. When we ask management to help us, we should reciprocate a tone of clarity and openness, with a respect for inclusion and diversity.


  • Ask if you can mentor fellow millennials in the workplace who may need to be coached on the company’s culture. Offer to be a reverse mentor to baby boomers or Gen X-ers as an effort to build relationships with senior colleagues that could raise the bar on employee engagement and productivity. If you seek leadership in the workplace, ask for an honest assessment of your communication weaknesses and make sure you are working to inspire confidence, showing interest in the professional development of your coworkers and communicating with clarity and transparency.

When we define and prove our value as leaders, we create leverage to ask for more of what we want and the work we want to do.

What Makes A Millennial “Original”

Many headlines seem to focus on the idea that millennials are not poised to lead. We are incompetent, shiftless and noncommittal. We show up late. We act entitled. We demand more than we earn.

It’s been six months since I released my book, The Original Millennial: Lessons in Leadership for the Millennial Generation. The reception has been fantastic, though not without questions.

“So is the book only for millennials?”

“So are you saying only millennials can be ‘original’?”

“What about Gen X? And the Baby Boomers? You left us out?”

No, no and no.

While millennials have a series of subgroups divided by the factors of age and socioeconomic background, originality is not a concept that refers to demographics as descriptors for millennials. It’s true that the entrepreneurial members of the older-millennial subset are altogether reinventing the planet and the younger subset is revitalizing organizations with an intrapraneurial excitement that is reinventing the workforce.

We understand why there is a great deal of variation from one individual millennial to another, more than within any other generational cohort, when we understand who our parents are. The differences between baby boomer and Gen X-er parents are the most critical reason millennials are so diversely defined yet grossly misunderstood.

A 33-year old millennial remembers using dial-up internet access to log on to the first version of Facebook, while a 23-year old millennial has likely never used Facebook without a high speed mobile or Wi-Fi connection. Those are major moments in the social development of millennials that are not to be ignored. However, the term “original” in this book will not be used to separate millennials by younger and older subsets.The Original Millennial at coffee shop - author Aerial Ellis

The millennial generation continues to have a major influence on almost every aspect of our lives, including how we communicate and use technology. Millennials have affected changes in parenting practices, educational and career choices and sparked shifts in homeownership and family life. These developments have inspired much speculation about how this generation will fare later in life, and whether these trends are temporary or permanent (TCEA, 2014).

The driving force behind the potential greatness within the millennial generation is originality. We got here with so much originality that we were ready to take on a world that wasn’t making room for us.

We get distracted because we switch devices 27 times an hour. It may look like we don’t know where we’re going with our eyes glued to the screen and our fingers scrolling down the side. But we keep original ideas flowinThe Original Millennial switching devices - Author Aerial Ellisg from the sources found in the platforms we surf.

We thrive on original experiences and relationships. We are cautious and loyal. We often think the media are biased and can quickly perceive fakeness in human interaction.

We must have original conversations that happen in a meaningful, sincere way. We back brands. It gives us a sense of ownership and makes us feel like we contribute to the growth and prominence of those businesses.The Original Millennial tech coding

We may look up to Mark Zuckerberg, Jay-Z and Steve Jobs for their originality, but our favorite mentors and models for inspiration are our fellow millennials.

Why is this? Because originality can sometimes be at odds with the source. The best parts of original millennials are found in the choice to change and evolve. The original qualities of past generations use commonly understood behavior patterns, which make them far easier to define, whereas original millennials have the ability to defy category.

For the millennial generation, originality is the most important trait because it positions how we think, feel, work and lead. The power of originality becomes most valuable when used in the pursuit of solutions. Millennials always look for ways to make things greater, bigger, better, stronger and more practical.

Across society, there’s enough division between cultural groups including generations – so much so that our thoughts take us instantly to a detection of bias, which is great in order for us acknowledge if and how bias exists.

Calling a millennial “original” not about pointing out our intergenerational differences. It’s about uplifting a generation by harnessing the original qualities we possess. The distinction of original is applied to the approach millennials bring to life; how we marry vision and values; how we merge creativity with cause and how we make real challenges look remarkably cool. Originality is the prime possession that makes the difference.

That’s all.

Read the book for yourself and you be the judge. What makes a millennial “original?”

*This post includes an excerpt from The Original Millennial: Lessons in Leadership for the Millennial Generation.*