Louis Carr - Smooth Operator
By Dameun Strange
Every week, Louis Carr and his family would pack up food to take to a neighbor’s house in a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. It was just the way things were done in the community that nourished the young Carr. He would run up and down the street with plates wrapped in tin foil. You took care of one another. From these humble beginnings Louis Carr has not only grown to become an extremely influential media executive as President of Media Sales at BET Networks. But, he has also become one of the most generous philanthropist in the nation. I asked Carr about the variables in his early life that had had the greatest impact on him and his personal philanthropy. He talked about growing up on the Southside of Chicago:
“I think the real influence on my philanthropy comes from my mother and my grandmother. I grew up poor and didn’t realize I was poor until I became a teenager or went to college. I thought I was middle class because everyone around me had just as little as I had. So, when you are in that type of environment, you don’t realize that you are poor; you assume that you are doing pretty good because there are not many people who have more than you, if at all. But, whatever we had we shared.”
Louis remembers receiving care packages in college and when he would open the packages, there would also be food for is schoolmates. This was certainly no surprise to him. “From that early stage of life, sharing whatever we had sort of put me in that mindset. For example with toys, you never threw toys away. After you outgrew them you gave them to somebody on the block or somebody in your family. That sort of started that thinking in my mind that no matter what you have, it’s still enough to share,” Carr said
There is something powerful in all of this. It beckons us to imagine that this is what a community is. We all have our talents and resources. What happens when all of that is shared, communal. How beautiful of a garden can we grow in a And what happens when our young people are raised with these values.
Paying It Forward
Louis Carr is broadening his community. Over his life he has made many friends and acquaintances and has built those relationships through a life of sharing. One of the more formal ways Carr chooses to share his wealth is through his foundation.The Louis Carr Internship Foundation (LCIF) which Carr created to ensure that there would be more representation from Indigenous people and People of Color (IPOCs) is celebrating its 15th year. These internships address an issue that affects many internships across the nation. Most internships for undergraduates are non-paying which makes them inaccessible to a large number of IPOC students. LCIF provides opportunities for IPOC students to get career building experience in top tier communication companies while earning money for college.
“One thing I realized is that we always sort of get a late start in life. At every [level], whether it is grammar school, high school, college or whatever. So, we always are a little behind. And that is sometimes because of economics, sometimes because of environment. Most of my friends were first generation college graduates. So, we didn’t have the guidance, the leadership as to what were the right moves to make. Most kids today don’t even know how important internships are. And so, when they come out of school, they don’t really know how to get a job. They don’t know what to say in interviews. They don’t know how to dress. (More on Louis’ dandism later). So, what my internship program tries to do is teach them some basic fundamentals. What are some of the basic skills they need to have to compete in today’s world. We are making an impact and having an influence on individuals lives.”
Carr knows a little about this sort of mentorship. He has said many times that he owes part of his own success to John H. Johnson of the Ebony Magazine who hired Carr and not only gave him the job that helped launch his career but helped him understand “the rules of the game”. Carr sees himself as paying it forward through his foundation.
Growth through Adversity
One of Carr’s nicknames is “The Renaissance Man” because he has what I called “flow”. Now flow has many different meanings to many different communities. If you are in the hip-hop community, “flow” means ease of communicating with unique vocabulary skills. If you are in the lax community, you are talking hair. When I say “flow” I mean the ability to move easily between communities, sectors, interests and projects. Louis Carr has it.
“One of the things is that when you grow up Black and poor, you have to learn how to operate and assimilate into a world that you’re not accustomed to. That process teaches you a lot of different skills. From communication skills to social skills to academic skills, I think that’s a real advantage to someone like me. And I think it gives someone like me the opportunity to take those skills and move across different industries, different communities and different areas to have real impact. It’s almost our responsibility not to be pigeon-holed to do one thing. You get those experiences and that education to be more than just a one-trick-pony.”
If you think of that pressure that is needed to create diamonds. Pressure put on Black people in this American. That pressure can be enough to crush some but for those who make it through, those folks become diamonds. Louis Carr is a black diamond looking to create more diamonds.”
Being able to operate in an uncomfortable place.
Carr has philosophical belief that in order for one to grow, one has to experience some type of uncomfortable environment in order to push you to your best self. “I think that the uncomfortable place really make you look deep and challenges your social [abilities] and intellect to be able to figure things out,” Carr said of these types of learning moments, “Whether it is growing up poor, living or operating in an environment that doesn’t look like you or think like you. I think it all is for a purpose. And that purpose is for your personal growth. What you make of it is what you get out of it”
Carr remembered what it was like being the captain of a team at Drake University where he was one of two Black athletes on the team:
“It’s different being in a small town like Des Moines, IA versus being the captain of a team in Chicago because you are dealing with people who come from so many different backgrounds, people who may be seeing and African-American for the first time in their life. How do you lead and manage people who may have preconceived ideas and still become successful. And help them become successful. Most of us who are men of color have had some uncomfortable environment in their lives where they have had to operate and still be themselves and keep their own sort of traditions and values that made them who they are. These are the environments that make you grow and helps you accomplish goals and objectives.”
In October 2018, Louis Carr hosted the Dirty Littles Secrets: Men Only Edition Conference in Chicago, IL. The conference was specifically focussed on Black men at this moment in our nation’s history. The idea for the conference emerged out of Carr’s book tour for Dirty Little Secrets. He said during that tour the most interesting questions came from men but often were unrelated to the book. Whether there were questions about managing a successful marriage with his busy schedule or questions about his perpetual youthful appearance or questions about staying healthy while always on the go, he found that all of these men were looking for answers and perhaps he could bring a community together that could find these answers and share them with one another.
“Outside of the Black Church, there are no men’s conferences and as we know Black men have a lot of issues. So I said how can I take the knowledge and experience that I have been able to gather and learn and ask my friends and associates to participate to help people with questions and will give them answers that will motivate and inspire them to be their best selves.”
The conference was a sold out success. And from all accounts, Dirty Little Secrets: Men Only Edition was an engaging, emotional experience for all who were in attendance. With presenters and panelists like Daymond John, Sway Calloway, Bob Johnson, the sessions were full of knowledge being dropped and experience being shared. Reviews were so positive that Carr is planning to bring the conference back to Chicago, October 19th and 20th 2018.
Doing it in style
Black dandyism is making resurgence in the mainstream but Louis Carr has been doing his work in style well before it was mainstream, a little lesson he picked up from John H. Johnson way back when. Carr, being so steep in flow, understands how to choose his style based on where he is and who he is with. He always has his eye on being comfortable while making others around him comfortable. Carr is masterful at doing this while also projecting a strong image of success.
“It is strategic. Whether I am casual, business or formal I really think about the impression that I want to make on the environment I am going to be operating in. So, whether I am going to give a speech at a college or a high school, I wanna look like I’ve been successful but I don’t want to look out of place. So I am going to wear something that [the students] are going to be impressed with, not the professors.”
Carr’s journey to the top of the communication’s world is an inspiring light we need in these dim times. A boy who learns to share and turns it into a lifelong personal mission, it is a story of humility and personal philanthropy. Louis Carr is one smooth operator, a model for how success should be a bloom that pollinates, not isolates.
All Photos Shirley Yu @shirleyshotyu www.shirleyshotyu8.com, Set Production Naomi White Randolph, Makeup Sharon of @tantrummashent, Location Baccarat Hotel NYC @baccarathotels, Stylist Lavasia Minus of @lavasiathefounder, Louis’s EA and Rising Star Laura Polanco @laurapolancovalencia