Love what you do: If you are not happy why are you doing it? There are things we can cut out of our lives that don’t serve us and we don’t need to be afraid to make that choice.
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Joshua ‘Zeke’ Thomas.
Joshua ‘Zeke’ Thomas is the embodiment of perseverance. From becoming a renowned open-format DJ to a forward-thinking businessman, to a dedicated Human Rights Activist and Mental Health Awareness Advocate while overcoming mountainous obstacles as a rape survivor, he is on an undeniable path to enacting change and making a real impact among our society.
Zeke’s first passion-turned-profession was music. As an in-demand DJ, he was an official NBA All-Star DJ 5 years counting and has shared the stage with and performed for celebrities including Michelle Obama, Shaquille O’Neal, Diana Ross, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and Snoop Dogg. He has also produced his own tracks, including debut single “REGRET”, club banger “#ByeFelicia”, and deeply personal “BLACKNESS” featuring Chuck D and Jasiri X, “Dealin’ With It” and “Love Me Sober”.
In April 2017, Zeke bravely appeared on Good Morning America to share his most painful experience, the story of his sexual assault. Since then, Zeke has found healing fighting for change, becoming the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s first male spokesman, appearing in a national PSA as a survivor and leader. He has traveled to college campuses with SUNY’s Got Your Back program, helped Congress draft policy around HBCU Title IX, ensuring that historically Black institutions can effectively support sexual-assault survivors, and has aligned with organizations including ACLU, The Ally Coalition, GLAAD, It’s On Us, The Jed Foundation, Little Kids Rock, the NoH8 Campaign, When We All Vote, HeadCount, Biden/Harris Presidential Campaign, among others.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?
At an early age I’ve always wanted to work. Many industries have called or spoken to me, but I am most known for my work in the entertainment industry as well as my allyship and activism. I began DJing at age 13 and went on to work at radio stations in Indianapolis (WTLC,WHHH) and New York at world known Hot97. Being a DJ allowed me to play events like the NBA all star game and Indy 500 and for people like President Elect Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, and Lady Gaga.
My passion is entertaining which even led me to a role on MTVs Catfish as a Co-Host. However what led me into my recent role of being CMO of Isiah International was combining the skills I learned in marketing and branding and applying them repeatedly and successfully over time across several industries. Like anything it has been a journey but one I have enjoyed and it continues to excite me.
I was born to entertain so I will definitely continue to find purpose in that no matter what.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?
I’ll share a lesson about preparedness rather than humor on this one if that’s OK.
I’d have to reflect on a DJ gig at the former New York City hot spot SL. It was NBA great Allen Houston’s birthday and he was unaware that I would be the DJ for the night. Allen has known me since I was 4 years old and was also being coached by my father Isiah Thomas at the time. I really wanted to do a great job and impress Allen and his friends.
However that night as I rushed to my gig, I had forgotten my computer charger. My manager (bless his heart) EJ Jamele at crowdMGMT, spent 30–40 minutes running to stores to find a charger when most stores were closed by that time of night as I was nervously watching my computer battery drain. It dropped to less than 10% before he returned sweating, frustrated and relieved.
The lesson I learned from that was that being prepared starts days before. There is no reason to rush if you are prepared and my charger should have been in my bag already. Now, I have a backup charger I solely keep in my gig bag and I hope to never relive that mistake.
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
Simply that there is no job too small or beneath you. I am part owner of Cheurlin Champagne which is the only 100% black owned champagne in America. Our first major event was the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Delivering the champagne to the event was my job. When we got to the venue it was 8 floors up, the elevator was broken and we were delivering 12 cases of champagne. My assistant whom was with me was not physically able to climb the stairs. I turned to him and said I got this, because that was what it took to get the job done. I was sweating and had to change shirts at the venue with little time to spare, but the job was done! My champagne was at the DNC, but nobody knew what it took to cross that finish line.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
A person who made a profound impact on my life is a model and photographer named Colt Walker. He will probably be embarrassed that I am sharing this story but it is the first one that comes to mind. When I was at the lowest point in my life he was there for me. He helped me become accountable for my actions and to get my fitness and diet back on track. He took the time to even make me get up on schedule and offer me a loving ear to vent to or give me an encouraging hug.
Being able to improve myself also helped me to do the same on the work I was doing with organizations like SUNY’s Got Your Back.
Receiving Revry’s 2020 Visibility Award was a proud moment for me that wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement and support I needed to bounce back from depression. I was proud that my father, Isiah Thomas, got to present the award to me because he knew what it meant to me on a deep level. I want to dedicate my visibility award to anyone struggling with mental illness. There is a path forward; you just have to commit to doing the work and listen to the people that love you.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
My greatest gift is telling my story. In hopes to make space for others to do the same, I co-created and host a new conversation series, #AmplifyVoices where celebrities, politicians, activists, influencers and experts of all backgrounds come together to share their knowledge and experiences in a judgment-free zone.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
That’s a great question. Mainly because the mainstream media has historically lacked diversity. Amplify Voices is an original series on @RevryTV aimed to help change that and pass the mic to incredible humans you should know more about. We embrace conversations and debates to achieve heightened intersectional understanding across the Queer and POC global community on #AmplifyVoices exclusively streaming on @RevryTV December 11, 2020. Check it out and join the conversation on social media using the official hashtag: #AmplifyVoices
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
I think the person I have tried to impact the most is an artist by the name of Babyface James. He is a veteran from the UK 🇬🇧 who has really had a rough go at life. He’s a model and talented rapper but struggles mightily with PTSD and depression. In fact, he also appears in amplifying voices where he elaborates on his experience.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
The simple answer is that people can go out of their way to bring diverse people into the room so that a variety of perspectives, knowledge and influence can be incorporated into decisions of all kinds. That would ensure better policies and decisions for all those they affect and therefore reflect the necessary inclusion the world clearly needs right now.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Save your money. Time is your greatest asset. Invest in yourself, not premature celebrations.
2. Love what you do: If you are not happy why are you doing it? There are things we can cut out of our lives that don’t serve us and we don’t need to be afraid to make that choice.
3. Your friend group should lift you up. I always reflect on the saying “water finds its own level.” In other words, do not lower yourself to conform to someone else’s experience or expectations of you.
4. Failure only happens when you give up.
5. Wake up every morning and move your body!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Be an arts hero! During this time of the global pandemic we have all been entertained by artists or tv shows or djs but these artists are dying. I know 19 people in my orbit who have committed suicide during this time because they have lost a purpose. They have lost work. The government must include artists in there next stimulus bill.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again” — Nelson Mandela
I am not perfect, I have made many mistakes. But I am here stronger and smarter and wiser and ready for the next chapter of my life.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with historian Jon Meacham. I would love the opportunity to talk about the shaping of America and what it means to be Moorish American in this country.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!