“Add your own meaning” With Jilea Hemmings & Alexander Free Garland

Add your own meaning, it’s valid. There are over 7 billion people in the world and no two people are the same. There have been times when we thought our ideas are absolutely crazy and we found people that still loved them. On the other hand, there are some really strange things in this world right […]

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Add your own meaning, it’s valid. There are over 7 billion people in the world and no two people are the same. There have been times when we thought our ideas are absolutely crazy and we found people that still loved them. On the other hand, there are some really strange things in this world right now that have millions of people supporting it that we never would have thought would take off. We were personally able to be at peace when we stopped invalidating the way we process the world and furthermore, began to honor it!

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alexander Free Garland, Founder and CEO of The Top Publishing Company.

Alexander is best known as a child star, for his role as Young Simba in the Original Cast of the Tony Award winning Broadway production of Disney’s The Lion King (Premiere National Tour). With a long standing presence in the Arts and Entertainment, Alexander has been on the cutting edge of entertainment development with several companies and artists who have shaped the entertainment industry including artists like the Janet JacksonJennifer HudsonLin-Manuel MirandaRosario DawsonIndia Arie, The PRINCE Twins (Maya and Nandy McClean), Dream Hampton and the late, great, PRINCE as well as companies like CVLTFlash Mob America, and B. Dunn Movement Dance and Theatre Company, where Alexander is the Consulting Director of Operations and Marketing. Identifying with pronouns We/Us/Our rather than the traditional He/Him/His, to honor the ancestors who we succeed and be a remind that we are all one, this mogul in the making is taking on the creation of the future on this planet with high reverence while invoking all the young and old, specifically of the African diaspora, to join with us to do the same! Visit; Follow @TheTopPublishingCompany on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When we were just a baby, our grandmother would take us to the pre-school she worked at in Roosevelt, Long Island, NY while she was working and when we tell you…, nobody would dare tell her that she couldn’t! We were her baby! She would play Michael Jackson tracks and sing and dance around the classroom with us in her arms. Michael was a constant in our house and between MJ, our grandmother and our mother, who was an all-star renaissance woman in her time, all we ever aspired to was performing and being an extraordinary contribution to the world like the idols who cultivated our spirit.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Some of our most treasured memories are from the time we spent on the Broadway Lion King tour. The most interesting story though is about a wonderfully strange bonus that comes from being a part of the ‘Lion King Pride’ as it were. When we meet another alumni or active member from any of the other Lion King productions around the world, there is an immediate sense of family, as if you met another cousin at a family reunion but far less removed. That’s how we connected so well with Maya & Nandy McClean (The PRINCE Twinz) when we met. They were in the 2003 Australian production of The Lion King and once we all realized that we were family. Before that moment, we personally found it challenging to be in the presence of such entertainment mega stars. That feeling of belonging is one of the best in the world!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, booking The Lion King was our first big gig. Before that show we had only done some regional print modeling and local commercials. One of the most embarrassingly funny mistakes at the time was the night we went on stage in front of thousands of people (as per the usual) wearing our bright blue street watch. We noticed minutes into our first scene as we pounced through the grasslands with our father, Mufasa played by Alton Fitzgerald White. Mortified, as we tried to cover the watch with our other hand, he changed the blocking ever so slightly during the top of the song ‘The Morning Report’ (which is no longer in the staged production) and whispered in my ear “take off your watch!”. Once it was off, there was nowhere for it to go…except into my pants at the top where they met our beaded corset. However, this musical number required a bit of choreography on our part. It was going great until we got to the cartwheel section. They came flying out with the second cartwheel, into the audience! No one was hurt and We did get reprimanded of course by the resident director who recovered it from the aisle. Lesson: Check, DOUBLE Check, and then check again that everything is in place or in this case, not supposed to be in place!

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

The executive team is the guiding force of any organization and the three reasons to strive for diversity in this team are representation, perspective and empowerment. When an executive team reflects a physical representation of the market it serves, the business builds an effective call and response to the purpose for existing. The perspective of an executive is limited without diversity and full inclusion, which give way to a wider margin of blindspots for the community it serves and the effectiveness of its offering. Through the empowerment of the most underserved communities within the market that the business serves, the access of the whole market has a higher percentage of fulfillment. If the bottom or ‘foundation’ of any structure is supported, the structure as a whole has a higher probability of stability.

More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

In this digital age, very little happens without a trace of documentation. Our collective world is changing rapidly and the interest in social, environmental and anthropological impact, or the lack thereof, is captured and stored. As the hit musical Hamilton says, “History has its eyes on you!”. When we don’t include the whole market in the way we choose to do business, it doesn’t just limit our longevity and value, it lessens the social agreement of our value as a human race and what we are capable of.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

Let Go: Hire diversity inclusion experts to host trainings for the culturally uniformed teams specifically so we can let go of the biases that have gotten us to this place. Then hold them for the rest of the company as well so we don’t further propagate it at any level.

Listen: Create open forums and opportunities for diverse talent to be heard. Take our suggestions and give the ideas a trial on fair terms based on the data from the market we serve and diversity inclusion experts. Create an accountability structure to the community/market we serve for social checks and balances.

Take Action: Don’t wait until we’re ‘ready’ or until the other two above actions are in place. ‘Ready’ is a conversation not a reality. Hire diverse executives now and work it as we go along.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Etymology is one of our loves in life and to that regard, that is where we usually start when truly defining any word, action or concept. When it comes to leadership, there is a lot of complexity and variance through time of how it is defined. Our personal definition is rooted in the old-English word, laidjan (“to travel”). The ability to travel inwardly, is a critical leadership quality and we believe that before we can genuinely lead others, we must be regularly active in discovering and rediscovering ourselves. Be those aspects of the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ inside of us all to explore and keep in check.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Trust your intuition and instinct. We all know that gut feeling we get at times that has no explanation yet doesn’t feel right when we are about to do something; then we do it anyway and we realize why we shouldn’t have. Listen to that! That instinct has led us to more amazing synchronicities than any other method of choosing where to go next in life or business.
  2. Our failures are the direct road to our successes, lean into them. Statistics say the more we fail, the closer we are to succeeding. Failure isn’t as bad as it seems when we look at it that way.
  3. It’s a piece of cake! When we initially auditioned for The Lion King, we did not know and/or realize that it was the Broadway production. We had just been accepted to Denver School Of The Arts and we thought it was a mock audition to see how we deal with the pressure. Because we were already in the school, we thought it was no big deal. Without that perspective, we would have likely crumbled under the pressure. Perspective is everything in life so make it work for you!
  4. Add your own meaning, it’s valid. There are over 7 billion people in the world and no two people are the same. There have been times when we thought our ideas are absolutely crazy and we found people that still loved them. On the other hand, there are some really strange things in this world right now that have millions of people supporting it that we never would have thought would take off. We were personally able to be at peace when we stopped invalidating the way we process the world and furthermore, began to honor it!
  5. Own all of who we are, it’s not going anywhere. There have been many experiences and aspects about us in our life that we used to dislike or want to change. To be honest, some things still feel that way. What we have discovered is that no matter how hard we try to disappear a part of ourself or change it, a trace of it remains. We used to look at things we didn’t like about ourself and feel defined by it. That’s like looking at the corner of a painting and mistaking it for the whole work of art, especially when it’s still being painted. Look at the big picture and don’t let the corner of our painting limit the vision as a whole.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

That’s exactly where we are now! In the beginning of the quarantine and Covid-19 outbreak, we got really clear about what was not happening in the world, what the world could benefit from and what we could do about it. One of the many ways we are inspiring change is with our new children’s chakra book series. With books written by Dr. Chakra and illustrated by our nieces and nephews, we are partnering with a charitable nonprofit organization to broaden our social impact globally. The aim is to cultivate leadership in the youth by creating a vehicle to travel inward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Improve just 1% each day.” That’s the 1% rule! The idea is that if we do this, the good habits we develop stack over time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and we won’t be either. When we stop focusing on the end result and start paying attention to the process, we also enjoy the journey in getting there more often than not. We use this rule when it comes to work and personal goals. The hidden gem of life!

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, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah Winfrey is a media mogul. As an american talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist, her model of success through the industry is unparalleled, with the addition of her adversities as a woman of color in america. She is our north star that guides us day and night.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@TheTopPublishingCompany @OffiicialAxG

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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