Lead with love and with grace. Leading with love starts with you. In my first auditions, I was a nervous wreck. I was unsure as to whether the casting director would love me. Every time you pitch, even to a prospect, you are selling yourself, your likability, your trustworthiness, your ability to affect someone in a significant way. When you are comfortable with yourself finally, you are naturally attractive because you are whole. Leading with grace applies to changing circumstances around you for things over which you have no control. New apps like Clubhouse or Tik Tok should apply to how you experience life and in expressing your shared joy and even sorrow, with others. People may not remember the details around what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kojenwa Moitt.
Kojenwa began working as an actor in the film and television industry while living in Toronto after having completed a B.A. in History and French Literature from the University of Toronto. Her foray into the world of drama coupled with her background in visual arts from the Art Gallery of Ontario precipitated a demand for her involvement in helping to direct large scale productions such as Toronto Fashion Week, Fashion Week Brooklyn as well as to launch PR events designated for the Toronto International Film Festival. This was an easy pivot into publicity coaching designated for entrepreneurs, as well as outfits like the City of Toronto, Virgin Atlantic and The Toronto District School Board.
Her subsequent completion of a one-year international MBA at Hult in Boston created a fortuitous opening for travel to international markets such as Shanghai as well as an opportunity to provide consulting services to both private and Fortune 500 companies through strategic marketing initiatives specializing in brand development, marketing and public relations.
Additionally having been trained in broadcast media and contemporary dance, Kojenwa quickly found a network of corporate, fashion, lifestyle and arts & entertainment connections in Boston, Paris, Toronto and New York where she recently secured a teaching position in marketing, branding and public relations at the BBA program at Parsons.
Through her innate understanding of interpersonal relations and with an intense focus on politics and media, she has established proficiency in helping clients to reach their business goals, by developing and launching new products, changing consumer perceptions, or making inroads into new industries, using heavy focus on innovative solutions, measurable results and communication.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I am born a Canadian from Toronto and was raised in places like Senegal and Paris at a very early age. I was quickly imbued with a sense of English, French, Caribbean and African influence which fostered my syncing with cultural ideas innately. I would say that multiculturalism and diversity are deeply embedded in my genetic makeup. I was usually daydreaming in grade school and was told I was very slow at math. It was a story I had been telling myself for years until I discovered that I am actually quite good at math especially where dollar signs are concerned. I have never been bad at math since.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
On the advice of my friend Merwin Mondesir, and at the age of 18, I was given an opportunity to secure a film role on a popular Canadian show called Drop the Beat. This opened my palate for film and television work. I have worked as an actor on over 200 films and met people I admired such as Ray Liotta, Denzel Washington, Mandy Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Seymour, Jessica Alba, LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Eddie Griffin and Method Man to name a few. I watched closely what made these people stars. One time, I met a unit publicist on a film I was working as a stand-in for Tweet in a film called Honey. I instantly knew that I wanted her job. I spent many years thereafter working to establish my credibility as a business person and dove headfirst into the process of becoming an entrepreneur when I realized that 2008 was the start of the first economic collapse I would experience pursuant to earning the MBA at Hult. Zero jobs were available at the time. I soon found my footing again when a close girlfriend and author, Elaine Eksvärd, who had come for a visit to New York, confirmed that my pathway to success would be in helping other people connect better with their public image.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I left for New York at the age of 21 to see if I could go work for Puff Daddy since he was someone I admired very much at the time. I wanted to be in the company of moguls. I got the job as a waitress at Justin’s on 23rd and 6th in Manhattan, but I was a terrible waitress actually. I couldn’t remember the orders my customers had placed, I was wobbly managing a tray of drinks and more interested in who was dining at the restaurant and what they were wearing than what they had ordered. I took home people’s leftovers, I was so poor. I came home and put the leftovers in the fridge but not before the mice would have a go at rummaging through the day’s remains. I cost that restaurant a lot of money and lasted only a few short months as a waitress. Sometime after the franchise closed and as I was blossoming in my PR career, I wrote an opinion piece for the Atlanta Business Journal centered around why the restaurant closed its doors. It all came down to leadership, I surmised. The restaurant didn’t survive because its leader was vaguely present.
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?
It’s no wonder I side with dreamers!I came to the US from Canada and went to live with a few waiters who had also come to New York from Mexico who were also not properly documented. I had to work under the table for a few years before my immigration paperwork arrived so in the meantime, I had to figure out how to blend in. I had to figure out how to rustle up some papers so that I could lease a phone, which I managed to wrangle from a bootleg phone dealer in the Bronx. The alleged illegality of it aside, I learned the spirit of hustle and grit. I bonded with the passion associated with making money in exchange for service and was quickly recruited in sales jobs for some Wolf of Wall Street dropouts. They threw a script at me and I jumped on the phones and started making commissions immediately. Yet, these were the hardest years of my life, eating leftovers from abandoned meals, barely making rent and checking my bank statements before buying a sandwich and a coffee. It felt like a mistake when I decided to take that big leap of faith into entrepreneurship full time, but I quickly realized that my clients would continue to invest in me if I could only out of my own way. I learned to bet on myself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In the early years, I had horrible bosses and terrible losses. Each of them taught me how not to run a company. It is possible to learn from your mentors, just as it is to learn from horrible bosses. I’m still thankful to my parents who managed to foot the bill for my early training in film and TV, art, academics and for helping me to complete my MBA. Dr. Edmunds my professor of finance and entrepreneurship came on as my first ally and is still working with our team to this day. I found the perfect executive in my best friend and secured an irreplaceable VP of Operations. My team is priceless. Still, mainly, it is my daughter, the idea of her in the very beginning, which has given me the impetus to be larger than life itself and to strive for brilliance in every facet. Yet, it would be remiss of me not to mention my mentor Colin Sprake who pieced me back together with his three-day incubator, where I got to learn more about my triggers — things I had buried deep down. It would be hard to lead others where I was not authentic with myself first and it was only when I uncovered that I was living in a scarcity mindset that my business really began to take off.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
In order to succeed at anything, you have to take the word failure out of your vocabulary entirely. Try is another one. If you could effectively replace the word try with “I am in the process of…” it will go a long way in actualizing your ascension. I often tell my clients that they should watch the stories they tell themselves. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. Being vulnerable to what people think about you isn’t necessarily fun, but there comes a time when you begin to realize that while you have a limited time on this planet, you are here to share your message in the most authentic and compelling way you possibly can. It is possible to live your dream but it does take hard work. This podcast, Pop! Goes the Culture is an extension of the topics I regularly cover with my clients and business associates. One of our segments, Tea Time or Tee Time depending on the spelling is a double entendre in which you would either be discussing the day’s news and sharing gossip over tea with a friend or you could be lining up your business strategy for the coming week.
What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
My overarching message is one of hope and inspiration. While struggle is a part of human life, we can all find salvation in what inspires us to become our best selves. Success cannot exist without struggle. I truly hope my work will show the people I touch, that they are capable of surmounting the greatest obstacles that they have ever faced, as I once have. You can live your dream.
Can you share with our readers a few of your most important tips about how to be an effective and empowering speaker? Can you please share some examples or stories?
I’ve taken a lot of my advice from the moguls including Oprah and Wendy Williams, who have come before me. They are effective speakers because they are authentic and hold no judgment. The other thing great speakers are able to accomplish is a genuine connection with the interviewee and a passion for serving their listeners. I also take my cues from the illustrious Les Brown who said that we must: “aspire to inspire until we expire”. I have always believed that we are special to be alive each day that we are present and that it is up to us to make use of it in a way that allows us to share it with others who are looking for our light. I would also share that I am practicing the art of Vipassna, in which you work to listen far more than you speak. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but the truth is, people are desperately looking to be heard particularly in a space where we seem to be struggling as a nation with a lack of empathy for other peoples’ lived experiences. I think the new podcast will be a reflection of what everyday people are experiencing and also allow people to share their experiences in a safe space.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
I’m an adrenaline junkie when it comes to meeting people for the first time, so I have certainly picked the right career path. To overcome the fear that comes with speaking in public, and by the way, it happens to everyone, the best thing to do is to do it more often. It is a bit like riding a bike. This, combined with being a subject matter expert will raise your level of confidence around speaking and shore your balance even when things seem uncertain. When you look at why celebrities are so prolific, you will understand that it is because they carry an intimate connection to their tribe and a deep respect for their work, that enables them to appear celestial.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Perseverance is your very best friend. I thought I should give up when things got really bad with a breakup and the landlord was threatening to evict me from my home in Williamsburg. The rents kept climbing and I was struggling to keep up. Instead, I dove deeper into my work, buried myself into client work, enhanced my training in marketing and publicity, made some hiring decisions, met more people and brought the company to profitability. I will never again let someone else’s mental state or money distortion affect my focus. Find someone you trust who will hold your hand and never let go.
- Always dress the part. Some people call this fake it until you make it. I had twenty dollars in my checking account but I was still happy because I could at least get myself to the networking event and back by metro and had enough to eat something, however small and that upon my return, I could come home to a cozy bed. I would go to these events and people would assume I was more successful than I actually was. If you put effort into how you present yourself if you are engaged and clear with your intention if you reciprocate energy, everything, even your next client, will manifest for you.
- Assume the sale. It is a Wall Street tactic. You almost become shocked at the prospect of hearing the word no. You have to see the vision and believe in it with every fiber of your being. In my early training with NLP, I learned that your brain can’t recognize the difference between what you tell it and what the reality actually is. I literally started visualizing a specific amount in my checking account, let’s say it was 5k. Then I began to visualize what it would be like to hold my daughter’s hand. Right now, I am visualizing closing on my first property. Refuse any outcome other than the one you want. My professor of finance shared with me that numbers always tell a story. That idea never left me.
- Crush your haters. The only job your haters have should be to motivate you to win. Not everyone is going to agree with your decisions. You have to get comfortable with that. Sometimes the hate is coming from your own brain. Other times, it is coming from inside your own family. Get clear on what is going to support you and feed your growth. Focus on your success and in sharing that with those who have surrounded you with joy.
- Lead with love and with grace. Leading with love starts with you. In my first auditions, I was a nervous wreck. I was unsure as to whether the casting director would love me. Every time you pitch, even to a prospect, you are selling yourself, your likability, your trustworthiness, your ability to affect someone in a significant way. When you are comfortable with yourself finally, you are naturally attractive because you are whole. Leading with grace applies to changing circumstances around you for things over which you have no control. New apps like Clubhouse or Tik Tok should apply to how you experience life and in expressing your shared joy and even sorrow, with others. People may not remember the details around what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
I am a part of so many interesting projects through my work as a publicist. I picked up a new web show I am representing called 8 at the Table. It’s a show about love, sex and dating. This kind of show might be taboo for some, but I am comfortable with humanity. Uncomfortable conversations are critical to us evolving as a human race. I have represented directors like Emeka Mbadiwe, Richmond Obeng, actresses like Jamie Neumann in her breakout role on The Deuce. I have prepared hackathons for Richard Branson and The City of Toronto. I have represented first-rate attorneys, psychologists, fashion designers and landmark events like Fashion Week Brooklyn and TIFF. I got the opportunity to work with a snack brand called PeaTos. It’s so exciting! I can’t wait to work with the students at Parsons. Someday, maybe I will work with the Biden Administration in helping to eradicate racism in the educational system or with the police force for justice in policing. My early training in arbitration and parliamentary procedure primed me for this and I feel like everything comes back full circle.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
As recently as 2017, I had to make adjustments to my mindset and so I do believe that mindset work is the very heart of any great leader. I check in with and seek out my mentors frequently. I am excitedly looking forward to Grant Cordone’s 10x Bootcamp. It is as the old adage says: find one mentor, someone you would like to become. The next thing I discovered especially during COVID, is that alcohol and takeout consumption was causing my body to deteriorate. I began to shift to whole foods, root vegetables, more vegetables and less meat. I took action one day and found a chiropractor so that I could feel better in my body, something I had been thinking about for years. This dovetailed into my ability to move with less malaise and I have made workouts part of my daily routine ever since. I plan for breaks and downtime with friends and family. I want to reverse in age.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I had a french teacher in grade six who chanted that “church bells don’t ring twice for old deaf broads”. it was funny then, but as my career continued to roll forward, I began to assimilate that opportunity generally knocks once. For this reason, I play full out. I will honor my commitments and learn to express in the clearest terms what I am willing to do and what I have no interest in doing. Every part of my calendar has been carved out. The PTSD we have endured from having lost so many people due to a pandemic reminds me that we have but a short while here and I intend to leave my legacy before I go.
You are a person of huge 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?
I had always imagined that I would circle back to film in my own way. Now, the podcast, Pop! Goes the Culture gives me the opportunity to express myself in a way that gives me freedom in my heart. I have been playing with the idea of working on a television show eventually. I never changed. I was late at night on the phone helping my friends with their problems and their issues with confidence all through high school and in University, like a social worker. I could inspire a movement that would serve to cancel all forms of racism replacing it instead with confidence for those especially who have been trodden upon, marginalized. If I could I would make it so that all beings live free from pain and suffering.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I’m obsessed with Marcus Lemonis and would love to learn more about how he makes decisions and amassed a billion dollars. I would also love to have a sit down with Grant Cardone and invite him to the show. I am truly riveted by his story.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me @kojenwa and @zebraprnyc on Instagram. Visit us at the website at www.zebrapublicrelations.com to book a free one on one consultation. Want more Pop!? Find us at www.anchor.com/kojenwa
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!