Ladies First

LADIES FIRST with Kim Knox

From pre-law student to global independent event producer, multifaceted visionary, Kim Knox is a woman on a mission. She talks about her humble beginnings and her fearless creative ideas with her company Ubiquita Worldwide.

You can always tell a powerful creative when you see one because their fashion style acts as their protective armor. Kim Knox is no different as a veteran event producer in the industry, rocking her signature shaved fade of locs as we met at the super cool and cozy lifestyle lounge bar Ode to Babel. Engulfed amongst the calming space of curated artwork by local independent Brooklyn artist with dim lights, handmade furniture, and a beautiful teak bar with brass fixtures, it was clear Kim knew the perfect backdrop local venue for our exclusive interview. If you were lucky enough to be a young creative on the New York scene during the mid-90's you experienced the free-spirited magic of the thriving underground art and soul music scene. This was a subculture that emerged from local favorites spots like  Brooklyn Moon, Nkiru Books, Sunday Tea Party and Nuyorican Cafe where art, music, and fashion, formed an incredible mix that is still identifiable today. 

It made perfect sense to feature Kim Knox as our latest LADIES FIRST entrepreneur because she has been the creative collaborator behind so many prolific artists including Alice Smith, Somi, Dannis Winston, Alicia Keys, Goapele, Raye 6, Imani Azuri, Tamar-kali and a host of other emerging artists of the soul music genre. 'Starting out as a volunteer event producer with a crew of artists called "The Sunday Tea Party" in Brooklyn was the best boot camp ever. It was the best for me learning how to create a full experience for people.' Knox says reminiscing enthusiastically. 'People were artistically fed and physically fed at our events. For starving artists and the everyday folks that $5 dollars of an open mic, dance party, and food on Sunday's was everything.'

"We influence the influencer at Ubiquita Worldwide. That's what we do."

Photography by Barron Claiborne from the debut "Afropunk Liberation Sessions Portraits"

Photography by Barron Claiborne from the debut "Afropunk Liberation Sessions Portraits"

Over the past 18 years, Kim Knox has produced, developed, and created a diverse catalog of entertainment events and marketing campaigns for creatives of the world of film, music, art, and fashion. With the fickle entertainment and media landscape constantly changing throughout wave periods of major layoffs and power positions becoming scarce, you had to be more than just creative to survive. To be a respected tastemaker of the dopest event you not only had to be clever and smart with your finger on the pulse of the underground trends, but you also had to be multifarious and ready to feed demands of the people. The artistic street cultivators shaping the art and music scene.

Versatile is an understatement for the former pre-law student who stumbled across a dope night of poetry that would ignite a new passion for her career nowhere near a court room, but instead under the lights, camera, and action of live audiences.  She has handled her career changes with graceful aplomb and we got a chance to sit down with Kim and get the inside scoop on her entrepreneurial beginnings and the influences responsible for her creative unit at her company Ubiquita Worldwide.

Ladies First: Let's begin at the awakening moment. How did you figure out that your career path was not going to be pre-law?

Kim Knox: "I didn't figure it out. I showed up at a 'Sunday Tea Party' event and never left." (Laughs) I first began producing events with a company called "Sunday Tea Party" in Brooklyn who created these weekly open mics with dancing and food on Sundays. Starting out as a volunteer event producer for them was the best boot camp ever. It was the best for me learning how to create a full experience for people."

Ladies First: So, your after college experience is what really exposed you to a new scene of cool creative people doing these art based things you had never seen before?

Kim Knox: "Yes. I took a job at a major jazz recording studio after college where I met all these great legendary musicians and I think that is what started the curiosity bug in me a bit. I loved the behind the scenes of watching the album happen. At the same time, I was throwing these parties with 'Sunday Tea Party'. I came into this new world as a spectator really, and then 6 months later I was a performer."

Ladies First: Performer? 

Kim Knox: "Yes, I always wrote in college. I let a friend of mine who I went to college with, Tai Allen read a little something I was working on and he was like, 'Kim this is dope, you gotta perform this.'  Tai was into all the activities on campus, I mean he was in everything, but that really wasn't me. I wasn't a performer per se. I was not trying to hear his antics of trying to convince me to perform and then he ripped the page out of my notebook and said either I was going to perform it or he was. (Laughs) And I always remember that moment of me walking into that poetry space packed wall to wall with people sitting on the floor all stacked all on top of each other and seeing this other female poet, Sydnee Stewart perform her piece live with a violinist, and I became completely transfixed within that world after that show. I was done. I was like this is where I belong. At 20, 21 years old I had never experienced this level of people so connected to art and I was extremely drawn to it. I didn't know exactly what it was, but I knew I liked it and I liked it a lot."

Ladies First: Talk to me about staying true to your inner voice during this new experience and being open to exploring this new path which was completely different from your academic background.

Kim Knox: "Actually, I had no intention of going into the arts. I was pre-law. And it wasn't even like I wanted to do something related to the field, like entertainment law. No, I wanted to be a divorce attorney and I was serious. (Laughs) My momma is still mad. She is still mad until this day at me. (Loud, Loud, Laughs) But I will say this. I am an only child and I grew up in a Caribbean single parent household. I am Jamaican and Nigerian but my Jamaican family raised me. With that being said, as much as you have the inclination to be the good girl and do what the family wants, being an only child you almost have to listen to your own voice cause ain't nobody else around. (Laughs) And so, I have always felt like I am very much my mother's daughter. My mom is an extremely strong woman and is definitely very self-assured and focused around what she wants to do and I think I am the same way, it's just that we are different as people and what we value is very different. 

I felt like my career path wasn't a plan, it kind of chose me. I went through school and did really really well, but I ended up graduating early at 20 and I was like, 'now what?' I knew what my mom wanted me to do, but I still didn't know what I wanted to do. Things didn't awaken in me until my twenties. Experiencing these new people and this new world and they thought I was talented. I don't even think I thought I was talented. All of these things kind of happened and I didn't make a conscious choice to do it. It chose me and I was like, 'I am here.'

"Partying with a purpose"

 

Ladies First: Now having this experience under your belt and discovering this new passion within the arts, when did you decide it was time for your own ideas to become your own company? 

Kim Knox: "'Sunday Tea Party' was very Brooklyn, but my business partner who I founded Ubiquita with, Deshawn Maxwell was a Brooklyn-based party promoter working the LES scene in the city. He was the guy doing the Baby Phat parties back when Kimora and Russell ran everything. He also did a really important party called 'Low Profile' with DJ Qool Marv on Monday's at Ludlow Bar. And what happened was the Brooklyn kids met the Lower East Side kids and fell in love and Ubiquita was born."

Ladies First: Ok, so you merged the two worlds together.

Kim Knox: "Yea, because we were both on the spoken word scene together. DeShawn was in a group called, 'Social Outcast" and I was in 'Black Lotus'.  Everybody went to 'Sunday Tea Party' and it was all of these little crews and cultural factions. We were families that interacted with each other and partied with a purpose."

Because I was about 5 years younger than the 'Tea Party' staff I was kind of the bridge person for the cool trends. I would go to the city and be like, ' let me see what's going on,' which is how I found out about Qool Marv's parties. I partied at his spot on Monday nights and really connected with DeShawn."

Ladies First: I see, and it was during this time that you guys figured out your talents and connections?

Kim Knox: "Exactly. My day job and I what I started out in the business doing was being a talent agent. I used to work for at the time Innovative Artists. and I was one of the only people of color there. I helped people like Saul Williams get signed and it was during that time when 'Slam' (the poetry film) had just came out and I became the Negro ambassador (Loud Loud, Laughs) at that time."

                                                                                                The Ladies of Ubiquita on the cover of the Village Voice 2007

                                                                                               The Ladies of Ubiquita on the cover of the Village Voice 2007

Ladies First: Ha! You were the liaison for the urban side of things... (Laughs)

Kim Knox: "Working at this agency in this legit department was great. I mean, it was an amazing learning experience. So I always felt like I have owned my career working on both sides of things. 

I think my experience as a performer while it was good, I realized personally that I didn't love performing. It's like sometimes you are told you are good at something and you should just want to do it. Right? But I for me it was more like, I knew I was good at it and I like writing but I didn't like being on stage like that... And so, I felt like I understood performing enough to know what an artist needs. I have always felt that I have a gift for presenting artist as well. So that's when I decided that I wanted to go into artist representation. Now, artist representation had always been a part of what I did and productions was a part of that as well. Those two things always went hand in hand. I started Ubiquita in 2000 after approx 4 years of working with 'Sunday Tea Party'"

Ladies First: I understand. This was the first opportunity to merge those skills together and be apart of artists development directly under your very own platform. 

Kim Knox: "Absolutely. The artists' management thing I fought against doing kicking and screaming because it's a lot of work. It's a lot of hand holding and it is very personal. But initially, when we were just doing Ubiquita as an event, the things that made us stand out were that fact that we were the first all female DJ residency in the city and we were also a party that always had live performances. During the golden era of Ubiquita around 2003 2004 when it was really popular, my business partner, DeShawn and I were doing 3 shows a week on top of our full-time jobs and we worked at the same gig...! It was a fun, hilarious, and amazing time for us. The company evolved but you can't keep up that pace forever.  So we branched off into doing these special one-off reunion parties during different times around the holidays of the years. Because we were in a bunch of different creatives spaces we decided to take the leap into event producing for cultural institutions. 

We evolved and grew to a certain point and DeShawn and I realized we wanted different things. So he gave me his blessing to continue on with Ubiquita the way I wanted. And it was time for me to figure out my personal evolution within Ubiquita as well."

"I don't believe artists need to starve. That should not be the norm" 

Ladies First: How were you able to stay resilient throughout the ever-changing entertainment biz while evolving the brand and staying true Ubiquita's authentic signature?

Kim Knox: "Well, working on the agency side of thing helped me understand how to handle artists. I also understood the ABC's of the business itself and I don't believe artists need to starve. That should not be the norm.... Trust me it has been a struggle. I definitely feel like I am not quite where I want to be fully yet, but I am proud of my career. I am proud of the things I have been able to do. I am proud of the firsts we have had with Ubiquita. We had the first female DJ crew to be on the cover of the Village Voice..."

But I think there are two things that have kept me resilient over the years. I think reinvention is key number one. I believe the main reason I have always been able to reinvent with Ubiquita is because I work from a place of a collective mentality. Even if I am driving the car, the car is only as good as the sum of its parts. You know what I mean? I feel I've been blessed to work with so many diverse artists that I have honed different skill sets and become multidisciplinary along the way. I switch up the mediums I use whether it's is theater, a live band, a tv pilot or a multimedia installation. The key is I try to push myself to do things that I've never done before and I have always been a visionary. I see things way past what I am currently doing..." 

In my mind, I want the urban alternative Ibiza and call the 'Isle of Ubiquita'. Like literally off the coast of Africa. That is the long-term goal straight up. I think it's important to be someone that is about continuing to proliferate positive images from ourselves. The fact that we are everywhere. We are omnipresent. We are ubiquitous. That is what Ubiquita Worldwide means. It is about pushing yourself and making the world better than the way you found it. And try not to phony it. If you are feeling complacent, it's time to do something else.  

Ladies First: Kim that was excellent. It's 8:01 pm and that is a wrap. Thank you so much!

 

 

Check out a snippet of our interview below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ladies First with Sharene Wood

"What I would want a girl to know is that she is enough. She is enough to be loved, she is enough to exist without her family or even without a relationship. I think that we have to teach young girls to be complete in themselves so a mate will compliment them."

-Sharene Wood

Sharene Wood has been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry, starting with her work as founding partner of 5001 FLAVORS and Harlem Haberdashery. A fervent supporter of education and community empowerment, she serves on the board of Black Women for Black Girls and is a philanthropic supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem, #TakeCareofHarlem, Food Bank of New York, and Y.E.S. (Young Executives For Success). The passionate entrepreneur has embraced the same qualities she has taught to young budding millennials in her creations of 5001 FLAVORS and Harlem Haberdashery. Kicking off our first “Ladies First” interview, Sharene takes us on her trailblazing journey to entrepreneurship sharing her most memorable life lessons and the rewards of turning her passion into a family business in her neighborhood of Harlem.

Wood’s career as an entrepreneur began in the mid-1990’s as a 20-year-old pre-law student at Columbia University. She was a full-time student, a part-time employee, and a business owner. At the time her business partner turned husband, sociology major Guy Wood asked Sharene to be his business partner.  Sharene, a master organizer, said yes to Guy’s partnership offer and with $600, a strong vision, and not even a computer but instead just a word processor, the dream was born. The small dorm room business grew into a successful empire with no outside funding and the old school tradition of word of mouth marketing. See our intimate conversation about family, womanhood, and motherhood below:

Ladies First: Talk to me a little bit about how you grew up here in Harlem and the family circle you come from.

Sharene Wood: I grew up in a very large family. I grew up with my mom who was a teenage mom. Um, I remember when my mom graduated from high school. I grew up in Harlem, went to P.S. 200 on 150th until 6th grade. I was chosen to go to Prep for Prep while I was in the gifted and talented program at P.S. 200. I went to Prep for Prep which prepared me academically, socially, financially and it sent me to private school. So, I went to Riverdale Country School for middle school and high school, but I have very strong roots in Harlem. My family is here and I have over 100 relatives still here in Harlem. So, for me Harlem is home. Like I said, I grew up in a large family surrounded by love and aunts and uncles and grandparents that really kind of made me who I am. I have a strong sense of family and I was always encouraged to do things.

Ladies First: Yea, how does that dynamic work? How to you find yourself in a large family?

Sharene Wood:  You have to have a voice because you get lost. Growing up in a big family made me understand the value of cooperative community. How things work and how you have to put the work together to make the family work. So, I’ve always had a great understanding of how a family should operate. Our family was so large that other people who didn’t have large families would attach themselves to our family because they loved that vibe of the closeness we shared.

Ladies First:  Do you remember when your creative process first began within your big family? Do you remember those first things you loved to do as a girl?

Sharene Wood:  Well, has more cousins started to born in my family, it was really like a mini summer camp in the summer time when we would go to my grandmother’s. So I began to assume a leadership role within the family. Even it was, who is going to pour the milk divided my 15, I always assumed the leadership role or just like being in charge. People call it bossy, I call it leadership.

Ladies First: (laughs) So, it was a natural innate thing for you to take charge and organize things.

Sharene Wood: Well, I have my mom to thank for that, who is very opinionated and has a strong personality. She is where I kind of get my voice from. Now as an adult, I appreciate that because she taught me to speak up and teach the world how to treat me.

Ladies First: When you say, you mom taught you how to speak up, do you remember that moment when you have to really put that voice to the test or when you began an adult in that aspect?

Sharene Wood: For me, I don’t necessary think I remember when I became an adult, but I knew that for me there was a definite um, elevation of my maturity level when I started traveling to private school. Only because one, I had to travel a bit further for my education. But really as a 7th grader leaving Harlem and literally getting on the train and going up to my private school, the disparity between education and opportunity, was so obvious to me, that it kind of shook my core. Because then I would come back to the community and then I saw what was being offered to my family. And so, for me, it wasn’t an adulthood moment, but it was kind of an awakening moment. And I realized that there are two different worlds out there. And there is a huge disparity in a lot of different things. Things like the aesthetics of your community, what you eat at school, trips you go on, what you learn, and what you talk about in school. I know the biggest difference was my cousins would ask, “Are you going to school? Vs. my classmates asking, “What school are you going to?” So even the conversations were very different at the school I went to.  This really opened my eyes to seeing what was out there outside of my community.  

Ladies First: What is it that you and your daughter practice?

Sharene Wood: Well it is your job as a parent to understand that it’s your job to make your child's life easier by saying this works and this doesn’t. Don’t do that, this is what you should do and this is what I want you to do. Sometimes girls aren’t taught that they should demand to be treated a certain way. And so, I always tell my daughter, “Please don’t talk to me that way because I don’t want anyone talking to you that way.” This is why I say you really do have to put out into the world what you want back for yourself.  I realized this is important especially now as a mom because it’s going to be over really soon and so I pray her future spouse is doing the same building and having the same conversations.  

Ladies First: What has been your biggest realization within motherhood and the responsibilities you are expected to fulfill ?

Sharene Wood: My biggest realization about my responsibilities as a woman clicked for me when I had a child. I got it. It clicked. There is a huge accountability that you realize is now yours when you have a child. That moment you leave the hospital and go, "Ok, this is all me now."  Kids don't come with instruction manuals and your really do ha start moving and planning with intention. I mean, I can remember coming home from the hospital, taking a moment and I sat down and said to myself, "ok" and I have a picture when I took that moment and I am giving my daughter a kiss and I said I will do the best that could possibly do to be the best teacher for her. I realized everything that I am doing is a legacy for her and her kids. I became super conscience because I understood that her success is my success. It is not a job I take lightly and I really wish that everyone was doing the same. 

Ladies First: When you say, you wish that everyone was doing the same, what do you believe every girl should begin to love and understand about themselves individually?

Sharene Wood: What I would want a girl to know is that she is enough. She is enough to be loved, she is enough to exist without her family or even without a relationship. I think that we have to teach young girls to be complete in themselves so a mate will compliment them. A lot of women don't get that. I am not saying you don't need a man, but I am saying that you have to be able to be self-sufficient, happy with yourself,  and happy with your choices. You have to be self-reliant and be able to stand up on your own and make your own decisions. 

Ladies First: Was that belief apart of your connection in becoming the board member of Black Women for Black Girls?

Sharene Wood: Well I always felt a social responsibility working in our retail store and its other business. I always feel really blessed, but there is still a social responsibility to give back especially in Harlem. So it was important for me and my family to be a place that did not just consume the community but lead the community. We like to look nice here at Harlem Haberdashery but we also want our community to look nice as well. This is why we started working with #greenerlenox, #believeinablackgirl, #elegantforprom to help the community. I always say, "look good, live good, feel good!" Those are kind of my motos and working with the organization Black Women for Black Girls was just another step in fulfilling community philanthropy. Officially Black Women for Black Girls is a charity giving circle kind of network with like-minded sisters designed to help the positive development of Black girls in the New York City area. One of our signature programs is our annual if the "College Shower"

Ladies First: Yes, I love, love, love this idea of a college shower, tell me how you became involved.

Sharene Wood: The main reason I became involved with Black Women for Black Girls is because of the "College Shower". I loved that concept!  Joi Gordon who is one of the founders and is President and CEO of Dress for Success, my mom works at Dress for Success, so Joi is a great friend and mentor who basically came to me and said you're gonna join this organization. (laughs). But when I heard about the mission and the programs it was a no brainer. There is a financial commitment for 2 years as a charity member and the goal is to amass financial resources to go out to different organizations to help the girls. The "College Shower" is a fantastic opportunity to kind of acknowledge as a Black woman the love for another Black girl of the next generation. We all say that we are just big Black girls over here at BWBG but really it is us paying homage to the sisters and letting them know that we see you, we acknowledge you, we want to help you. We have a nomination process and the girls are either referred and or we reach out to them directly through organizations or guidance counselors. Girls must be a graduation senior going into a college. We prefer students to live on campus to get the full experience but that is not a requirement. We feel like living on campus deepens the college experience and so we try to steer the girls in that direction. 

Some girls are first generation college students, some girls do not have the full support of their families, others are raised by their grandparents and some are just girls who want the opportunity for a great future. We get to know the girls through the application process as they answer a series of questions about their inspirations,  thier upbringing, and their future goals. Members on the board like myself all vote to choose about 5-10 girls each year. every year our commitment is to add two more girls than the previous year so that we increase our reach. Each young lady chosen is paired up with a sister to register for everything she needs to go to college. our goal is to assist them in receiving all the things they need for the college to be successful. and we know for many parents receiving that college list of things is overwhelming and huge financial commitment. This is our way of rewarding the girls who are doing great things and a way for us to counteract the Baby Shower craze happening amongst teenage mothers. We decided to celebrate those young women doing what they were supposed to do and it's a wonderful opportunity. Yes, we have an actual shower where the girls come with their families and they get to really experience what it is like to be supported and surrounded by love. 

Ladies First: And for my final wrap up question, what are you most proud of to date that you have accomplished

Sharene Wood: For me its being an entreprenuer and creating something out of nothing. It's really easy to sit there and dream about what you're going to do, but the hardest thing to do is to go from concept to manifestation. I am proud to create my own economy because I knew I wanted to be my own boss and it would always be uptown. And I always knew it would be something different that I would create uptown because I didn't feel like we had the best aeshteic and services. I knew once I went below 96 street I could receive good things, but as a Harlem girl that annoyed me about the neighboorhood. It was very obvious, but I knew I had to change it. One thing I never like was us recieveing less than we deserved and that was something I was adminat about changing in Harlem. I am pround that I have created a family business and a legacy that I can leave my child. 

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Ladies First: Sharene that was awesome, thanks so much! It's a wrap that was my last question.

"Most of the time I feel like Super Lady and sometimes I'm Super Lady with a hole in my cape, you know. But change is season to season, day to day, so it's about evloving on different levels on every plain of your life."
-Sharene Wood