Black & Powerful: Louis Carr, BET

BET President of Media Sales, Louis Carr, takes us on his journey growing up on Chicago's West Side through his early college days and career.

Video Transcript

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HOSEA SANDERS: Chicagoan, media mogul, author, philanthropist, a name in entertainment and our community, devoted to diversity, hiring more people of color than any other executive or company within the media industry. He is a mentor hoping to share his wisdom and leave a legacy of making a way for others to succeed, a man focused on using his influence to create pathways and inspire the next generation.

Our guest today, Louis Carr, "Black & Powerful."

Mr. Louis Carr, good to see you, sir.

LOUIS CARR: Good to see you. How are you?

HOSEA SANDERS: I'm really good. Thanks for having us here.

LOUIS CARR: Oh, no problem, great to have you.

HOSEA SANDERS: Well, I am so happy to be here with you because I consider you like a-- the ruler of our media because you're a best-selling author, top executive at BET, and you run these seminars that empower men. I appreciate that. And you're humble, too, so I'll say all that stuff for you.

LOUIS CARR: Thank-- thank you. Thank you so much.

HOSEA SANDERS: Louis, is there anything from childhood that kind of defined you and made you the successful man you are today?

LOUIS CARR: Well, clearly the-- the impact that my mother and grandmother had on me by always telling me I was special. But I didn't always believe them, Hosea, because, you know, mothers and grandmothers are biased.

HOSEA SANDERS: Right.

LOUIS CARR: And they should be, all right.

HOSEA SANDERS: Of course. Of course.

LOUIS CARR: But there was a moment in high school when my coach asked me to decide whether I wanted to be good or whether I wanted to be great, and at that moment, I had never thought that it was my doing, that I had anything to do with it. I thought either you got lucky--

HOSEA SANDERS: Right, right.

LOUIS CARR: --or you didn't get lucky. And when he asked me that question, I responded, what do the people who are great do that the people who are good don't do? And I think that was the change in my course, and my path, and my overall journey?

HOSEA SANDERS: Well, that will do it, I can imagine, too. You grew up here in Chicago?

LOUIS CARR: I grew up on the West Side of Chicago.

HOSEA SANDERS: How'd that influence you?

LOUIS CARR: I think it had a tremendous influence. You know, number one, I don't know I was poor until I went to college--

HOSEA SANDERS: Exactly.

LOUIS CARR: --all right, because when I looked around we all were the same. So a matter of fact, I probably would have wanted to fight someone if they had said that I was poor. Once I got to Des Moines, Iowa at Drake University I realized that, Hosea, I was kind of poor, all right.

So it-- it really gave me a thirst and a motivation to have more, and when I talk to young people I say, the advantage I have over you is that I was poor. And it gave me a drive and a hunger to be better.

HOSEA SANDERS: Well, that will do it. I can relate to that one, too. You see what's there, what's possible, and you want to achieve it. It's aspirational, if you will.

LOUIS CARR: Absolutely.

HOSEA SANDERS: So how'd you get from there, from Drake, to your professional career? How did you get started?

LOUIS CARR: Well, when I came out of Drake, I started in the insurance industry, and I worked for companies like Bankers Life, New York Life, primarily selling insurance. And then my best friend, Kevin Newell, who has introduced me to every job that I've had in this industry-- Hosea, when I tell people that, people ask, can they have his number, all right.

HOSEA SANDERS: If they get it together.

LOUIS CARR: Correct. So he told me to go to an interview at "Ebony" magazine. I had no idea it was going to be with the iconic late John H Johnson, and I had that interview and got offered the job by him on the spot.

HOSEA SANDERS: What was that like? I mean, that must have been a transformative kind of experience.

LOUIS CARR: It-- it was because anybody who knows Mr. Johnson-- he is very authentic.

HOSEA SANDERS: You're right.

LOUIS CARR: And one of the things he told me about changing attitude and about how to show up in appearance-- I had on shoes, Hosea. And he clearly said, you have not had that type of success to wear red shoes in my building.

HOSEA SANDERS: you haven't earned it, haven't earned the red shoes.

LOUIS CARR: Haven't earned the red shoes, all right. So it was-- it was eye-opening. It was maturing. It helped me really sort of learn a lot of things about business, everything from preparation to understanding how to communicate and show up on time.

HOSEA SANDERS: Out of these-- these empowerment seminars and what you do for a living, you know, global executive for Black Entertainment Television, you have come to know what they call "power." How do you define power, Louis?

LOUIS CARR: Power is influence beyond yourself and your family, being able to impact someone's life and impact someone's career, to be able to create change. I've just sort of started a new brand called WayMaker and it's exactly what it means, to be able to make a way for someone else.

I think it's so important right now in this country, when we think about the impact that COVID-19 has had on all communities, when we think about social injustice and the awareness that young people brought to our attention in 2020 and continues into '21-- I think it's so important that not only corporations and major brands but us as individuals sort of motivate, educate, and inspire people to live their best life in order to improve their families, their communities, and their country. So that's why I started this brand called WayMaker.

WayMaker maker is a series of podcasts. It's going to be a series of masterclass. It's going to be a quarterly journal called "The Waymaker Journal." And what I'm bringing together, Hosea, is successful people, some of them famous, some of them not so famous, but clearly they've been successful.

But the key thing, Hosea, is that-- not that they've just been through something. They've come through something.

HOSEA SANDERS: Oh.

LOUIS CARR: So they've got on the other side. So I wanted to give people a real example of that-- you know, life is like a roller coaster, but the thing with a roller coaster-- most of the time you end on the bottom. On this roller coaster, we want to end on the top.

So I'm really excited about the project. I'm really-- hope that it really influences people who need way-makers but also, more importantly, people who are sitting on the sidelines, Hosea. And I think all of us can be way-makers in some form or fashion, whether we're sharing our experiences, or our knowledge, or whether we're sharing our resources or our relationships. We all can be way-makers.

And we've all had way-makers. I'm sure if you think back in your life--

HOSEA SANDERS: Yeah.

LOUIS CARR: --you've had several way-makers. And if you really get blessed, Hosea, you continue to have way-makers--

HOSEA SANDERS: Right.

LOUIS CARR: --throughout your whole life.

HOSEA SANDERS: You also talk a lot, Louis, and give evidence, tangible evidence of the power of the Black dollar.

LOUIS CARR: Yes.

HOSEA SANDERS: Talk to me a little bit about that, and why it's so important, and why that message should be out there.

LOUIS CARR: Well, I think when people understand overall black influence, and power, and contributions, I believe that a lot of this inequality and inequity will start to fade. Our stories have not been told enough. You know, Black Wall Street in Oklahoma-- very few Black or white people know about that story, that there were rich African-Americans back in the time when we still were struggling for civil rights.

HOSEA SANDERS: Yep.

LOUIS CARR: So I think the more that our contributions are known, the more our stories are told, the more people value our contributions, a lot of the barriers that we face in society today will go down. When we look at our spending power, African-American spending power-- over a trillion dollars. That's huge. It's almost mind-boggling because most people look at us, that we can't afford products and services, but we can afford the best products and services.

So we try to educate corporations and individuals on our spending power, our influence beyond our community because we just don't influence each other, whether it's in music, or fashion, or technology. We influences the broader communities, and I think that's what people need to know and understand, that our influence is deep and it's wide.

HOSEA SANDERS: Not just culturally but financially as well.

LOUIS CARR: Absolutely.

HOSEA SANDERS: I like that a lot. Do you consider yourself powerful?

LOUIS CARR: I consider myself having influence.

HOSEA SANDERS: Real good. So we were talking also about your interns and how successful they have been. Is that what you want your legacy to be, having each one teach one, each one?

LOUIS CARR: Absolutely. You know, people will forget the impact I had on revenue for BET as soon as I walk out the door. They will-- they will forget those numbers because they're looking at the numbers ahead of them.

But I'm trying to influence people to influence people because I know what it has done for me. I know what way-makers have done for me. I know what vision-makers have done for me. People saw something in me long before I saw it in myself, long before, and I'll never forget that because I always wondered, how did they see that, all right.

I didn't know I had that. I just was a kid that was having fun. I didn't have great aspirations. I call myself now a vision-maker and a paradigm-builder. Those are new words that I've learned in my career, all right. Growing up, I never heard of those type of words and clearly didn't know what they meant.

So I'm trying to be vision-makers for people who may not have a vision, a way maker for people who may not have resources, experience, or knowledge. I'm trying to impact people's lives for a better community because I know what people did for me.

HOSEA SANDERS: What ways do you see Chicago, specifically, needing to shift, to change that paradigm?

LOUIS CARR: Well, I think we need to have some real conversations with our young people and our communities about intentional change, not just happenstance, intentional change. We need to have a plan. We need to sort of really make sure they understand some historical data and facts.

HOSEA SANDERS: True, true.

LOUIS CARR: You know, they're not the first poor generation, and neither was mine, all right. They're not the first generation that was discriminated against, and neither was mine. They're not the first generation that didn't have all the opportunities in the world, and neither did mine. But they do have the life-changing invention of the 21st century, and that's called the internet.

HOSEA SANDERS: Ain't that the truth?

LOUIS CARR: All right. We need to also be vision-makers for our young people, tell them what's possible, show them what realities could be like for them, and it needs to be ongoing conversations.

And it needs to be from everybody. It's not just a job of our teachers, you know. They have a role to play, but I have a role to play. Police have a role to play. Small business owners have a role to play. Corporate executives have a role to play. Corporate brands have a role to play. And we need to do it intentionally. We need to be strategic about it, and some of the conversations are going to be conversations that people don't like, that people don't want to hear.

HOSEA SANDERS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

LOUIS CARR: People had a lot of those conversations with me.

HOSEA SANDERS: And you still remember them, don't you?

LOUIS CARR: I still remember them. But it did make me think, what if they are right and I'm wrong? Can I do things differently?

And I think we also need to expose young people to people like us, who started at the bottom.

HOSEA SANDERS: Ain't that the truth?

LOUIS CARR: And now we're here.

HOSEA SANDERS: Yeah. Food stamps, commodity groceries, a whole thing--

LOUIS CARR: Absolutely.

HOSEA SANDERS: --way back in the day. And as you say often, if you don't see it, you can't be it, too.

LOUIS CARR: Yes.

HOSEA SANDERS: So those examples that you talk about. What would you say to a young Louis Carr in terms of what you're gonna be, what you're gonna do, encouragement? What advice would you give to your young self?

LOUIS CARR: First of all, I would tell him, you can be anything you want to be. You can be good, or you can be great. The world-- the world and all of his possibilities are yours. And just because you don't know people today who can help you don't mean you won't know people tomorrow.

Because I can remember looking for my first job, Hosea, and all my friends had work. And I'm going like, I'm a great athlete. Why am I struggling to get a job? I must not have the right relationships. I must not know the right people. My family didn't grow up in-- on the right side of town.

And now when I look at my phone and look at the names that are in my phone, you know, for some of the top people in entertainment to some of the top people in business to some of the top people in sports, it's mind-boggling to me, absolutely mind-boggling. When I call people and ask them to participate in the Blueprint Men's Summit and they say yes, sometimes I hang up the phone and go like, did he really just say yes?

So just because you don't have relationships today don't mean you won't have relationships tomorrow. So I would try to give advice to my young self, be encourage, be intentional. Believe that all things are possible, and work your butt off.

HOSEA SANDERS: Apparently you find it important to give back.

LOUIS CARR: Yes.

HOSEA SANDERS: Why is that?

LOUIS CARR: Because when I look back at my life, so many people poured into me things that I didn't even know I needed, gave me advice and direction that I don't even know I needed or I wanted at that particular time. A few years ago, Hosea, I went back, and I counted the way-makers in my life. And it was 19.

HOSEA SANDERS: Wow.

LOUIS CARR: And those people consisted of teachers, professors, neighbors, of-- of course, parents. They also were employers. They were people who I met in the airport, people who I've met on a plane, people who I've met at conferences that, for whatever reason, they decided that they were going to make sure that I could advance in dramatic, particular ways.

HOSEA SANDERS: Yeah.

LOUIS CARR: So every single day I wonder why God sent those people in my life to impact me in that special way. So now I'm trying to pay down a debt that I know can never be paid because it's too great, so I at least try to pay the interest on that debt, Hosea. I may not be able to pay principal, but I can pay interest.

HOSEA SANDERS: I like that a whole lot. I know-- I hat when people ask me this, but I'll do it anyway. Any parting words of wisdom that you want to leave viewers, leave our young people, live people who are still searching for what you are trying to achieve?

LOUIS CARR: Yeah. We are in difficult times right now. I've described it as Charles Dickens described it. It is the worst of times, but it's also the best of times. It is the worst of times because too many people are suffering, and too many people have-- have left us.

It's the best of times because we are all awake. We're all awake. We are awake about our health. We are awake about social injustice.

Now the next step is, what do we do about it? And we've got to be very intentional in trying to create change beyond ourselves that will benefit others. So those are my parting words, Hosea. Let's not just talk about it. Let's be about it.

HOSEA SANDERS: Be about it. Way-maker and a change-maker as well.

LOUIS CARR: Thank you.

HOSEA SANDERS: Thank you, sir. It's so good to talk to you.

LOUIS CARR: Oh, I appreciate this opportunity.

HOSEA SANDERS: It's good to have a chance to talk with you, you know, at length. We talk. We do things together, but it's just, to have a real conversation-- it's a blessing, isn't it?

LOUIS CARR: I appreciate you. And don't forget-- be a way-maker.

HOSEA SANDERS: All right.