We all have stories that beg to be heard. Yet, not many have the privilege to share them. BK Fulton takes it upon himself to add to the narrative of stories that inspire and uplift humanity through film and media. In this episode, he joins David Jensen and Cecily Chambers to share with us his journey from corporate life as a CEO of Verizon Mid-Atlantic to transitioning to community empowerment with his own film and media investment company, Soulidifly. BK drills down on his 50-year plan with the lessons he learned along the way and the new and exciting ventures he is taking. Promoting a more inclusive narrative in contemporary media, he then explores how he is bringing and inspiring creatives to tell those stories. Join BK in today’s great conversation as he moves us to break the rules when we need to and to do more good in the world.
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Uplifting Humanity Through Film And Media: A CEO’s Journey From Corporate Life To Community Empowerment With BK Fulton
Welcome, BK Fulton. We’re happy to have you on the show.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
BK, a corporate leader, storyteller, movie mogul, citizen of the world, tell us about your failures. You are such an accomplished leader, executive, and visionary. Ces and I thought about this, we want to start with your failures.
We’re like, “Let’s catch him off guard.”
I’ve learned more from my failures than from my successes. You probably would say the same thing. We wanted to hear about the failures in your life and what you learned from those and then we’re going to talk about all your success because you have so much success.
I’ll share a little there. What I tend to tell people is that a focus on failure is an inadequate contribution to the future of your success. It becomes an interesting way to start an interview, Q&A, or podcast. Frankly, giving the blueprints of success is much more useful for the person who’s in the grind and working on it. If I tell them, “I was disappointed when I did this and this was a mistake,“ it orients the mind on the wrong thing. Sure, you learn from your mistakes. Thomas Edison, “I know it doesn’t work this way 100 times. I’ve learned.” If we can jump right to, “This is what worked for me,” then we save time and convey the lessons differently.A focus on failure is an inadequate contribution to the future of your success. Click To Tweet
One of the biggest challenges for me was not quite knowing how important academics were early on. I didn’t spend as much time as I should have with my professors and books early on. I almost flunked out of college. Talk about a failure. I was in an engineering school at Virginia Tech. It was the first engineering school in the country to require incoming engineers to buy a computer as part of their standard school supply. I could force my parents to spend $6,000 on this thing that had no more memory than a telephone. It was less than today’s telephone. It was 47 pounds, 64K of RAM, 2 floppy drives, and a 6-inch monochrome monitor. It was $6,000 from IBM.
I got my computer until we were deconstructing video games but I wasn’t quite going to class as I should. I was probably playing a little bit too much basketball, hanging out with the ladies a little too much, dancing. I love to dance. I would go to class occasionally. I thought that the smarts that I had from high school would transfer and I could skate through college. I started getting those nasty-grams from the registrar’s office, “If you don’t get your stuff together, you’re going to have to find another place to go.”
I went to the library to plan my escape from Virginia Tech. It was divine. I landed in the E185.5 section of the Dewey Decimal System. The Dewey Decimal System is all over the planet. That section is a section on black people. I started reading about Lewis Latimer, Granville T. Woods, Elijah McCoy, and all these inventions and stuff they created and the obstacles they overcame. That’s when I realized that it is not the failure narrative that I needed, it was the achievement narrative. It was the narrative that told me that people look like me, that women, minorities, people of goodwill, of all stripes, contribute to civil society, technological society, innovation. Those lessons became the blueprint for my life. I created a 50-year plan years ago and I’ve been living my plan.
What specifically inspired you to make a 50-year plan at 18, 19 years old? You were inspired by these leaders, inventors and these visionaries, but where did you then translate into something tactical as making a 50-year plan?
I was reading about these historical figures. Lewis Latimer invented the filament for the light bulb, which gives it incandescence. The Thomas Edison bulb does not work without the Latimer filament. Granville T. Woods invented the electric third rail, which allows a subway to run. The New York Subway, Granville T. Woods sold the patent to General Electric in 1901. When you hear the term The Real McCoy, they’re talking about this black guy named Elijah McCoy. He invented the automatic lubricator cup. Before his invention, automobile travel was limited. They had to stop and put oil in. When his invention, the automatic lubricator cup, automatically lubricated the car, the travel changed and you could get more beyond the spoke and hub system.
Reading about those things inspired me to become a better student. I would talk to professors, I got into different classes, and they would suggest books. I would learn about all these people. I was like, “Who’s Ron Brown? Who’s Vernon Jordan? Who’s Marianne Spraggins?” I started reading biographies. My favorite form of publication is biography. I read these people’s biographies and I said, “If I do what they did, things could work out.” All of them had law degrees. I ended up getting a law degree. All of them worked in the northeast at some point. I went to the northeast. All of them did something in Civil Rights. I worked with the National Urban League and founded their Technology Programs and Policy Department. What inspired me was the introduction to achievement and success that I hadn’t been made aware of, and most people in our country are not. It’s a travesty.
Reading further and reading about people that were alive that we could touch, feel, and see their example, and try to say, “What did they do?” Realizing that I could do some of the things they did. As I got more mature, I added my scaffolding. I added additional layers for things that are oriented around my interests. I love mechanical things. I like pens, cars and watches. My scaffolding included a more technological bit to my blueprint. Reading about those lives told me that I could do it. That is probably the biggest challenge that human beings face. It’s looking in the mirror and facing the person in the mirror. It’s not the foe on the other side. It’s not a competitive company. Do you accept that you are enough? How do you pour that into yourself so that you get up every day and do your best?
That’s an amazing and inspirational failure story. What happened was you failed early on in your life and you realized the life that you could have in front of you by being inspired by all of these other visionaries and inventors. It caused you to pivot. Many people reading this may be doing that right now, maybe doing that later in life. Not to compare me by any means but from an experience perspective, being a good student to a certain point, my first failure wasn’t until I was well into my first or second job and that’s when I had to have that epiphany, that moment you described. Thank you for sharing that. That’s amazing.
BK, in terms of charting this path, like building this blueprint and then adding your twist to it, how do you manifest these things? Do you write them down? Do you have journals? This is important for our readers to understand how they can go about this.
I wrote it down. That’s part of the secret sauce. Human beings retain about 50% of what they see and hear and about 80% of what they see, hear and do. There’s something about engaging, writing it down, interacting with the plan that makes it your own. It’s beyond memorization. It’s at a level of understanding. It becomes an extension of me. I married a wonderful Harvard-trained lawyer. During our courtship, I told her about my plan. I said, “I wrote a 50-year plan decades ago.” She’s like, “Nobody does that.” I opened the drawer and pulled it out.
She was like, “You did that?” I said, “Yes.” You go to these motivational things and people say, “Do better. Work harder.” They give you all this narrative but it’s not concrete enough. “Do better.” What the hell does that mean? If I didn’t know what it meant before I walked into your speech, I probably won’t know what it is after I leave your speech unless you tell me what it is. Whenever I do public speaking, especially to younger audiences, I tell them about my plan but I tell them how to do their plan.
I’ll say, “I’m some older guy with gray hairs and you may not think I’m cool. You may not care about what I’m saying to you. Go read about people that you respect. Read about the life that you want and then see what they did and start doing it. Start there and it becomes this tangible thing.” I get many notes from young people that I’ve helped and they say, “The best thing I got out of that program was when you said, ‘Here’s how you create the plan and writing it down is a big part of it.’” We’ll get to my creative stuff at some point.
George Lucas talks about Star Wars. He gets out a yellow pad and a pen and starts writing. I’m reading A Promised Land by Barack Obama and he said he gets out a pad and starts writing. There’s something about that tactile. You’re getting it in. It’s owning it. It can lead to a transformation. I don’t sleep a lot, that’s probably an advantage. Somebody said, “You can take some meds for that. Maybe you have insomnia.” I said, “I love my insomnia.”The orbit of successful people can contribute to your success. Click To Tweet
Four hours at night. I could get out my leather pad and write it down. I love lists. As part of your plan, do you have lists where you’re crossing stuff off?
I made a list of everything. My wife laughs at me because I’ll pay the bills or I’ll go through some notes and I might write notes on the back of envelopes. I can’t throw them away until I put the note somewhere where it’s digital. I have to decipher my writing. It’s hilarious. It’s my own thing. I’ll say, “Can you tell me what this says?” She’s like, “You wrote it.”
I am always writing stuff down. I have journals. I spend time in the morning meditating on what I’m writing to. Dr. Joe Dispenza, I don’t know if you know him, he’s a neuroscientist, an amazing guy. He talks a lot about this positive present language that you write. It’s almost like you’re there already and then feeling the state of gratitude as if you’ve accomplished this goal that you have. That feeling state can help you chart a path towards it. I resonate with that. I love that.
I’ve heard of his work but I haven’t read a lot of it. I’ll tell you a funny story. When I was in law school, still to this day, whenever I had to take a test or do something major, I would go out and get myself something nice before. It was because this is to celebrate that I’m getting ready to get on this exam. I’d sit in the exam, I’d feel good. My mind was in a happy place. The exams usually went pretty well. If they didn’t, it didn’t matter because I had my thing.
You already rewarded yourself. You paid it forward. I like this idea. This is a good takeaway. I wanted to drill down the new ventures past your corporate life. Your new ventures are exciting. Tell us a little bit more about how you structured that 50-year plan. You had your legal pad. Did you do it by decades? Did you do it by year? Did you do it by goal? Did you do it by activity? Give it a little bit more structure for us.
The trick is identifying the people that you respect. My people for my plan were Dick Parsons, Vernon Jordan, Ron Brown, and Marianne Spraggins. Marianne Spraggins was the first black female Managing Director on Wall Street. Dick Parsons had the highest score on the New York Bar Exam when he took it, the legendary Chairman of Time Warner, Dime Savings Bank. Vernon Jordan, a legendary Civil Rights leader. Ron Brown, a legendary Civil Rights leader. They’re all lawyers. I went to law school.
What I did was I took their stories, read them, and then laid out what they did to get to where they are. By the time you layout lives like that, these people are running big businesses, they’ve gone through some training and things to get there. Your plan ends up looking like a biography, if you will, or a chronology. They’re the school or education year. I couldn’t stop my training until after law school because that’s what my models did.
I knew that, at some point in time, I needed to work in the northeast, perhaps, or in a large Civil Rights organization or an organization with a big network. That’s what I did, I spent my first ten years, professionally, at the National Urban League where I got to know a lot of the people in the movement, as we call it, but also on the board. One of the board members was Ivan Seidenberg, then Chairman and CEO of NYNEX which became Verizon. I retired from working for Verizon. There’s this nexus that happens.
One of the things that you learn is putting yourself in the company of successful people. The orbit of successful people can contribute to your success. You learn the habits of these people, the way these people solve problems, the way these people approach opportunities. If you absorb these things, you can make them your own. For me, I’ve always liked to work with leaders, I’ve always liked to sit with them to hear how they address the things in anybody’s life and then you go forward.
For me, it was those things. What are the school years like? What are the type of career pathways like? What’s their family like? I patterned pretty much my whole life after these people. At 18 or 19, you don’t know what the hell you want to do. You pattern it after them. As you get older and wiser, you add your scaffolding. The time you go off and try to start your own business or the time you invest for the first time, those things come. If you get the right training, if you have the right work experience, have the right network, you set yourself up on a launchpad for success.
In essence, you mimicked the people that inspired you, how they constructed their lives and how they achieve success and you said, “This is a great pattern. Let me repeat this pattern.” As you repeated that pattern, you then adjusted for ￼yourself. I’m a big follower. We talked a little bit about Dr. David Sinclair, the geneticist at Harvard. His goal is to solve death. His innovation problem is to figure out how we don’t die. In the short–term, he feels like we’ll live to 120, 150. How do you do the addendum to the 50-year plan? When do you pivot to do that?
I thought about that ever since we talked a little bit about it. I will probably do the next part at least 5 to 6 years before I finish my 50-year plan. The last thing I’m supposed to do is create a foundation called Rising Sons and Daughters. That’s on my 50-year plan. I’ve done everything else on the plan. I retired a few days early when I said I was going to retire. I’m one of those people that keep setting goals and hitting them and then stretch more and hit more.
Rising Sons and Daughters, I’ve set up the foundation website and we’re starting to figure out what our focus is going to be. I’ve told the person who I want to run it that they need to be prepared because I’m going to hire them to run my foundation. We’re going to help the kids like me who are in the middle, who started to see students and needed that extra push, and need that extra coaching. I want to help those kids to be the best version of themselves. Before I start that foundation, that’s the last thing on my 50-year plan, I want to have the next 50. Here’s the caveat for me, it’s probably the same process. octogenarians have this great life. I look at their blueprint and work backward. We will see where this doctor is with good health at 120 years old. I don’t want to be some rickety, old guy that barely has life support.
Sinclair’s whole pitch is to reduce the aging, dying process to about six weeks maximum. You live life to 120, 130 that’s full and robust. It’s only in the last stages of human life that you have to then deal with the dying process.
Assuming we can get there, I’d follow the same process and do the rest of the plan. What I do is I make sure I enjoy everything along the way in case he doesn’t figure it out.
Keep buying those gifts for yourself before you achieve the goal. I like that part a lot. Let’s pivot and talk about some of your creative stuff. There’s a whole range of things you’re doing. You’re doing things with young folks. You’re dealing with poverty abatement. You’re dealing with looking at the world of cannabis. You’re looking at the world of storytelling and movie-making. Where’s a great place for us to start on that part of your 50-year plan?
I spent my first 50 years doing what I was trained to do, engineering, architecture, management, science, and law. I ran some big companies. The last company I ran was about $5.5 billion, 44,000 employees, four states, big territory, called the Mid-Atlantic for Verizon Communications. I had fun doing that. I retired in 2015. I was trying to figure out what to do next. I realized that we live in this celebrity culture and a lot of people had screens in front of them, their phones, TVs, and video games. I said, “If I could influence that, then I could have a chance of touching many young people and giving them the gift that was given to me, the gift of reading, the gift of learning, the gift of exploration.”
I realized that if I did something in media, I could change lives. I wanted to share this prism of achievement. I realized that a lot of people are going down the path of, “Let me do a slavery film. Let me do a boys in the hood film. Let me do this negative thing here, domestic violence.” Not that every story doesn’t have a right to be told. At the end of the day, we’re being saturated with certain parts of certain stories for certain people and not getting the full enchilada, not getting the full narrative, and not getting the stuff that put rocket fuel into my life. I decided that my media company would be helpful and could do it and then I could influence the influencers.
In my first movie, we had John Cusack, Taye Diggs, George Lopez, and Luke Hemsworth. That was the first one. People were like, “You had real actors in your movies.” “That’s what happens when you make real movies.” They said, “How did you get those people?” I said, “Remember, these people are workers for hire. You have to budget. You’ve got a good script and they like it. You get a director, cinematographer, and you put it together to make a movie.” That’s what we did. Starting there with Soulidifly, it’s one silo to explore and then we should explore the writing and the entrepreneurial stuff that share a few companies.
Let’s talk about Soulidifly. I’m going to Ces to jump in here because she runs an agency. She represents talent. She’s helping them get placed and she loves the name of your production company.
Your mantra is to create media with the message, which reminds us very much of our mantra which is rebels with a cause. Have you always been this mischief-maker, trying to do things differently than the status quo? Do you think that this is something that’s developed later in life as you’ve come closer to developing Soulidifly?
My parents would probably say that I’ve always been a mischief-maker. I’ve never been the child that follows the path just because others do it. For me, things have to make sense to the extent that creates mischief. I like rules. I’m a lawyer by training but I like innovation and greatness better. If a rule is not a good rule, then I’m willing to do the work to change it. Having a policy background helps with that. In a good society, you adjust things to improve the society so that it keeps spiraling in a useful direction. For me, because I respect rules but also have comfort with breaking some of them, that’s where my innovation strength comes in. I don’t allow myself to fit in the box. I respect boxes. When working with the team in our cybersecurity projects, it’s binary. You’d have to be particular. The rules and the languages are important.
In the media space or when I’m cooking, because I don’t know the rules, sometimes we come up with some special stuff. I didn’t know that wasn’t supposed to go with that. It worked in the pan so let’s go for it. People liked it. What’s the result? I learned to say, “What’s the result?” For our films, people started responding to them positively and they were like, “We need this.” We screened this one film called 1 Angry Black Man and we won at the Baltimore Film Festival. We won the Oscar. We won an award for directing.
This 70-something-year-old lady followed me and my wife to the car. At first, I was like, “We’re in Baltimore. I hope this lady isn’t trying to mug me.” She was cool. She was like, “I’m sorry to bother you. I wanted to thank you for respecting my intelligence. I saw myself on that screen.” One of the Pulitzer Prize finalist critics out of the Boston Globe gave us 3 out of 4 stars. Another critic said that it was the most important film released, right on the heels of the George Floyd murder. It was satisfying. He said, “Never before in film history had I seen the approach that they took.”
We broke some rules. We got outside some of the lines. This little film we made a week and a day have been one of our best performers. One of my blessings is probably the engineering math brain but also the creative free-spirit brain. They roll together. When some people talk about politics, they’re like, “The left-wing or the right-wing.” I’ll say, “They’re both wings on the same bird called America and we need them both to fly. Let’s work together.”
I can relate as an architect. Maybe it’s something in our respective architectural, engineering past where you’re trained to solve problems. You’re trained to be a critical thinker. My career has had many different chapters, architecture proper, startups, creating businesses, and investing. Whenever anybody asks what I do, I say, “I’m an architect. I solve problems.” What you’re describing is how you get trained in the world of architecture and engineering to bring both sides together. I love your metaphor about both wings. In terms of Soulidifly, you’re showing up with the mechanics. I’ll call it the producer in you. How are you bringing that creativity and inspiring those creatives to come and tell those stories like the 1 Angry Black Man or the other ones that you’re mentioning?
We dangle a thing called a check in front of us.
It’s that simple, money.Do everything you know how to do, and whatever else we need will show up. Click To Tweet
It helps, especially with the bankable talent on board. They opt-in along with the stories because like many of us, they say, “We hadn’t heard those stories. What an interesting angle.” It’s a fresh perspective. Creatives like to be a part of a fresh perspective. We do quite a bit of that. We did four films in our first year. We’re the first independent film company to do four feature films in our first year. We did four the second year too.
We’re about to release a big one called ￼Freedom’s Path. We want to release it in time for consideration for the Oscar season because it’s that good. We’re about to ramp up production on another film with some bankable talent. When I told my wife who we landed, she’s like, “Oh my God.” I’m like, “We can’t tell anybody. Don’t tell anybody.” You’ll hear it pretty soon. We’ve got five in the marketplace, a couple of soundtracks. I’m singing on one of the soundtracks, that’s the other thing.
What ends up happening is you get this creative spurt and you get out of your way and you do what’s required or you figure out how to make it happen. One of our films is on Netflix, it’s called Love Dot Com: The Social Experiment. There’s a lot of fun with the people in the film, Kym Whitley, Brave Williams, Tobias Truvillion, LisaRaye, and Raheem DeVaughn. Raheem said, “You can use all my music.” I’m an IP lawyer. He doesn’t have a sync license for all his music. Once we figured that out, we’re like, “We’ve got to hire somebody to help to do songs.” We brought this wonderful guy, Britton Smith, from California. He did a great job for us. He and I did a couple of songs together. I ended up singing one that I’d written for my lady and it made the soundtrack.
You’re a recording artist as well. What don’t you do? Maybe we should focus on that. What doesn’t BK do?
I haven’t figured it out yet.
You do everything.
I don’t say that to be boastful. I say that to be an exemplar of what curious human beings are capable of. My wife likes to say that I’m a bit of a polymath. I like to retort with, “I can’t sleep.” I wake up. I don’t do drugs. I’ve never liked to go to any kind of strip club or something where I’m going to waste my money throwing it at people. I work. I wake up and I write. I was writing a script for a movie that we hope to do with some folks on one of the championship basketball seasons. It’s going to be nice. It’s called Final Four: The Miracle Season. We’ve got another five films on deck.
We’ve got Malik Yoba’s directorial debut with a writer who’s going to become the next Shonda Rhimes. Christy S. Coleman is a killer. We’ve got this film that’s beautiful. We also have a project, The Never-Before-Seen Letters of August Wilson. We’ve got some fun stuff happening. I got a call from a friend and he got the rights for this old film. We’ll figure out what to do with that, maybe a reboot. You all know I wrote seven books. We’re probably going to do a cartoon with the Mr. Business children’s books. Who knows? Maybe we’ll break some more rules.
We love what you described in terms of breaking rules because that’s something we talk a lot about and that’s where Ces was going to go. I loved how delicate and how insightful you talked about as a lawyer respecting rules but knowing when you need to bend or break them and that’s something that we, in Structured Mischief, are thinking a lot about. Part of what we see is, rebels with a cause sometimes you need to go around those barricades, those rules, and bend them to see that goal that they know is beyond and that will create a better good.
In that vein, we have a simple concept we wanted to run by you which is about minimum viable products. When you’re talking to a startup person about a minimum viable product, we think there’s an idea in this world of creating good and rebels with a cause of a minimum viable collective. That minimum viable collective is made up of four persona types. These persona types could be all within one person, but probably you need at least four people. You need these persona types to move the collective and to move forward and that’s a hustler, a hacker, a hipster, and a heretic. They all have to start with age. Which one are you?
I’m the fifth one. I’m the holy man. Part of what adds to the mix is faith. It’s a belief in something bigger than yourself. We’re scientists by training with the architecture, engineering, etc. but there’s still stuff that we don’t quite understand. What I tell the team is to do everything you know how to do and whatever else we need will show up. The universe is friendly. God has a sense of humor. When I walk in that faith, it helps me not to worry. I don’t know which project and which time will fly the highest. I don’t know which one will get picked up.
What I do know is that if I do them well and put them forward, they will find their way. If I make them so that they’re sustainable, if I make them so they solve a problem, that they are needed, I knew there was a need for more positive programs, especially for women and people of color. I knew there was a need for better cybersecurity so we created the most powerful cybersecurity in the world. I knew there is a need for people to see better films but sometimes they couldn’t afford it so we’re about to release a technology that allows people to go to the movies for free or to experience the digital services for free. I knew that children, brown children in particular, needed to see images of themselves on the cover of books so I wrote a bunch of children’s books. You take a leap of faith in the first instance.
What some great philosophers would tell you is that you get to a level of understanding where even the leap of faith is a nice walk. Not even that is something that you have to worry about but it takes human beings, as mere mortals, some time to get to the place where we don’t worry. In the African American tradition, particularly in the Deep South with so much trouble back in the Antebellum South, you would have people with so much faith and they would say, “If you’re going to worry, don’t pray. If you’re going to pray, don’t worry.” At some point, the burden of hate and worry is too heavy. When you let it go, you can soar. I am having so much fun. I am working probably ten times what I did when I had 44,000 employees. I’ve got four core employees. We have a TV network, magazine, movies, books, investment, and companies. We’re laughing. We’re having a good time. Do what you love and the money will follow.
At the end of the day, I’m the holy man. I’m the guy that comes in and I pray with the team. I’m honest with them about what I’m feeling when I’m frustrated. I’m probably a little bit of some of those other guys too and that’s part of my strategic advantage. In my book, The Tale of The Tee, the face on the cover is the face of Dr. George Grant. He invented the golf tee in 1899. Before he invented the golf tee, golfers would go around and have to make these mini sand dunes to tee off. A lot of people don’t know that it’s a black guy that did this. He was also the first black professor at Harvard. He was also a dentist. This idea of being multi-talented and doing many things was not foreign to people who had to do that.
Do you remember The Pugilist, Jack Johnson? We know him for his boxing feet. People don’t know he was also a wonderful mechanic and had these cars and could work on stuff. There’s Ken Burns with his great documentary called Unforgiveable Blackness where Jack goes fast and passes an officer. The officer catches up to him, “I don’t know with you, champ, but this is going be an expensive ticket.” “How expensive?” This was in 1900-something. He says, “It’s probably going to be $50.” He takes out his money, rolls off this wad, and says, “Here’s $100 because I’m coming back the same way I’m leaving.”
Talk about cool. Here’s the other thing that people don’t know about Jack, he invented the wrench. They insult him. They called it the monkey wrench. That’s where that name comes from. What we have to do as a society is to stop looking up at the sky and choosing to see half of it. We have to invest in all our women, all our young men, children in the lowest of income neighborhoods, children in the neediest countries. Don’t forget to people on the margins, a lot of what we enjoy now, lights, the subway, air conditioning. The Ring doorbell was invented by a black lady. GPS, a little short black lady at NASA. If you don’t know that and don’t teach people that, then they don’t value people from these other communities.
People look at Leonardo da Vinci and they don’t appreciate that. He was an orphan born out of wedlock, poor, uneducated, but produced the most recognized religious painting of all time, one of the most important portraits. People on the margins have become our innovators, artists, creators, and we have to figure out ways to support them all. When we do that, we get to the cure for cancer quicker. We get to a cure for Alzheimer’s quicker. We get to the cure for dementia quicker. Those ailments don’t discriminate, neither should we.
I’m sure you know of Adam Grant’s work, a professor at Wharton. He wrote Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. That’s been very much a big part of our inspiration. Everything you’re describing of folks that are, in essence, outsider status that are the folks that change and move the world. You’ve done such a great job bringing that to life in many, varied, and amazing ways. I wanted to take us to some of the things that you’re doing from an urban perspective. You’ve worked with the Urban League and you’re also working with kids in communities and thinking about poverty abatement. Can you talk a little bit about the work that you’re doing in that case? I know that Ces is also committed to helping solve the homeless problem. I’m sure you’ve got an angle on that.
I do believe in nonprofit service. I’m on a board called Readers Without Borders. That’s designed to help add more female and minority writers to the book space. We’ll hire them, get the graphic designers, get the books written, and into the school systems, into libraries. I’m on the board of Media Mentors. What we do is train the next generation of media-savvy professionals. I’m on the Lewis Latimer House Museum board and it’s designed to create training for people and expose them to the great genius of Lewis Latimer but also to get them interested in STEM areas. There are a few others, The Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation board. We have a Civil Rights curriculum that we hope to get in schools around the country. I don’t know if you know about Joan but she’s one of the pioneers of Civil Rights. She happened to be a white woman. She was a Freedom Rider. There’s a famous picture of her at a sit-in with people pouring sugar and stuff on her. She was arrested during the Freedom Rides in 1961 in Jackson, Mississippi. ￼She’s still fiery and fired up. It speaks to our better angels.
What the service has done for me is it reminds me that it takes a village and that all of us are capable of showing up with our best self and contributing to what I call the divine puzzle of life, which always is resolve and love. People think that being kind is weak, but it’s not. It’s a deliberate act of strength. I choose to be kind. I’m a black belt in five different forms of animal-style Kung Fu and martial arts. I can mess you up but I don’t lead with that. I lead with love. I don’t lead with my claws. It’s a choice. I tell my kids, “It takes more talent to heal than to hurt. What I want you to do is have a love for healing. I want you to figure out how to go to that higher level.” They always want me to show them how to break boards. At some point, when they’re ready, I’ll do that.The two important points in our life are the day you're born, and the day you figure out why. Click To Tweet
Part of the reason our company is successful is that our mission is about media with the message. It’s not for the money. It’s not for fame. I live a good life. I don’t need any fame. I want people to stay out of my business. Our movies are designed to give some lift, to give some healing, to be a part of the love of humanity. We owe a lot of people. There have been tremendous sacrifices so that we can have the lives that we have and enjoy the things that we enjoy. We should never take those for granted. For me, giving back is essential. The two important points in our life are the day you’re born and the day you figure out why. When you figure out why you start doing that work, your next immediate assignment is to figure out how to pay it forward and teach the next generation. If they don’t learn, we didn’t teach. I don’t blame young people for this stuff they don’t know. They’re young. I blame the people that are supposed to mentor them and care for them. We have to teach them to be kind. We have to teach them to be the best version of themselves and our nonprofit organizations help us to do that.
Teach them that they can be entrepreneurs. DJ mentioned that you’re getting involved in Virginia, in the cannabis industry, teaching young people how to become cannabis entrepreneurs. Maybe you could tell us a little more about that.
There’s a group that has a license. My wife is one of the principals in the group and I’m behind the scenes helping. If we win the license, then we will have one of the few grow facilities in Virginia, which will happen to be majority-owned by a diverse group of women. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a place where there are a lot of growth opportunities, especially when recreational happens. The leadership in the state is committed to that. Medical marijuana is legal in Virginia. That’s the license we’re going after. There are some other places that we’re interested in as we create this organization with tentacles across the nation. We anticipate being serious players in that business.
You’ve said so much in this conversation that’s inspiring. Given that you had a 50-year plan, we also like to ask our guests, what would you tell the younger version of yourself about how they should think about their life? What would you tell yourself years from how to think about your life?
Those are two interesting questions. The last one is a little bit more challenging. I’ve never quite had that one posed. The first part, what would I tell the younger version of myself, I’ve got that before. What I say is that you’re enough. Confidence is one of the most important things that we can pour into our children. The younger me didn’t have the confidence that the older me had. If I had the confidence earlier, I might have become an entrepreneur earlier. You’re enough is the message and then wherever that leads would have led a younger me to find.
If I could go into the future and grab some nuggets and come back, I would probably say, “Eat more vegetables.” There’s some guy who’s trying to let me live 120 years and I want to be active in doing it. You had no way of knowing this but I saw the doctor and I lost 8 pounds. My blood pressure is down twenty points. No blood pressure medicine for me. I have no medicines. I don’t take any medicine. I’m healthy. I can bench press 250 pounds. If I didn’t know that eating better and working out a little bit could do that, I would’ve been doing this a long time ago.
You have many futures. If there’s one thing you would add to your future or one thing that you’d want to further double down in this 50-year plan, what would it be?
Creating the foundation is up next, that’s in the near sights. What I’d love to do is create a team of similarly situated people and we take some hills together. We build these pools we may never swim in. Let’s say the three of us figure out, “Let’s pull some resources and do X, Y, or Z.” I’d like to find like-minded people. Steel sharpens steel. For a lot of this journey, reading the blueprints of someone is one thing. Executing blueprints with a group is part of going far. We can do so much as individuals. I want to have the long-term legacy and impact that is characteristic of groups working together.
Organizing and galvanizing that group, the best of us for the rest of us, and going out is like our own Justice League or our own set of Avengers. Become those people that tackle the big problems and were known for. We come in and the magic happens. We tell them, “We’re regular people doing extraordinary things.” We don’t make it about us but we know that we are a critical part of the formula. We’re the seed for the redwoods. All of a sudden, this big, strong thing happens. It starts with a little seed. We can be those catalysts. The more we work together, the further we’ll go. We leave behind a world that’s better than the world that we’re borrowing.
That’s very much core to this idea of Structured Mischief and doing good in the world. The conversations that we’ve had have been inspiring, in particular, what you’ve accomplished, what you’re doing, how you pivoted from your first failure. I don’t think you’ve had any other failures. You learned that lesson well. What we’re hoping to do is capture these stories and inspire people to do good in the world. There’s so much craziness in the world on many levels. I would love to have you back to talk about the craziness of the world, maybe that would be a whole other conversation. In the US, we are at a time of change of political leadership, change in culture, socio-economic priorities, which is all good. If we also look globally, we’re also seeing so much change afoot. What we’re trying to capture is people like you that have done it, have figured out how to bend and look beyond the rules to create good. Thank you so much for joining us.
I have one last question. Do you take a vacation? Do you take time for yourself? Do you turn off, ever?
Probably not as much as I should. We have a crazy friend who’s an ambassador from Mexico to Singapore and a few other countries. We call the group The 100. He’s been doing it longer. We go somewhere exotic and we have a ball of it. We were in Rome. I read a letter for the Pope. We’re supposed to meet the Pope but then it rained. The schedule got off. I read a letter from Pope Francis. They shut down parts of Vatican City during Holy Week. Forty thousand people a day and they shut it down for this little group. My friend has a little bit of influence. That was cool. That was a vacation. We spent time in the Mediterranean.
One of my favorite films is Cinema Paradiso. We went to a part of Italy. We recreated scenes from our favorite movies. The original Toto from Cinema Paradiso was there. We introduced everybody. We do fun stuff like that. In my first year, I made five movies but we only count the four that are commercial. I do but I don’t take as much time as I should. It’s important to rest and recharge. I’m working on doing a little more with that. COVID-19 has slowed down a lot of that. What DJ will tell you privately is that we both love cars. What I’ve been doing is, occasionally, I’ll go hop in one of my fantastic beasts and take a ride. I keep it at the speed limit or maybe five above. If I accidentally need to go a little faster, I will. For the most part, I find the joys in simple things. I’m the principal cook at the house. Writing is a joy, so I’ll take the time to do that. I write pretty fast. A children’s book, I can probably write it in a day. A novel, probably in a couple of months. I’ve got two 300-page novels that I’m polishing.
It seems like your work passions, you’ve incorporated into your lifestyle in a way where you get enjoyment and you get these moments of rest.
They’re part of the joy. It’s not like I’m working so much that I have to put them down and do something else for joy. For me, being able to do the work is a joy, being able to see the film and see it come together is the joy, doing the soundtrack and putting out the sound is a joy. It’s fun. It’s the process of living. When you get to this place where you know how to live and you enjoy life in such a way, almost every waking moment is a moment of awe, it’s a moment of joy, it’s a moment of inspiration. It can be raining outside, “BK, how are you feeling?” “I’m great. I woke up on the right side of the dirt.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Never miss the chance to be amazed. Thank you so much, BK. It’s great to have you on.
Thank you. I’m happy to come back.
- A Promised Land
- Mr. Business
- The Tale of The Tee
- Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
- Media Mentors
- Lewis Latimer House Museum
- The Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation
About BK Fulton
BK Fulton, Chairman & CEO of Soulidifly Productions
Soulidifly is a full feature film, stage, and TV investment and production company designed to promote a more inclusive narrative in major media. Solidly produced 4 feature-length films in 2018 – a first in the history of independent cinema – (River Runs Red, Atone, 1 Angry Black Man, and Love Dot Com: The Social Experiment). Soulidifly also co-produced a biopic on Bass Reeves titled Hell on the Border. Distribution partners include Lionsgate, Freestyle Digital Media, Gravitas Ventures and Urban Home Entertainment. BK is an author of 9 books including the popular Mr. Business – a 7 book children’s series and the Amazon top seller – The Tale of The Tee.
Soulidifly publishes SoulVision Magazine and owns SoulVision.TV – delivering over 400 hours of positive and inspirational streaming television via Apple TV, Amazon-Fire, Roku, tablets, smart-TVs, and all mobile phones worldwide. In 2020 the company will release three new films, an album, a novel, and the first app in the world that allows members to go to any movie in theaters or IMAX and pay for any streaming media service for free.
Prior to becoming a full-time author and media entrepreneur, BK was Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic Region (VA, MD, DC, DE) for Verizon Communications, Inc. ($5.5B Rev.) and President of Verizon Virginia and West Virginia ($3.5B/$400M Rev. respectively). He has held senior leadership, media, technology and policy development posts with the U.S. Department of Commerce, AOL, Time Warner, Verizon (FiOS TV and founder Community Studio) and the National Urban League (first NPO in the world to broadcast a conference over the Internet).
BK is an inventor (EZ Reader), a published author and is considered one of the most influential African Americans in technology. His thought-leading papers on technology and community building are permanently archived at the Smithsonian Institute. BK is trained as an intellectual property lawyer and also serves on the boards of Norfolk State University, TowneBank, Aer Wireless, PreShow.co, Virginians for Reconciliation, the Joan Trumpauer Mulholland Foundation, Reading Without Borders, the Lewis Latimer House Museum, Media Mentors, The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Boon Castle Media & Entertainment (US Division), and MediaU.com (the first on-line film school with UC transcripts in the world).
He is the Chairman of 7 companies including SoulVision.TV, Ario Technologies (emeritus), Body Snatchers Productions, Encrypted Sensors, Encrypted Grid and founding editor of SoulVision Magazine. BK is a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the da Vinci Center Angel Advisory Board, the Global Advisory Board of Education for Sharing (E4S), the Executive Leadership Council and the Boule.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree in urban affairs and planning with two years of computer engineering and architecture (Virginia Tech), a Master of Science degree and Sloan Fellowship in management and policy analysis (Harvard’s – Kennedy School of Government and the New School’s -Milano School of Management and Policy Analysis), and a Juris Doctorate in intellectual property, electronic commerce and telecommunications law (New York Law School). He is the father of twin boys and is married to Jacquelyn E. Stone, Esq. Find out more at Soulidifly.com.