Justin was born in Salisbury, NC. He moved to Virginia around the age of two when his parents split. He, his mother, and younger brother, Anthony, moved in with his grandmother in Ettrick, Va. Justin proudly calls Virginia home. As a kid, Justin developed a love for sports and music culture. So much so, that he remembers many of our historical moments like they were yesterday. He told me, “I’m a big fan of nostalgia so some of my favorite articles were written in nostalgia prose. I remember where I was when Michael Jordan played, where I was for the 49ers vs Cowboys games, and where I was when Tupac and Biggie died. For whatever reasons, I always had a vivid memory for those types of things.” When it comes to great literature, the writer’s memory is his “Golden Goose.”
Justin and I met up in the 804, home sweet home. For as long as I’ve known Justin, he has been a dedicated writer. Believe it or not, one of our first encounters was HIM interviewing ME for an athlete feature at Hampton. Ten years later, the table has ironically turned. Justin, still a dedicated writer, is now internationally published. He works as a freelance journalist and has been published by The Rolling Stone, LA Weekly, The Smoking Section, and The National Abu Dhabi. Justin works closely with entertainment mogul Karen Civil and also wrote an amazing article on ESPN’s Stuart Scott that gained national attention. To add strength to his resume, Justin earned a Master’s in Strategic Marketing and Communications from Georgetown University. What I find special about Justin’s work is his ability to capture nostalgia. As we wrapped up the conversation he eluded that there is a new opportunity looming in the horizon. I bring to you the thoughts of an resourceful young writer in this week’s #ShineHard conversation.
What is your passion and when did you know?
Justin: Honestly, I found writing by accident. My last semester at Hampton I had to take an elective course, it was “online blogging” or something like that. At first, I was like, “I’m just taking this because I need to graduate.” The stuff I learned in the class was pretty cool and I kept it with me. But when I moved to Chicago in summer 2008 and I was looking for a job out there. I told myself, “I need something to pass the time when I’m not applying for jobs.”
If you remember, DJ Tay Jamesand I used to do the College Radio Mix Tapes. People would always hit me up looking for new music and who to check for. So I figured let me apply some of the stuff I learned from my blogging class. Create a cheap little website that I can manage for free and all my friends from around the country, instead of me trying to send you all a file one at a time; Just go to my website and just get the song from there. I started posting songs and I wanted to add my opinion on them. Maybe four or five sentences for each song, actually turned into me writing articles. That’s what really allowed me to hone my skills. One thing led to another and I started getting picked up by other sites.
Who did you look up to as a kid and now as a writer?
Justin: My family wise, definitely my mother and my grandmother, and definitely my uncle. My uncle passed away in 1999 from colon cancer. Every little kid has people that they look up to outside their family. Like every other kid, Micheal Jordan was definitely there. I really thought I was going to be the next Micheal Jordan man. Music wise, Tupac Shakur. Tupac Shakur in my eyes is the greatest musician of all-time and that goes far beyond music. Malcom X, Jim Carey, Martin Lawrence, Stuart Scott. As a writer, Ralph Wiley, Jonathan Abrams, I also remember R.L. Stine when I was growing up from all the Goosebumps books.
Tell me about some of the notable work you’ve done as a writer..?
Justin: I guess the most recognizable name that people would know is Rolling Stone. I did a piece on Zach Kerr, who is a rookie defensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts. I believe he’s second in sacks this year for all rookies. His agent Chris Coy was paramount in making that happen. I’ve written for The National based in Abu Dhabi, which is an international publication. I’ve done a couple of pieces for Los Angeles Weekly and The Sports Fan Journal. I’ve worked with Karen Civil for a few years and Karen is one of the most recognizable and powerful names in the music industry right now. I still write for The Smoking Section. That’s who I write for full time and where a lot of people may recognize my name from. I can’t being to praise TSS enough and what they’ve meant for my progression. I owe so much to that place. Always will, too.
Justin: I met Karen…
What inspires you to succeed?
Justin: Shoot man, Failure. I don’t want to sound morbid when I say this, but ya know, I’ve always had a concept of mortality. The one thing everyone on earth has in common is that we all have an expiration date. And whatever I do in between February 1st, 1986 when I was born and whatever day that it ends, I wanna be able to look back on my life and be like, “Ay look man I made an impact. I made somebodies life just a little bit better.” Some people do that through civil rights. Some people do that through being a lawyer or a doctor. For myself, it’s with words. It’s writing! I hope I’ve made some peoples lives a little bit easier or someone can find a little bit of themselves in my work. I want to continue doing that and just reach more people. I’m real big on legacy.
Whats been the biggest challenge in your career thus far?
Justin: Aw man, just staying motivated. Always trying to get better. Honestly, I would love to be able to write more. I work a day job from 8:30 to 5 and I try to get to the gym a lot of days. Then you know you gotta come home, eat, and unwind. Then I just write from like 8:30 to 2 everyday. So it kinda is like a second job, but I wanna do it full time. It’s been all about time management and trying to find time to pursue a passion, because that’s what it is at the end of the day, it’s a passion. Sometimes you’re in the car and you ask yourself, “Am I doing this in vein? Am I doing the right thing?”It’s human instinct to question yourself, whether you admit it or not. The biggest challenge is to just not be my own worst enemy.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Justin: The fact that I’m still doing it. It’s one thing to have your friends say, “You’re doing great. Keep it up!” You always need that Day One Support, but it’s also great to have people that you’ve never even met say, “Hey man, I really really like what you’re doing.” Not that you put one above the other, but it just gives validation to a lot of things. My biggest accomplishment is writing for different outlets, and more importantly, writing stuff that people come back to me and say, “Hey, THAT was great.”
What frustrates you most about today’s culture?
Justin: Today’s culture is great because it allows us to reach out to people or speak to an audience. But sometimes, I believe it allows us to highlight voices that may not even need to be heard. Take into account the Mike Brown case. You have a lot of different opinions that are coming in, but sometimes you have people who are coming in from totally left field. It’s not a great thing when EVERYBODY has an opinion, because everybody’s opinion doesn’t add to the content of the conversation. The best way to phrase it is, “We got too many cooks in the Kitchen.”
What would you say is the #1 factor behind your success?
Justin: The number one factor to my success is that I always speak from my heart. And that’s one thing I admire about Tupac Shakur. Whenever he spoke or rapped, you listened. Obviously, I’m not Tupac, but I always try to do that with my writing. I always try to put a piece of myself in my writing.I think people have seen that and they appreciate it.
All-Time →Top 3 Athletes and Top 3 Artists. Go!
Justin: Mann, Gotta go Jordan. Two, Ali. And three I know you’re gonna give me the side eye when I say this, but honestly, LeBron. Artist wise,Tupac, Marvin Gaye, and Jodeci.
Advice for the aspiring columnist out there?
Justin: The main thing is recognize your voice. You never want to write to perform with the crowd. If you have opinions on things and you have a certain style to your writing, never lose that. Never be afraid to write what’s on your mind. This is one of those games where you gotta do it everyday. Realize the moment you slack off there’s a thousand other people waiting to take your spot.
Johnny: Your Voice! In a world that wants you to be everything else, the greatest success is being YOURSELF. Justin, keep up the great work! The future is bright.#ShineHard
Interested in learning more or connecting with Justin?