Podcast: Racially savvy leadership with Philip Jacobs

Amanda: Philip Sharp Skills Jacobs is a hip-hop artist, speaker and a leader. Philip has released four albums, written two books and spoken to thousands about leadership, diversity and inclusion. According to him, his true wealth and legacy are through his wife and two adorable sons. Philip, thank you for joining us today.

Philip Jacobs: It’s my absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Amanda: We love talking to Philip. He was the Medallion Honoree here on campus about a year ago. So if you want to go online, there’s a video about you, and part of your story, and how you ended up coming to SPU, and I love that video.

Philip Jacobs: That’s great.

Amanda: I realize I was a little bit, I was there, I was a part of it, but-

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, right.

Amanda: But some of the things you say, every single time I watch it, give me goose bumps. Can you give just a snippet of that background, and how you ended up coming to Seattle, and SPU?

Philip Jacobs: Absolutely, so it’s kind of a funny story, in a way. I really stumbled on SPU. I didn’t know the rich heritage and legacy that being a Falcon was, and I’d met a gentleman by the name of Joe Snell, when I was attending the Student of Color Conference at Highline, Highline Community College. I’m a transfer student, and I met Joe Snell there, who was a recruiter for SPU at that time.

We just kind of struck up a conversation, and we hit it off. I was like, “If somebody like him is at SPU, I would love to check it out.” So I came, and for one, I think the campus was just beautiful. I think it was maybe around fall, and I think that probably played a role in it.

The thing that got me, though, was Gwinn Commons, you know.

Amanda: The cafeteria.

Philip Jacobs: The cafeteria, and the food was good, and there was chefs, and I’m new to the whole college experience. So I just started putting two and two together, like, they got good food, and here’s this cool guy that I met. And I like the campus. I could see myself here. And so, that kind of just led to me just being interested, and I really believe that it’s the Lord ordering my steps, kind of deciding, “Okay, you take that step,” and the process was really easy for me, for some reason.

So things just kind of fell into place, and I ended up at SPU, and here we are, several years later, and still very much a part of this community, and embraced, so yeah, that’s… I would say that that’s been pretty much my experience at SPU.

Amanda: And I remember, you had another big milestone in your hip-hop career here at SPU. Right? You had your first big performance in the talent show.

Philip Jacobs: Oh, yeah! Absolutely. So, the annual talent show, that was something that I always remember. Because, during that time, so this was like, 2000, I want to say, 2007, when I performed at that. And so, at this time, hip-hop wasn’t as mainstream on SPU’s campus as it is now, you know?

Amanda: Yeah.

Philip Jacobs: You’re more likely, probably, to hear some of the professors maybe even playing hip-hop in their classes now, I don’t know. But back then, it was just wasn’t, so I decided that I was going to be a part of the talent show, and I was going to showcase my gift and my talent, which is hip-hop rapping.

I got onstage, and to me, it seemed like thousands of people, but it was probably a couple hundred. But it was a big deal.

Amanda: I’d say it was bout 1,600.

Philip Jacobs: It was 1,600? Wow!

Amanda: Yeah, I think so, back then.

Philip Jacobs: Okay, yeah, so… wow, so it was, yeah, over 1,000. And there was the big Jumbotron screens, and people, there was judges, and I remember, Stephen [Newby] was actually one of the judges there. And I got onstage, and I had that little trepidation, like, “Man, what if they’re not feeling my music?”, and you know, I’m a hip-hop artist, and I’m just different, you know.

But I just decided to get up there, and just do my thing, and have fun with it. I didn’t win the talent show, but I did come in third place. And from that experience, that led to me getting into the school newspaper, and just, more people knowing about me on campus.

I really believe that was paramount in opening up some doors, in terms of, just the connections that I’ve made here, in allowing me to do some other things as a result of that. So, I guess, as a side note I would say with that, is just, step out of your comfort zone, and be willing to use your gifts and talents wherever you find yourself at, because you just never know what that’ll lend itself to, later on in the future.

Amanda: As you began to pursue music, and produce albums, and then, your music was on television, and then, your music was in movies, and… was there a moment where you thought, “Oh, this is, I’ve made it”? Did you, was it hearing your music on TV? Was it watching an episode of Castle, and there was your voice? Where was the moment where you just thought, “Oh, this is it, I did it”?

“…be willing to use your gifts and talents wherever you find yourself at, because you just never know what that’ll lend itself to, later on in the future.”

Philip Jacobs: What was funny for me was, at this time, I had moved back to California, and I had some friends who lived out here in Washington, and they called me, because they heard one of my songs on this show called Nikita, which came on FX.

They called me, all the way, all hype, like, “Oh, man, you… man, what you out there doing? We hear your music, you just blew up!” And I’m in this little bitty apartment, mind you, like, I’m still struggling. I’m fresh out of college, but that was just like, a great feeling, and I think those types of experiences just continue to motivate you to keep doing what you’re doing.

There hasn’t been like a, “Oh, I’ve arrived,” type of moment just yet. Maybe when I get that $1 million check, then I might be like, “Okay, maybe, yeah… I might need to kick back a little bit.” But there’s just, for me, it’s just been confirmations along the way that the hard work is paying off, and some of the goals that I’ve set, I’m realizing them. So yeah, that, I think that’s been more so my experience, like, a gradual success.

Amanda: Yeah, and you haven’t wanted to keep that success to yourself, either. I know you’ve been back here on campus many times, talking to current students and incoming students. You talk to high school kids and other groups around… what is that fire in you that just says, “I can’t sit still, I have to keep paying it forward”?

Philip Jacobs: One thing that I feel is unique about me, that I didn’t know was unique about me, until somebody else older, much older than me, pointed it out, just my mindset to our legacy. And I think a lot about what type of impact I’m going to leave behind after I’m no longer here. Not to be morbid, and I haven’t been diagnosed with anything, that I have six months to live, thank God.

But that’s just kind of how I’m wired. I’m always thinking about, what’s my impact? And I’ve been like that, since a very early age. And so, I think I knew the power of planting the seed in somebody, at an early age, because there is several people that planted seeds in me.

I have a older brother, who, he used to tell me that I needed to read books on investing, and money and business, and stuff. And he told me that when I was 11 or 12. And so, when I was 13, I read this book called Rich Dad Poor Dad, and the concepts that I learned from there evolved into some of the things that I’m even doing day.

And so, I know that if I can kind of, just plant some of these seeds, and whoever’s willing to listen, who knows what type of impact that could make, and what they will be able to accomplish in their sphere of influence, when they become, when they grow up. So I think that’s a big part of it for me, is just, I know the power of planting seeds.

And I know that, even though we all aspire to, to live in a ripe old age, even if you make it to 70, 80, 90, it’s still… our time here is so short. But what we do with that time can last through generations. So I just want my life to count.

I think, at the end of the day, I just want to, I want it to matter that I was here, and not just on a little scale, but just something that even if it’s it in my family, they’re like, “Great-great-great-great-great Grandpa Jacobs, man, he was amazing. He is the reason why such-and-such happened, or…”

So I think that’s just the, probably the biggest motivator for me.

Philip Jacobs performs at the 2019 Alumni Awards Dinner | Photo by Dan Sheehan
Philip Jacobs performs at the 2019 Alumni Awards Dinner | Photo by Dan Sheehan

Amanda: So you’re talking about planting seeds.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: So reading Rich Dad Poor Dad at 13, where most 13-year-old boys would say, “You’d have to pay me to sit down and read that,” but so, I’m just picturing that now. So you’re reading that at 13. Did that plant a seed? Did you know at 13 that you were going to write books?

Philip Jacobs: Well, so, I have to give credit to me writing books to my mother. Because my mother, she wrote a book when I was, I want to say I was about 16 or 17. And this was during the time, where part of my story is, I had a stepfather who passed away. And then, six weeks later, my biological father passed away. And I think that’s also a big part of my wiring, in terms of my drive.

But she wrote that book out of a response to her grief, called Waiting on My Lunch Date, which is still on Amazon, and all of that stuff. So shout out to Mom, plug there, but I saw her writing books, and I have a aunt who wrote, who’s written several books. And so, for me, growing up in that type of household, in that environment, it just kind of made it normal.

And so, that’s another thing that I feel is very important, is that we aspire to what we’re exposed to. So if we’re exposed to very little, or just, kind of a boxed in existence, that’s all we’ll… most of the times, that’s all we’ll try to achieve. Unless somebody comes and opens up those doors, and say, “Wait, there’s more out here.”

So I had a mother who was putting out albums, you know, music, and writing books, and she got her degree. And I just saw these things. She took me to Europe, when I was 1- years old, and just exposed me to the world, and other things outside of my neighborhood, my community. And from that, that just made me believe that it was possible, that I can do it too.

I think, for me, the things that I’m doing now, a big part of it is, I want to, I’m trying to put myself in the position to be able to expose my kids to more, so that they aspire to even more.

So that’s, yeah, that’s what put it in my mind, that I could write books more, so it wasn’t necessarily reading Rich Dad Poor Dad, but I think that desire and hunger for knowledge and learning, coupled with a mother who wrote, kind of just put it together for me, where I could say, “You know, maybe I can put some words on paper, and it’ll make sense, and somebody’ll want to read it, too.”

Amanda: And that’s everything, right, with writing a book? Ask anyone who’s written a book. It’s the feeling, like, you actually can.

“You know, maybe I can put some words on paper, and it’ll make sense, and somebody’ll want to read it, too.”

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: That’s the difference.

Philip Jacobs: Absolutely, sure.

Amanda: It’s just the feeling that you can. Okay, well, I have two responses to what you just said.

Philip Jacobs: Okay.

Amanda: First of all, and I think I speak for everyone who’s listening, I want to meet your mom.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: So next time, just bring your mom with you, okay?

Philip Jacobs: Absolutely, yeah.

Amanda: Philip, take two, we’ll have mom.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, yeah.

Amanda: But the second thing is the, you aspire to what you’re exposed to, and what clicked in my brain is, you really can’t… it’s hard to manufacture inspiration. And I think we’ve all tried, and it’s difficult to do that.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: But what we can all do is control what we’re exposed to. That is something that we can control.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: Or at least try and control.

Philip Jacobs: Somewhat, yeah, yeah.

Amanda: Yeah, and we can decide to turn off the TV, and go try something new.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: Especially in a city like Seattle, there are a lot of free things available. One of my favorite things about working on a college campus is, things come to you.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: Things that you wouldn’t make plans, and drive over there and do it, but as long as it’s here, give it a try.

Philip Jacobs: Right, right, yeah.

Amanda: So, yeah, even as we’re talking, I’m thinking, “I’m going to go home, and pack up my kids, and make them go do more things.”

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, definitely!

Amanda: I think they would already complain that I expose them to a lot of things already.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah! I would say, most of the things that I did as a kid, that I’m benefiting from now, are probably things that I didn’t want to do, or didn’t think that I wanted to do, until I tried it. And then, as an adult, you appreciate it, and you say, “Wow, that really had, that really made a difference for me.” So, make your kids do more stuff? Yeah, definitely.

Amanda: They don’t have to like it.

Philip Jacobs: Nope, yeah.

Amanda: But they do have to try it.

Philip Jacobs: At least try it, yup.

Amanda: Our last episode was with Ashley Rodriguez, who is a wonderful food writer. And we talked about her kids, and exposing her kids to different tastes, and I think this is exactly the same thing.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, yeah.

Amanda: It’s just like food. You expand your palette when you’re young, and then, you just have this wealth of opportunity-

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: As an adult. Amazing.

So here you are, you’re writing, you’re speaking, you’re rapping, but it’s not just that. You have other things going on, as well.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: Because not only do you want to write, speak and rap, but you want to encourage others to do the same thing.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: So talk to us about R.E.B.E.L. Firm, and where that came from, and what that’s all about.

Philip Jacobs: R.E.B.E.L. Firm is my company. It’s kind of strange. R.E.B.E.L. Firm is multifaceted, and what I really see it as is a creative consulting firm. Ultimately, that’s what it’s going to be, when it grows up. So right now, the space that Rebel Firm occupies is in music, speaking and writing, publishing.

But there’s so much more, so I don’t want to limit it to just, “This is what it is.” But right now, the main aspects have been, like, this is the vehicle that I’ve been using to put out my music, to put out my book, and future books, and then, the speaking and the consulting that I do.

So, R.E.B.E.L. stands for Redeemed Entirely By Elohim’s Love, which, for me, that came at a time when I was in, actually at Highline, and just the concept, R.E.B.E.L., just popped in my mind, for just out of nowhere. I was sitting there in class, and that thought came to me, and I was like, “Hmm, there’s something to that.”

I think this was during the time where I was really, I guess, kind of trying to find my identity, and just kind of who I was. During that time I had a very strong encounter with God, that, a lot of the things that I used to know, or thought I used to know, I was questioning. And just like, aspects of myself, I was questioning.

Then there was also, during that time, was around, probably about a year or two after my fathers had passed away. So there was just like, this whole pot of, just trying to seek and find who I was. And so, R.E.B.E.L. came to mind, and so, just, I think, me being like, a wordsmith, the acronym, Redeemed Entirely By Elohim’s Love came to mind, just because I knew that I had been redeemed from something, like, there was a life that I was in.

Not to get too super deep into it, but just growing up in inner city LA, there’s just a lot of things that you can get into, things that I wasn’t necessarily raised around, but I went looking for. Because I think, just as a young man, there’s a part of you that seeks to rebel, and be dangerous, and push the limits and try things. And so, me, I was just one of those curious kids.

I’m like, “I’m’a try this,” and I listened to rap music, and not to blame everything on rap music, but some of that was an influence. Some of the stuff I heard Snoop say, I wanted to try out. So I went looking for some of those things, got involved in some stuff, and then I realized that these were things that weren’t going to lead me toward the ultimate goal that I had for my life. And it took some near death experiences to realize that, so I think that’s where the redeemed part came in.

Because I think that God really got ahold of me, and was like, “You know, you have a purpose. There’s something for you to do here,” so just, redeemed by his love, and getting a chance to realize more of my potential and my greatness. And so, from that, I just combined that with Firm, and the only reason I put Firm on there was just because I had this, I don’t know why I really liked the concept of, kind of like a law firm.

“I think that God really got ahold of me, and was like, ‘You know, you have a purpose. There’s something for you to do here.'”

I just saw professional people in suits, sitting at a table, so R.E.B.E.L. Firm, that’s kind of where that came from. But really, it’s really a creative consulting company that also puts out products, and just, creative endeavor, so yeah, more to come on that.

Amanda: Get more of that positive exposure out there.

Philip Jacobs: Exactly.

Amanda: That’s the other side of the coin, even saying you heard what Snoop said, and said, “I want to go try that.”

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: It’s the same. It’s the same exposure.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: If you’re exposed to something, and that inspires you down the wrong path.

Philip Jacobs: Absolutely.

Amanda: Like, it’s true on both sides, so-

Philip Jacobs: Right, right.

Amanda: Well, thank you for putting out a lot of that good exposure-

Philip Jacobs: Most definitely.

Amanda: For all of us. And our children. So when you speak to an audience, and you know that most of the time, you have kids out there, with all sorts of exposure, good, bad and somewhere in between. So you have them for a very small amount of time. What do you hope they walk away with, after they’ve sat and listened to you, what is the one thing that you just think, “Boy, if they remember this about me, I would feel successful”?

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s not so much about what they remember about me. But it’s more so, what they feel is possible. Here’s somebody talking to you that may or may not have some of the same experiences that you’ve had, that’s gone through their fair share amount of trouble and trauma, but was able to make some positive life choices, and it’s led to a pretty decent outcome.

And so, I guess that would be one thing that I would really just push to them, and hope that they get, like, life is really about the choices that you make, and how you react what happens to you in life. Really, if you can see yourself doing something, follow that, go after it.

I’ve had, I don’t know if I shared this story with you before, Amanda, but I’ve had people in my life that discouraged me from doing music when I first started. And if I would have let them crush that seed at that time, I would have never had the opportunity to have songs in television and film.

It’s funny, the other day, I’m sitting in my home studio, and my oldest son, who’s six years old, barges in. He catches me working on music, and he’s like, “Dad, I want to get on the mic, you know!” And if I had never kept going with music, he might not have had that opportunity to go in there and do that, and just be able to express himself. And even if he doesn’t decide to do music, just knowing that he can find a creative outlet to do that, that Daddy pursued his vision, and what he wanted to accomplish, “I can do the same.”

So that’s what I would just hope to get to audiences. Just follow your passion, and even if you’re not as successful as you think you should be, it’s going to lead to something else that’s gratifying, and turns out to be what I feel is your purpose, you know, so… yeah.

Amanda: Expose your moments to vision of what’s possible. I’ll digress just for one moment, because the microphone story just reminded me. So just yesterday, we were shooting a video of one of our honorees coming up. So it’ll be much like the great video of you that we’ve put out last year, and we were at a NASA summer camp. And we were going to shoot the interview right after the kids were gone, so it was all set up, and they saw it.

We told them why we were there, and while some of the kids were waiting to get picked up, I just had this idea, that I bet some of them want to sit in the chair, and see what it’s like to be in front of the camera. So I said, “Anybody who wants to be interviewed by me, just line up.” Everyone who was left lined up, and we let them sit in the chair, and I’d just ask them, “Did you have fun today?”, “What did you build?”

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, quite, yes.

Amanda: You know, “Did your rocket go the highest?”, things like that, and as the kids were leaving, I heard a kid on the phone say, “Yeah, Grandma. Yeah, I’m here. Yeah, we’re done, and guess what? I got to talk on a camera today!” And it just filled my heart with such joy.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Amanda: Of course, that doesn’t mean she’s going to go on to be an actress, or the next Barbara Walters.

Philip Jacobs: But you never know, yeah.

Amanda: But it’s like, there is nothing that is bad about new experiences-

Philip Jacobs: Yeah. Nope.

Amanda: And fun exposure, so-

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: Just reminded me of that story with your son on the microphone.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah. You got to keep inspiring people, and using whatever you got, whatever that is. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in front of a microphone or a camera. But whatever you have, and just realizing that that can plant a positive seed for somebody else, and they’ll take it and do something that you didn’t even imagine, that could, where it could go.

Amanda: Speaking of taking things, what’s next for you? What are you working on?

Philip Jacobs: So, a few things. A big thing in my life right now is, I worked at a company called Greatheart Consulting, and I get to be a part of helping develop leaders in large organizations to become more inclusive.

By inclusion, that means that, no matter what differentiator that person might have in their identity, or the people around them might have… such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, that they’re learning, these leaders that we’re equipping are learning how to work effectively with all different types of people, no matter what their background is, no matter what their ethnicity is, whatever point of difference that is… and creating more inclusive environments where people, everybody in that organization, feels like their voice is heard and that they can be them full selves, and bring their authentic selves to work, and make their fullest contribution. So that’s work that we’re engaged in right now.

I specifically focus on a solution that’s called Racially Savvy Leadership, where we help, we come in and help organizations practice inclusive leadership with race in view. So we’re meeting with top leaders, mid-level leaders, helping them have conversations about race. And so, most recently, we did two workshops in Chicago and New York for a large consulting company, where it was an audience of primarily white leaders, with people of color, who are also leaders in the organization.

We got them together, and we had them have conversations about, what was, what has been their experience around race in the company, what, pretty much, what’s their family background? And maybe looking at the views that they’ve accumulated about race throughout their experience, and in just different questions, such as, “What does it mean to have an inclusive environment where you can have these conversations freely?”

If you know that a person of color is struggling, because of racial dynamics, how can you as an inclusive leadership help alleviate some of that, by being an ally? Or coming alongside them, not fully always able to necessarily understand, but being able to empathize, and try to create a space where they can flourish, they can thrive, using your power to do that. So it’s been very rewarding work, very challenging, very powerful, transformative work, where I’m also being impacted, too, by the positivity.

Because, a lot of times, as a facilitator, as a consultant, you think that you’re going in to help change an organization, which is part of it. But you’re also being changed in the process, so it’s really cool.

Outside of that, doing a ton of music right now, working on a lot of stuff for television and film. That whole world is, it’s beautiful, but it’s a crazy business, because you’re constantly putting out this music, and it may or may not get placed sometimes.

“We come in and help organizations practice inclusive leadership with race in view.”

But there are things on the horizon, with some songs, and I got some really great producers that I’m working with, that are connected to some heavy hitters in television and film, where we got some cool stuff coming down the pipeline, maybe as soon as August, and…

Amanda: Well, now, I’m curious. So will you call us and tell us once you can announce it?

Philip Jacobs: Absolutely.

Amanda: Okay.

Philip Jacobs: Absolutely, yeah.

Amanda: We’ll add it to the description.

Philip Jacobs: Definitely.

Amanda: What it is that came through on this.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah, yeah, I’ll make it definitely an SPU exclusive.

Amanda: I love it!

Philip Jacobs: And the last, probably the biggest thing that I’m working on, is my second book, which is entitled, You Are The Solution. Really, that’s a book to do more of inspiring people to, I guess, take ownership of some of the problems that we face as a society, not just depending on government and business, or large organizations, to fix it. But also seeing what role that we all personally play in helping create a better world, a better future, for ourselves and those that we care about, and just, society in general.

So we’re in the editing process for that. Book should hopefully be coming out, fourth quarter of this year, early 2020, so… yeah, a lot of fun projects in the works.

Amanda: A lot of things coming down for you. That’s awesome.

Philip Jacobs: Yeah.

Amanda: Well, what I like to end every episode with is, if all of us in Seattle could do one thing differently when we wake up tomorrow, based on your wisdom, and what you’ve learned in your life, if all of us would listen to you and do one thing differently that would make the world a better place, what would you do?

Philip Jacobs: When you wake up before you get out of bed, just try to think of two or three things that you’re grateful about. Because I think that that sets the tone for the rest of your day. Because I think, many times, when we get up, we’re thinking about pressing issues. Or we’re checking our phones and seeing the latest headline.

That stresses us out, and just kind of puts us in a reactive space. But if we can wake up and think about every, just a few things that we’re grateful for, I think that that sets us up to appreciate the little things throughout the day, and to see life for the miracle that it is.

I think that would help, just as a starter.

Amanda: Well, I’ll start. I’m grateful for you, Philip…

Philip Jacobs: Aw.

Amanda: And all the work that you and your family are doing as part of our community, and our city, and really, the legacy that you’re leaving in this world, so…

Philip Jacobs: Thank you.

Amanda: Thank you so much for being here…

Philip Jacobs: Thank you. I’m grateful for you too.

Amanda: And joining us today.

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