Tell us about yourself and what made you decide to join the U.S. Armed Forces?
My name is Naji Hakeem Kelley and I was born and raised in Cleveland, OH. I grew up as an only child playing with toy soldiers and G.I. Joe action figures as a kid. My pops and I would watch military movies and I would always love seeing soldiers in combat, but I never thought I would join the military. It wasn’t until I was working at a corporate REIT company’s IT department that I began looking into the military as a way out to better myself and my situation. My pops served on the USS Nimitz from 1976 to 1979 so I’ve lived with a visual example of the benefits the military can offer someone who leverages that experience.
After comparing my options of active duty vs. the reserves, I decided the reserves was the best option for me because I wanted to apply what I learned from the military to my business sooner than later. For me, joining the Navy reflected my personality as an entrepreneur aspiring to operate my business on a global scale. I’ve always been a supportive person and someone who others have looked to for business tips, life advice, and personal support. The U.S. Navy is the same way. It’s integrated into everything the military does and supports every other branch by helping them to accomplish their missions. Whether it’s transporting people or materials, launching planes to help ground troops, operating on land, working in the U.S. or overseas, above or under the sea, the Navy does it all.
How has your military service encouraged you to become an entrepreneur?
I was an entrepreneur before I left for the military, but I’ve gained what I like to call a “global education” through my personal experiences traveling around the world and interacting with people from different cultures and walks of life. Witnessing the action diversity plays within the military has helped expose me to the power of having a vision or common cause to rally a group or team around for the betterment of the whole community or a way of life. In my opinion, that is powerful!
Tell us about BLNDED Media and your goal for the platform?
BLNDED is a media company building for the future we’re headed to by 2044. It reflects the diversity within tech, media and business that we see today. I noticed diverse faces of business owners weren’t shown in the media when I was conducting research before I left for the Navy in 2012. I believe media plays a very valuable role in our lives and who we become because we see so many images of what’s possible and who achieved their dreams and goals.
Entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds are missing from the popular conversation when it comes to business from my perspective. I see BLNDED Media as a platform that can help change that status quo. It’s important for us to hear and see more stories from entrepreneurs that come from different cultures around the globe, how they turned their dreams into realities, and the struggles they went through in order to build their businesses.
By 2044 people of color will become the majority in the U.S. As an organization, our goal is to build a diverse company from the founders, advisors, board of directors, employees, and content we create in order to reflect the diverse world we live in. BLNDED is a platform that leverages the power of media to change the narrative of what it looks like to be an entrepreneur as well as blend the culture of entrepreneurship.
What has been your favorite interview on BLNDED and why?
Honestly, that’s a tough question for me to answer. What comes to the top of my mind is Vi Nguyen, Founder/CEO of Homads and Veronica Martinez, Founder/CEO of Better Beehive Project. Vi’s story showed me the perspective of a woman who attends a lot of events, usually in a male dominated environment, and having to wonder if some men are taking her as a serious entrepreneur. Veronica’s story showed me the perspective of an entrepreneur who is married, raising two kids including one with a disability, serving on a couple of boards, and having a health scare of her own all while running a new startup.
Their stories helped me become more empathetic to my entrepreneurial journey. I realized that everyone has their own struggles, but women entrepreneurs have a different set of challenges thanks to society. Regardless, women entrepreneurs are not breaking and still persevering through it all. To me the strength of a woman is powerful and an asset to any organization, but their stories inspired me to want to find a woman as a co-founder for BLNDED. I’m so thankful and happy to have Alexis M. Davis, Co Founder and Chief Digital Officer, on our team.
What are your thoughts on diversity in tech? What needs to change for the future of tech?
Diversity in tech is struggling in the sense that there's a lot of talk happening, but not a lot of action by those who hold most of the keys of power in this country. I’m passionate about helping inspire more diverse entrepreneurs build scalable companies that hire employees and give back to the communities they have their offices in. It’s great to have existing companies hire more diverse talent, but what if more diverse founders hired diverse talent? I believe we would have more colorful organizations being built from the ground up.
Changes need to happen at the top levels of this country. From political powers that be, to local leaders of influence in the business and tech scene. Companies and leaders who have the capability to drive change should help expand educational opportunities within underrepresented communities, empower those in less than ideal situations and help teach them valuable skill sets that can be applicable growing industries such as tech and business. But most importantly, these changes need to occur with the input from the people from these underrepresented communities. They need to be at the table from the beginning of these so called initiatives and have their voices heard from the jump.
What does BLNDED look like in 2018?
BLNDED in 2018 becomes more consistent in content creation. Our updated website release in Q1 showcases the stories of entrepreneurs of color and our publication opens its doors to more writers, storytellers and resources supporting the development of entrepreneurs of color. We plan to visually showcase a more inclusive startup ecosystem through our content, media event coverage, and work with clients who want to better understand multicultural audiences interested in business, tech, or media.
You can check out BLNDED Media here: http://blndedmedia.com/