“Don’t be afraid to be judged. They’re going to judge you anyway. You might as well make moves.”
Kimberly K. Wilson is a Daddy’s Girl. Defined and realized.
It’s a title, or perhaps more accurately, a “DG” Shield emblazoned on her chest, matching logo on the cape flying in the wind behind her – that she wears proudly.
Yes, the late Don D. Wilson, gave this Entertainment and Sports media powerhouse her wings and the wind beneath them.
The quality of his craftsmanship evidenced by the great heights Kimberly, Vice President of Affiliate Marketing for Disney and ESPN Media Networks continues to soar. Today, his ‘It’s Never Too Late’ legacy is one she both lives and honors as a mentor and humanitarian.
Kimberly knows first-hand how important it is to have our assumptions about our power and ability to succeed challenged.
Like the chaotic careen of our bicycles when first learning to ride – eyes wide shut, death grip on the handlebars, legs outstretched to the sides; pedals totally ignored – Kimberly got off course. And just like it took many of us a few attempts to achieve two-wheel mastery, she tried again and then one mo’gin to navigate with confidence.
A true tale of frustration, courage, and triumph, Kimberly doesn’t even mind the scrapes and collisions she suffered. Scars are proof of healing.
Her initially bumpy work flow was littered with uninspiring jobs and an unceremonious withdrawal from college. But leave it to Black culture to stir up something mighty in you when you least expect it!
Malcolm D. Lee’s The Best Man, one of our favorite 90s films about friendship, forgiveness, success, love, and society’s strength tests of it all, surprised Kimberly with a future reflection of herself. And just like that, she straightened the crown sitting atop her head and faith-walked her not-so-young-anymore, 28 year-old self back to school and a BET internship nearly 700 miles away.
The Boss moves have been non-stop ever since.
Check the resume. Oh and write this in red across the top: “Member of the elite few senior level Black women ruling the world of Sports media.”
Kim and her team keep us connected and engaged with the programming and events we love from ESPN, ABC, the Disney networks and Freeform. And she’s responsible for much more.
Today, her Black Girl Powerhouse status in the professional and philanthropic worlds she governs, is a reflection of the lessons learned from the dream achiever she calls Dad.
The Don D. Wilson Dream a Dream (D.A.D.) Foundation, a nonprofit she co-founded with her mother Ann and sister Valerie, is a passion project fueled by a keen awareness of the realities facing young people. A commitment to inspiring the next generation of leaders and dream chasers is the family’s non-negotiable mission.
In a way more casual conversation than even I expected on a warm Sunday afternoon – Kimberly in sunny L.A. and myself in peek-a-boo-sun Jersey – she is open, accessible, and tickled easily into laughter.
We chatted about everything from Black mamas in the boardroom and why she isn’t prone to flinching in the boy’s club of Sports, to script ideas for The Best Man 3 and the power of her father’s love.
This question is one of our favorites. Who is Kimberly Wilson?
KIM WILSON: Just a girl from the south side of Chicago, who grew up not really believing I could do what I’m currently doing. Not because I didn’t have the support system, but growing up in a city that didn’t have a lot of media and entertainment.
[A girl who] loves her family and is a Daddy’s Girl. God bless him. He’s now deceased.
Oldest of two girls. Grew up in a loving family who believed in education and following your dreams. A little country. Just someone who loves to laugh, loves life, is pretty clear about a lot of things, but not ashamed about the things I’m not clear about.
Being from Chicago and being proud of that and everything that means, given how the world perceives Chicago [is important]. I still wear that as a badge. I’m a product of all of that.
One of the attributes that came to mind when reading about you was: Bravery. In what moments were you the absolutely bravest version of yourself?
KIM WILSON: When I think about moves I made that I wasn’t sure about but did them anyway.
The first one was probably when I decided to drop out of college.
I knew what that was going to mean to my parents; but doing it anyway because I knew what I was going to school for wasn’t what I wanted to do for a living. In retrospect, it was a brave move, because I think the non-courageous would have stayed, got a degree in accounting, became an accountant and lived a life I didn’t really want.
The second one was deciding to go back to school later in life. And deciding on a path that wasn’t necessarily paved for me or designed by my parents; and convincing them that it was the best thing that could happen to me. And that certainly paid off.
I would say, of all the bravest things I’ve done, is when I took a leave of absence to be at home with my father in the last months of his life.
Being there at his last breath, truly believing before that I could not do that. But in the moment, you find yourself doing things you don’t think you can do. That’s probably the bravest.
Being in the room, right by his bedside when he took his last breath. That is by far the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
Thanks for sharing that. It makes sense why the Foundation you, your sister and mother started uses the acronym: D.A.D. Can you tell us what DAD stands for, and why it is the epitome of both giving back and family values?
KIM WILSON: D.A.D. stands for The Don D. Wilson Dream A Dream Foundation. When my sister and I were thinking of ways to honor him, we [decided] to start a non-profit and really focus on the things that mattered to him; giving back being the primary piece, but focused in certain areas.
Like sports; he was a huge sports fan. Music; a lover and a student of music. And entrepreneurship; he owned his own business for 30+ years.
The one theme that kept coming up as we thought about his life was: he was a dreamer.
My dad was very nontraditional. He was an introvert; was kind of a nerd. It was cute. He didn’t finish college, but was into science and medicine, and he pursued those passions on his own. He had a business, but that was just to set him up to be able to follow his dreams. And that took him to Africa, China, and all over the world.
We thought about how [we could], as his family who he instilled “taking risks, following your passion, setting your life up in a way that allows you to do what you wanted to do, not just what you had to do” into… honor him in that way.
And that’s what the Foundation is designed to do.
He sounds like he was a super-mentor and advocate. Those are attributes that have also been attributed to you. How has mentorship impacted your career?
KIM WILSON: Wow. I wouldn’t be talking to you without it.
When I decided to change careers, there were people who said, “We’re going to give you a shot. You have zero experience, but there’s something there“. With the lessons, guidance, and investment that others put into me, I don’t have a choice but to give that back.
And because I started later, I appreciate what that meant; because there is no way a 28 year old with zero media experience gets a job at the manager level at BET. That’s unheard of.
People along the way didn’t put all of the stock in, Well, what did you do before? It was like: We see you, and the things you need to do to be successful you can learn.
So I have to do that for other people.
I could do that as a full-time job; sometimes I have to pace myself a little bit but I have a hard time saying no because you could be dealing with the next you, who will have their own story and their own This person didn’t have to spend time with me, look at my resume, or invite me to shadow memory.
I have to give back what was given to me. And if it takes up a little bit more time to do it, then it just does.
You bring up a great point about not knowing when you’re going to meet the next you. It makes this little tidbit interesting. Malcolm D. Lee’s film, The Best Man, is a cult classic, but it has extra-special significance in your life. How so?
KIM WILSON: Before that movie, Love Jones had already come out and that impacted me because it was based in Chicago. The Best Man showed me what I could aspire to be. It showed me images of Black people who were doing things that I wanted to do – and that was confirmation that I could do it.
[When I saw] Nia Long’s character (Jordan), who was a producer at BET, it was like, You know what? That’s right. There are people doing that. Don’t let the fact that you have never lived anywhere else or worked for the government for 10 years stop you from believing you could be her.
You had this group of amazing, Black, complicated, messy, but balling-in-your-own-right people living their lives. And I wanted that.
In fact, when it came out, I was just coming out of a breakup. But when I saw that movie, it was at that time where I was like Okay. You can either step your game up and attain what you want now, or you can wallow in whatever you’ve got going on and not make it.
It showed me what my life could be.
We just didn’t have a lot of aspirational movies at the time. There was always a reflection of who we were as slaves and triumph out of poverty. Those movies were important, but that one was like No. Black people are out here doing it, and you too can do that.
If you could direct The Best Man 3, what would Jordan be doing right now?
KIM WILSON: Oh, wow. I think Jordan would actually give up corporate America. She’s done it. She would give it up and spend her life traveling, giving back, [maybe] have a family, if that’s what she wanted.
Exploring that non-corporate side of her would be nice, because I do think Black women who are in corporate America get a certain rap. That we aren’t able to turn it off in our personal relationships. That we’re bossy, both at work and at home… so I’d love to see that non-corporate side, although we got peeks of it [in The Best Man Holiday].
It’s funny that you bring up Black women with powerful positions. Are there extra pressures that you experience as a woman with a powerful position?
KIM WILSON: I think we’re expected to be nurturers, as well as tough decision makers. Having to balance that can sometimes be … it’s kind of like… what do you want me to be today?
You want me to be a Mama or do you want me to be a Boss?
Having to either lead with nurture or lead with Boss, but not believing you can be both at the same time [can be complicated]. I have made it my purpose to not make those things separate. I can do both.
I can come at you and give you really hard feedback and constructive criticism, but you will see love through it.
In order for it to be palatable, you have to see love. I think it’s that balance of having to be a nurturer in the workplace, while maintaining a sense of confidence, decisiveness, firmness, and all of those things that come with being a leader.
Dialogue about on-screen diversity is popular today, but what about women on the business side of entertainment? What advice do you have for them?
KIM WILSON: If I look at ABC, for instance, I’m super-proud of what we’ve been able to do from a “Who is in front of the camera” standpoint. Black, Asian, Hispanic, autistic, LGBT. It runs the gamut.
From an ESPN standpoint, we employ more female journalists than any journalist organization. In terms of who people are seeing [on-air], we’re doing a really good job.
In the industry overall, here’s where I would love to see women: at the power source. And the power source is tied to revenue.
How a company makes money is what most people care about. I don’t care if it’s advertising and sales. I don’t care if it’s distribution. Whatever that is, we need to pay more attention to that and be there.
That means men have to mentor us. Other women have to mentor us, and not just mentor – sponsor. There’s a difference.
It’s easy to be behind the scenes in somebody’s ear giving them advice. But when you’re willing to put your name on them, that’s sponsorship, and that is different. I’d like to see more of that.
How do Black women make sure they’re not climbing their ladder alone? What is the first step?
KIM WILSON: Well, I would say recognizing that there is no formula. And it’s tough. People want to know: if I do A and I do B, will I get to C?
My advice is always: don’t be afraid to align yourself with people who are not like you, who may quietly believe a little differently than you; as long as that doesn’t compromise your integrity.
I would never advise anybody to do that. I have allies and advocates who are men, who are women, who are not people of color. We have to align ourselves more broadly and not be afraid of that.
Don’t box yourself in, because you’ll find yourself climbing the ladder and you’re going to hit a ceiling. Broaden who you might consider to be an advocate, and don’t be afraid to make that move. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes you might think that you’re being judged.
I tell people all the time: “Don’t be afraid to be judged. They’re going to judge you anyway.” You might as well make moves.
You might as well make moves. You have to.
KIM WILSON: Once you get past that fear, people are like, Well, so and so never emailed me back.
You emailed them once? Email them again, or find out if they’re speaking somewhere. Show up.
People are assertive and aggressive on the things that really matter…when it’s comfortable. But when it gets uncomfortable, there’s a lot of excuses as to why they won’t do it.
Well, I don’t want them to think I’m a pest or I don’t want to come off too aggressive. Sometimes you will, and that’s okay. Because for every person who won’t return your email, call, or DM, there are five other people who will. It’s a numbers game.
As a Black and female leader in Media, have you ever felt “othered”?
KIM WILSON: I have the benefit of working on the business side. I’m not a Talent or fan-facing, so I don’t have the same pressures as others may have, who are on the frontline with people trolling and baiting.
But working in a very male-dominated industry, I don’t actually… it’s weird, and I’ve talked to other Black women who have felt this… I don’t ever truly feel “othered” as a woman. If I ever feel that I’m being discriminated against, I think it’s because I’m Black, not because I’m a woman. I don’t know why.
I lead with Black, and everybody knows that.
Lead with Black. I love it.
KIM WILSON: I do. In some type of way, it’s like Oh, it’s because I’m Black not It’s because I’m a Black woman.
Now, I do think there are other things that come with being a Black woman. You’re viewed as either, again, the nurturer, the mother type, or you’re the angry one – all of those subtexts that come with that.
But for me and my journey, I’ve made it a point to ignore that stuff.
When I see it coming, I don’t even acknowledge it. I push through, and not in an It’s not happening kind of way; but I’m not going to allow you to get my time that way. Whatever issues you’re dealing with, those are yours, and I’m going to get back to business.
I am very okay with calling it out when I see it. Even if it’s not happening to me, but it’s happening with someone else, I’m completely okay and comfortable saying, “You know what that looks like, so stop” and I’ve built some really good relationships with men of all races, where I can have those conversations.
But you have to have those relationships, so that you can have the conversation.
Not everybody is going to be willing to hear it. Not everyone’s even going to see your point of view. But if I’ve built a relationship with you where I can feel comfortable saying it, at least we can have the conversation.
What have been your most important life lessons?
KIM WILSON: One piece is: It’s never too late to make moves. I hear people use their age a lot, or where they are in their stage of life as a deterrent.
I didn’t allow being 28 and being an intern keep me from getting after it. The lesson I try to share and what I’ve learned is it’s never too late if you want it.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] It’s never too late to make moves. [/perfectpullquote]
I understand that not everyone has the same circumstances. Sometimes finances prevent you from making certain moves. Sometimes having kids and a partner, a spouse, may keep you from making moves. Having a support system of people telling you, “I got you” is super-helpful; and, again, I know that not everybody has that.
But I would say if I didn’t have that, I would hope that I could have found it; found the courage, and the fortitude, and the hustle to get it.
It’s never too late is one piece. I think the other is just: Family first.
At Nia, we’re all about being yourself and walking in your purpose. What books or songs have inspired your journey?
KIM WILSON: I’m a huge music fan, and not just what’s hot today. Music impacts my mood.
If I want to be motivated, I don’t turn on a television, I turn on music.
I got that deep love and passion from my father, who was an aspiring musician. He played but he wasn’t, in his words, good enough to be professional but he played. He used to own a record store. As kids, my sister and I would go to his record store, and we’d hear all this amazing music. That is what fuels me. That’s my food.
There are a few artists who, on any given day, get me going and to a place where I feel like I can do anything.
One is Lalah Hathaway. It doesn’t even make sense. What she does with her voice – what is that?! She has got me …and I’m talking since college, like 1990, she has been consistent. Every album, every performance, she’s been a consistent thread there.
Another one – and people make fun of me – is Will Downing. They make fun of me because I tend to become friends with artists I love. Will and I have become friends over the years through a very close friend of mine, Kyle Newport.
Music is the soundtrack to my life, and it’s a lifestyle. It’s not just that I turn on the radio. I walk in it every day.
Are you walking in your purpose?
KIM WILSON: I think finally I am. I wasn’t always. Or you know what? Maybe I was and didn’t know it.
I’m doing what I’m doing for other people. My journey was that journey so somebody else in their late twenties and mid-thirties, forties, could say to themselves, “You know what? It’s not too late.”
I sometimes regret that I didn’t start the Dream A Dream Foundation before my Dad passed away. But that’s okay. He sees it. He feels it. It’s all him.
KIM WILSON: And then there’s my mom, who, if I think about who I am from a personality standpoint, I’m all her. There are times I’m like Come thru, Ann. That’s my Mama’s name. Bold and unapologetic about life.
Am I done? No. There’s so much more to do.
Could my purpose change tomorrow? Absolutely. I give room for that; that what I’m doing today might not be what I’m supposed to be doing tomorrow, and that could look different.
We’ll see. I’m excited about what I don’t know.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
KIM WILSON: That I was able to touch people. I’m careful with that, because I don’t want to be arrogant enough to believe that I can impact lives. I tread lightly on it, because I’m not perfect and I don’t want to ever give anyone the impression that my path was perfect, because it wasn’t.
If I give you a 30-second sound byte, yeah it sounds like Wow, that was dope. But there is so much that came with that, so many uncertainties.
I would hope my legacy is that, It’s not too late. You can do it.
You really can pull it off if you just focus on it and put it in the universe, or whatever method you have of speaking to whoever you believe will help you get there.
That I laughed through it all. People who know me know I love to laugh at anything, but that I laughed through it all and was selfless about it.
And it was never really about me. Did I want to set my life up to be comfortable and do all the things that I love? Yes. But that ultimately I had to get out of the way for somebody else to live their purpose [too], to live the life that they’re looking at me for. That they can also have it, and there’s room for all of us.
Sometimes you got to get out of the way, and that’s ultimately what I hope to do.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant TED Talk explains the dangers of resigning the perception of our lives to one single story. “Our lives are made of many overlapping stories,” she says. Every moment is connected to the last and the next.
Many of us are too quick to place a period – in permanent marker – at the end of our today when all of our days matter.
Kimberly’s winding journey is proof that we are an evolution! And it occurs at different times for everyone.
It’s imperative that we constantly examine our lives with honesty. And even more crucial that we look without labeling.
I remember the first time I sailed off on my bike with a relaxed grip and perfect balance. I felt my dad’s hand leave my back, but could still hear him say, “You got it, baby. Take your time. Watch where you’re going.” The ride was so smooth and felt so good that I stopped pedaling – achieved that flawless leveling that allowed me to lift my butt up off the seat and coast – a true symbol of my basking in mobility power.
Finally able to focus on the world around me, I was looking, seeing, and navigating. Choosing my path and using my skills to get where I wanted to go. Life is an entirely different adventure when your power to maneuver through it is unleashed.
Kimberly Wilson had been powerful all along.
She’d been provided a foundation of capableness that would not allow her to fail. That, coupled with an unexpected pop culture inspiration to be brave, made life’s possibilities limitless.
As one of few senior-level, Black female marketers in Sports media, Kimberly is already a living legend. One NiaMagazine.com wholeheartedly celebrates.
Amazing success is not by mistake or a series of them. It’s by loving design. The quality of our thinking informs the quality of our doing. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of forsaking the familiar discontent of comfort zones and reconnecting to the lessons, gifts, and awareness imbedded in us.
Who you are right now is not who you must be tomorrow, a year from now, or even a moment from now.
Watch your mouth? No, watch your mind.
Start your story over whenever you need to, and choose the experiences and influences you’ll need to become the very best version of You. Remember the future and find your magic there.
Just like Kimberly Wilson did.
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