Alumni Spotlight | Being bold and building confidence
At the age of 18, J.P. Pressley left his close-knit community and life of homeschooling in Minnesota to go "where dreams are made of," New York City, where he attended The King's College in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture, & The Arts.
Eager to get plugged in, Pressley met FUTURE NOW Founder, Peggy Kim, at a networking event, and learned about the FUTURE NOW Media & Entertainment Conference.
"I thought it was a tremendous opportunity," Pressley said. He attended in 2018, and then returned the following year as a volunteer. His biggest takeaway from the conferences was learning not to be afraid to reach out to peers and professionals.
"You're hesitant to ask a certain question, reach out. The worst anyone could say is 'no.' And, then, you're right where you were at the beginning," he said.
For students struggling to build confidence to network, Pressley advises that they prepare questions and be willing to take the initiative, because they will find people who are willing to help and commit to their growth.
Pressley applied these lessons first-hand when he started following the barber of Aldis Hodge, one of his favorite actors, on social media. "[Aldis Hodge] kept posting pictures, and there was this one guy in almost every picture. So, I was very confused like, 'Who is this guy?'"
Pressley took a bold step and messaged the barber on Instagram, because he wanted to learn from a fellow entrepreneur.
"I said I was a young Black entrepreneur, and I would love to get a coffee with him if he had the chance at any point," Pressley said. Their one-hour conversation turned into a three-hour exchange.
"He's somebody I have kind of in my corner; a lot of our values and ideas line up. I can go ask him anything, any time. I just wanted to know about him. Because of that, he also opened up his network to me.”
One of the things that Pressley has appreciated most about FUTURE NOW is the diversity, unity, and camaraderie that it fosters, which is something he deeply values and identifies with.
"I'm good at being a bridge maker between different people, different ideas," said Pressley.
Growing up in Minnesota, his was one of three Black families that resided in his community at the time. Through that, he has learned how to connect with people from all walks of life…every race, culture, and generation…and it has also helped that his experiences and interests have been broad and varied. He’s worked on a vineyard and on farms, and he loves sports, writing, marketing, entrepreneurship, and films…all of which have given him opportunities to connect with people in different ways.
Pressley graduated from The Kings’ College in 2019, and he has gone on to get his MFA in Writing at Lindenwood University. In 2020, he founded The Young & Rising, a platform that features advice and guidance for young professionals by young professionals. He is the Editor-in-Chief, and he leads a team of contributors.
Being a strong leader was impressed upon him at an early age, as he was the oldest of four siblings, three boys and one girl. Whenever his family would go out, he would take care of them, making sure nobody wandered off and everyone was safe. If his father was away for any reason, Pressley would be second in command at his mother’s side, and the next oldest sibling would take care of the others.
Pressley shares, "I believe a leader is someone who will make themselves available and be in the trenches with you when need be. Yes, it's a battle. Someone who knows both how to be at the forefront, leading the charge, but also to be at the back and make sure that no one gets lost.”
"In terms of how I've embodied those visions [at The Young & Rising], it’s making sure that everybody knows what the ultimate goal is and being able to share that with everybody. It's not just, ‘Okay, we need to get this done.’ It's the reason behind it.'"
As one can imagine, operating a digital publication is hard work, and during a pandemic, even more so. So how does Pressley, who is an avid writer, stay creatively motivated while building a brand?
"I've made it a practice to work on my writing daily. I've done that since Feb.1, 2018. At this point, it's habitual. You just got to sit down and kind of force yourself to do it. And then once you're in the process, a lot of times the gears start turning, and the rust will wear off.”
As a Black man working in media, Pressley makes it a point to share various perspectives and "paint people just as human." "I understand being 'other' so much," he said. He believes it is vital for young professionals not to make people feel "othered" and for everybody to be included.
For aspiring professionals who hope to make a name for themselves in the business, Pressley encourages them to volunteer with FUTURE NOW.
"It gives you a different insight into the opportunities.” He adds, “You get to develop, go wide with your relationships or networking. Even if it's a speaker and you're just taking them from place to place, or you're the one getting them set up and everything, you might get to talk with them more than a student who asks one question and maybe doesn't even get to ask a question.”
In the future, Pressley hopes to calibrate America's moral compass through media and entertainment through his writing and business endeavors. FUTURE NOW has helped the young mogul learn more about leadership, networking, and entrepreneurship, and he’s already paying it forward.