Young, Black and lit: Jamila Mustafa talks about her media career

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Photo courtesy of Jamila Mustafa

Rolling out got the chance to speak with Jamila Mustafa, a 23-year-old graduate of Delaware State University. She hosts BET’s entertainment news segment “BET Breaks.” We got the chance to talk to Mustafa about her start in her career, and what it’s like being a young woman in media.

How did you get started in your career? What made you decide you were going to do this?

Well with performance, I actually got started when I was about 3, I did karate. My dad was a grand master and I started competing when I was about 7. If you think about  television, you’re competing against hundreds of people, you play different characters and you can’t be afraid. I didn’t know back then but it’s a direct correlation when you talk about how I got started in performance.

What would you say is something that separates you from others in your field? What unique qualities do you bring to the table?

Three things: I’m not afraid to fail because I’ve failed so many times. A lot of people are afraid to fail because they’re scared of looking bad. When you’re not afraid to be embarrassed or look bad or to fail, then its like you’re not afraid. I’m not afraid to look bad or fail because it’s all apart of the game. Another thing is that I have a very old soul I’m 23 years old, but the way I think is so different. It’s like what Jay Z said: “I play chess while a lot of people my age play checkers.” Even though I am a millennial, I carry myself so old. I still listen to Marvin Gaye, I listen to old school music and I’m able to bring that more mature approach to a younger generation. The last thing is I’m dedicated, and that’s something that a lot of people skip. They may like it, they may want it, but they’re not really dedicated

Do you feel like your HBCU education helped prepare you for your career? Do you feel like you owe a lot of your success to your education, or do you feel like this is something your could have done without it?

I’m gonna be honest, no. But I’ll tell you what’s unique about it to the education aspect, my professors were using old software, we were doing stuff from like the ’90s. We were being taught so much basic stuff and I think it’s such a shame because  a lot of professors may have been on television in the ’90s, and they may have their education, but when you’re in the field they are two different things. The textbook we used had us learning about barn doors which are the doors that go on the lighting, and the camera operating. We had three different sections in mass communication, film, convergence journalism, and public relations. So for me, it was like I learned nothing. But I’ll never forget, I went to one of my professors, Mr. Chelie. I told him everything I wanted to do around campus I wanted to host a show and take over the TV station. He was like “girl get outta here” I remember everyone would leave his office and talk about him like “Oh Chelie is so mean!” But I remember I went back to his office every day for two weeks straight and was able to be a part of the television station. After my sophomore year with the television station I learned so much, I basically did everything but sweep the floors. I learned to produce, I learned the ins and outs of television. I can run a full show right now  based off of the things I learned being a part of WDSU TV. So I wouldn’t say I gained much from the textbook, but more so the actual experience.

How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft? How do you stay on top of your game? What do you do to stay 10 steps ahead?

I don’t get complacent, that’s number one when you’re in this business you know there’s a thin line between work and unemployed. That’s the only way to be that good because we live in such a popcorn society celebrities will be big, and the next minute we don’t even know who they are. My motto is “even if you’re the boss you gotta work like you’re an intern.” I work when people are sleeping, I’m always working. Let’s say I get a job, I think about what I can do to get another job. What else can I do? That’s the question I’m always asking myself, I overwork myself and under credit myself. I believe that as soon as you begin to believe you are what people say you are, then naturally you just don’t work that hard. We’re humans, were naturally not going to work as hard if were comfortable and satisfied. but if you’re always pushing and I treat each day as if I was the worst talent or I’m falling off people will leave me comments and I whisper to myself “girl you ain’t even all that” just to keep myself humble. I always work like an intern

Who would you say are some people that inspire you?

Oprah Winfrey in 2011 I got to meet her at Spelman’s graduation she’s an idol. Maureen Carter is an everyday hero she’s a woman that knows how to pay it forward and has been in the game but doesn’t need to be in the spotlight. They’re both boss women, one is just a household name and the other is behind the scenes but she’s earned her stripes.

Can you describe your personal brand? Where do you see yourself in the future, what are some goals you want to accomplish?

When I was added on BET’s 30 under 30 list. “Young Black and Lit” that’s really how I would describe my personal brand. Young because I’m a full-time professional and I’m 23. When I was in college, I used to think 23 was older, but when you get out in the real world it’s a whole different story. You see people that look about 23 but are really 32. The fact that I’m a Black girl makes it even better. Although we’re facing so much adversity, to me this is the best time to be Black. I’m happy to be Black, I’m happy to be a young Black woman. The last part is lit because I come from the ‘hood, but I’ve done so much. I went to China, I’ve created documentaries; I’ve lived so many different lives. I’m young, I’m Black, I’m lit, and I am the future.

What does it mean to be iconic? Who do you think has achieved that status?

To me, being iconic can happen in a single second. For example, you can look at Tommy Smith. If I say his name, you probably won’t recognize him. In 1968, he was in the Olympics he raised his hand into a fist, and it was in that exact moment he became iconic. For me, I think iconic is really what you make it be, I’m big on everyday heroes. Iconic is someone that changes millions of lives.

What’s some advice you’d give to young women in the industry, and college students?

Create your own, because this is such a dope time. You can have as many internships, but if you’re a person with 10 internships or if you’re 10 million followers already on social media or YouTube who do you think they’re going to pick? You can have a degree and 10 internships. I work in television now, and they ask for your social media handles. If anything it creates a one up for us because we’re competing with older people who are not worried about this stuff. One thing I I learned is that this industry is that it is controlled by influence. Jobs are few, if you take the traditional route you might be waiting, but you can create your own and let them come to you. Another thing, stop hating on each other. Stop looking at everything as a competition and start teaming up and working together. What’s for you will always be for you, there’s no competition if God [has] already chosen his winner.

What are some affirmations you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?

My main focus is to remain focused! I always remind myself that.

Name three books, works, performances or exhibits that changed how you view life and/or yourself.

48 Laws of Power, Autobiography of Malcolm X , and Oprah Winfrey’s Things I Know for Sure. Those books basically sum up who I am.



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