It Was All A Dream  

By Kellen Brandon

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Nothing is permanent except God, so be grateful when you have things and don’t fret when you lose them.
— William Ketchum

Writer, commentator, editor, and producer are all titles that hip hop journalist William Ketchum has obtained to current day. The Saginaw, Michigan native now finds himself in The Big Apple literally writing his dream at Vibe magazine. I remember the first time I met William, I was conducting my first youth literacy event, the BP School Reading Takeover. William, at that time, was a journalist at MLIVE. He was the most patient and soft spoken person I’d encountered in quite some time. The rareness of his energy attracted me to him instantaneously. He was there to cover me and our event—Yet what William and I participated in collaboratively, was much more than an interview. When the output of our meeting released, I was beyond pleased at the writing. I knew in that moment, that this guy, had a gift— and the world was also learning about him one story at a time. Seven years later, I find myself again aligned with William; but this time the roles have reversed and I couldn’t be more excited.

For many, the passion for writing isn’t something you develop as an adult. I remember when I realized that writing was the non-nurtured gift that had been given to me. The moment was clear and the feeling has never faded. As I began my interview with William, I wanted to know, when did he realize that writing was his gift? So I asked. Q: William, when did you realize that writing was something you would love forever? A:“My dad is an English teacher at Delta College. That meant that growing up, I had to be a good writer. None of my papers were ever going to be subpar. My dad was my first editor, and he was a damn good one. I eventually began to enjoy writing because I had gotten so good at it.”

William, with Oscar award winner Spike Lee.

William, with Oscar award winner Spike Lee.

In my journey with youth literacy work, often I come across students who have a love and passion for writing. In them, I see talents toward success. Yet unfortunately, the environments in which they seek cultivation—fail to support their abilities. Poorly pitched signals of encouragement and hope are widely produced within many schools occupied with children who look like us. Living this nightmare of self discovery as a teen, is the reason I have a publishing company today. I wanted to provide something for the students that can’t find the writing outlets they need. Q:If you could create something for youth writers and you had unlimited funding, what would it be? A: “I would create a reporting program that teaches writers how to do investigative reporting, and how to do creative writing. The program would have both, because I think both are important: young writers should be able to dig things up to report on things that are meaningful, and they should also be able to have a grasp o the language to be able to tell a story thoroughly and beautifully. Too often in this climate, young writers are only able to do one or the other.”

Q. Do you feel like your community or environment growing up supported your desire to write? If not, how did you persevere through it? A:My dad supported me a lot. he went through my papers with scrutiny, and he would never ever tell me what a word meant—he would always tell me to ‘look it up in a dictionary.' In high school, he also enrolled me at Saginaw Arts & Sciences Academy, which was set up like a college, with students having specialties that were basically like majors. Your entire second half of the day after lunch, was donated to your specialty. My specialty was language arts, so I would be writing for at least three hours a day. Even longer when I was involved in the school newspaper. So I became use to having most of my day dedicated to writing.”

The ability to have your talent (writing) as the lead composer for your life’s journey is amazing. For me, it’s the most euphoric feeling I’ve ever had. Especially when it allows you to move out of one environment and into another. Q:Tell me about what you learned in your time in Flint as a journalist in three words. A: Resilience. love, resourcefulness. I learned a lot about making something out of nothing in Flint—whether financially, or building a story when one may have been tough to find. I also learned how to build relationships with people who I wasn’t necessarily real friends with. Your word means a lot, so don’t break it for anything or anybody. Treat people with respect, and why’ll treat you with respect too.”

William with super producer Swizz Beats after interview he conducted for Vibe.

William with super producer Swizz Beats after interview he conducted for Vibe.

You’ve written in Saginaw, Flint, and now New York City. These are three cities that I would dare anyone to think are easy places to navigate—personally and professionally. Finding yourself in NYC, working with Diddy, and now Vibe—has to be tremendous. Q: What are you learning from New York? A: “New York City makes you learn a lot about yourself. It’s a city that’s very tough to live in, and it’s a fairly merciless place: high cost of living, high speed of life, very little space. You have to use every skill set you’ve acquired throughout your life up until that point, and be willing and able to learn new skills on the go. You have to adapt to difficult times on the drop of a dime. NYC has taught me that being in the right place at the right time is just as much a skill as it’s a coincidence.”

Q:What did you learn working with Diddy, before your move over to Vibe? A: “I didn’t work with Diddy personally, he just owned the company I worked at. But one thing I learned from Diddy is the importance of having to be on your toes and ready for anything. There were plenty of times where he’d hit up my boss to get a story up or get a video cut on a moment’s notice, and you had to be ready no matter what was going on. But he also brought Harry Belafonte to the office one day and gave us an opportunity to meet him. A high energy person who cares a lot about deliverables, and about the importance of presentation.”

William and rapper Fat Joe.

William and rapper Fat Joe.

Q: What adjustments, if any, did you have to make in your transition to Vibe? A: “My job at Vibe is teaching me three things: leadership, organization, and persistence. Big issue in leadership is learning when that means speaking up, and when it means letting other people take the lead. Organization: having 20 things to do on my ToDo list and figuring out how not to forget any of them. Persistence: having the patience to not only take on massive, ambitious projects, but to continuously chip away at them instead of leaving them alone when you get tired of them. It’s a challenge every single day, but I’m grateful to be able to do so and make a living every day.”

William’s writing ability has allowed him to share moments with the likes of Spike Lee, Fat Joe, Marsha Ambrosius, Swizz Beats, and many more. But what most important for me to know, is, what would William tell his younger self, if he could give young William a nugget or two? A: Nothing is permanent except God, so be grateful when you have things and don’t fret when you lose them. Where you work doesn’t define who you are; how you treat the people you love and how you adjust to adversity, does. God is looking over you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.”

KB