Karen Civil On Building A Playground, Her Brand And The Future
Digital empress Karen Civil turned the big 3-0 last November and celebrated by giving back. Civil traveled to her parents’ native Haiti to lead the funding for the construction of the Live Civil Playground. The interactive space holds 1,500 elementary students and was created with recyclable materials with the intent on giving kids a safe place to play and foster their creativity. With some extra funding from friends, DJ Funkmaster Flex and Meek Mill, Civil was able to add philanthropy to her already impressive resume.
VIBE chopped it up with the entrepreneur to learn what goes into building a playground, her future hustles and the sexism she faces to this day. But do you think there’s anyone who can really stop Karen Civil? Neither do we.—Shenequa Golding
VIBE: You have your hands in a lot of different ventures. Why did you decide to build the Live Civil Playground in Haiti?
Karen Civil: I felt it was necessary to make sure that in the same way my social platforms continue to prosper and grow, that I help my community prosper and grow. I also felt it was necessary to give back to the community that made my parents such hard workers.
How involved were you in creating the playground?
I was involved in every aspect. It’s not about giving money and walking away. Just like anything else I put my name on, I took pride in this. From the first visit, I made sure I was there. I wanted to see the kids and where this goes. I’m so hands-on and excited about this project, I think I’m overly involved.
What was it like to see it all come together?
When you’re discussing it on paper and then things begin to come together and they start to make sense, you get a bit of joy. But when you’re actually there, you’re in the moment; you’re seeing the kids and the people from the school are actually excited that you’re there, the emotion that comes over you is just overwhelming. I was crying so much and I just couldn’t stop smiling. I just couldn’t! I was so excited because I felt like nothing I did beyond this point mattered.
That’s a pretty big statement to make. This playground must’ve meant a lot to you.
I felt that this is helping me create a legacy as opposed to just leaving a mark and impressing people. It was incredible. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone because like I tell people, I’m far from perfect. I’m a girl who fell in love with hip-hop, who is now using her platform to try and change the world. It was just crazy to see it come together and unfold like this especially on my 30th birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever have a birthday like that.
I’m glad you touched on that. You said this project was outside of your comfort zone. Aside from wanting to give back, what was the motivating factor to see this through?
It’s something that had to be done. I continue to evolve and change and I felt like it was time. I’ve had people emailing me asking me what I’m doing and that’s the question I had to ask myself. What change am I really bringing to my community? It was honestly a huge moment and I felt like I was stepping in the right direction of being 30.
It does sound a lot more powerful hearing it from you then reading it in a press release. Was this the first time you traveled back to Haiti since 2010?
It’s been quite a journey because it definitely wasn’t the same. I feel like Haiti gets a bad rap. Yes, we had the devastation, but we are a community of people who continue to rebuild, love each other, have culture and don’t let it stop us. I just feel like this is who I am and my culture reminds me of that. It felt good to go to the beach. It felt good to eat the food. It felt good to see the people and hear the music and reconnect with my heritage and my background. I loved every minute of it.
Now that you can add philanthropy to your resume, what’s next?
I have a collection with New Era coming out this year that I’m excited about. I’m pushing for February, but it could come out in March. It’s going to be called my “Live Civil Thinking Cap.” It’s a beautiful fedora and on the inside, there will be quotes and sayings to live by. I call it your thinking cap to help you think for yourself, so when you need that bit of courage or confidence, you take that hat off, see those words, put it back on and you go. It’s just a little boost of confidence. I also have a book, which will come out later in 2015 Live Civil: Five Tools for Unlocking Your Purpose and I’m really excited about that more than anything because these are tools that continue to help me in my career more than anything.
You’ve done a lot. What discouragements have you had in your career that you had to push through?
It’s hard being a woman of color in any industry because you are the minority. It’s not enough of us and people take me for granted.
Still to this day! A couple of weeks ago, I sat in on this meeting at the studio and my business partner, Steve, two gentlemen and another gentlemen walks in and [the other gentlemen] addresses everyone but me and I’m like, ‘I called this meeting. I’m going to be the one who will most likely approve anything you have to say but yet you don’t address me?’ It’s unfortunate. For a long time, I had to shed the notion of ‘I’m not the girlfriend, I’m the assistant’ and it’s difficult, but I will always see the glass as half full. Whether you like it or not, I’m not going to let it stop or dictate my career.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to anyone trying to come up in the digital or philanthropy space?
My piece of advice is this: It never hurts to try. Take that first step. You have to believe in yourself in order for other people to see it. I’m glad I believed in myself enough and I hope the person reading this believes in themselves enough that they take that first step into the career or the path that will fulfill their purpose.