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From music industry to mentoring: Kheperah Kearse

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 4:39 p.m.
From music industry to mentoring: Kheperah Kearse

Kheperah Kearse has dedicated her life to encouraging young people, especially girls, to learn about self-value and worth. The 41-year-old motivational speaker is known across the country for her rousing self-development workshops she calls "Gemnaisum." But her work today is a far cry from the life she lived as a lion in the music industry.

Born and raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn's Breukelen Houses, Kearse was the middle child of two sisters and one brother. Her parents were migrants of South Carolina who worked for the city and placed her in a school apart from her peers because she possessed special talents.

"From first to seventh grade, I was the only Black person in my class and ostracized by the other Black kids because they said I talked like a white girl, and the white kids didn't want to play with me because I was Black," she said. "I really went through a lot of isolation."

To keep herself busy, Kearse was able to sharpen her talent in music by taking up the violin and flute. But the rise of a new art form at the time drove her to express herself in a different way.

During the time of her teenage years, hip-hop was beginning to emerge in the mainstream. With racial tensions, violence and drugs around her neighborhood, Kearse said the music put her in a positive place.

She said, "I wanted to be an MC. The escape for me was the music and the art form was a large part of what shaped me. Living in the projects can make you feel stuck. Resources are slim and people believe that that's their fate."

After obtaining her associate's degree at LaGuardia Community College, Kearse enrolled at the Institute for Audio Research with hopes to go full force into the music industry. While in school, she got a job working at Def Jam Records, which was a launchpad for a long career in the music industry.

"It was amazing," she said. "It was the first time I had experienced a work environment where people of color could express themselves."

Kearse worked at Def Jam as an assistant in A&R, signing on acts including Method Man and Onyx in the early 1990s. At the time, she was a single mother and the first in her family to work in the private sector.

After spending two years at Def Jam, she left and worked at other labels, including Columbia Records, Epic Records and Arista Records. She worked primarily in A&R, marketing and promotions. At the height of her career she was making a six-figure salary.

Kheperah Kearse has dedicated her life to encouraging young people, especially girls, to learn about self-value and worth. The 41-year-old motivational speaker is known across the country for her rousing self-development workshops she calls "Gemnaisum." But her work today is a far cry from the life she lived as a lion in the music industry.

Born and raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn's Breukelen Houses, Kearse was the middle child of two sisters and one brother. Her parents were migrants of South Carolina who worked for the city and placed her in a school apart from her peers because she possessed special talents.