By Nadine Matthews, Special to the AFRO
“Come here boy, you need a hug.” In a previous interview with another publication, Carlos Watson revealed that this was the way his mother would greet him on the occasions when she was called from work to come pick him up from school in the middle of the day for being disruptive. School officials would literally leave him on the sidewalk waiting for his mother to come retrieve him. She would sheathe whatever frustration she may have felt however, and reinforce little Carlos’ self-esteem and emotional needs.
Watson’s mother was a fixture at his schools not just because she was summoned there when he was deemed unruly. She would show up to repeatedly advocate for him when, even in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, schools would declare him “slow” and try to have him repeat grades. A ritual familiar to the parents of many African-American men and women who eventually go on to success, are multiple trips to school to make a case for your child’s intelligence and right to advance.
The second of four children, Watson grew up in nineteen-seventies Miami. Despite his challenges, he eventually went on to attend Harvard University as an undergraduate and earned a law degree from Stanford University. He was Managing Director in the Investment Banking Division of The Goldman Sachs Group worked as a cable television journalist and founded several businesses. One of these is OZY Media, which has a news website and a production company. The website is full of smart, insightful, forward-looking content that is just ahead of the curve. His television programs could be described that way as well. No wonder then Watson has previously won Emmy awards for his journalistic work on MSNBC and CNN.
On June 15th, his latest show on PBS “Breaking Big.” debuts. A partnership between PBS and OZY Media, it is a weekly deep dive into the lives of the successful such as Michael Strahan, Trevor Noah, director Lee Daniels, actress Danai Gurira, cultural critic Roxane Gay, designer Christian Siriano and many more. Success is a subject Watson admits he has always been interested in. “I think if you were a young Black boy growing up in America in a pre-Obama world, in a place like Miami where sadly things weren’t always even steven, not only you, but your whole family, is focused on not only surviving but thriving,” he tells the AFRO.
The series will include analysis from eminent social scientists, marketing experts, film critics, book editors and others to help viewers understand the risk-taking and bold moves these journeys require. “I realized,” he says, “that a lot of the old things that people might have been taught years ago about how to break big such as hard work, honing your craft, really weren’t working anymore.” He wanted to find out what does work for today’s world and share that knowledge with his audience. Each episode is thirty minutes long and includes more than Watson going one on one with each guest. “Get a chance to go out and spend a couple of sessions with our profilees as well as their family and friends, competitors, mentors. So you really get a chance to get a 360 picture,” he says.
From the guests he’s already interviewed, he’s been surprised at some of the reasons they give for their success. “A couple of things stood out,” he says. “I’ve been surprised at the extent that they encourage us to actively take risks. A lot of times what we hear in terms of trying to break big is in effect, ‘Play it safe, do the right thing, follow the trodden path.’ What I’ve heard Trevor Noah say, what I’ve heard Danai Gurira say is ‘aggressively take risks.’ That’s not what your Mom, Dad, Aunt etc. tell you.”
“Breaking Big’s” subjects also allude to the fact that rapper Eminem was onto something when he sang “This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” Says Watson, “One of the other things I hear them say is ’make your first step, your best step’. Don’t save your best for last because sometimes in those early days, you’ll have unexpected opportunities. A really powerful reviewer of plays may only have that one chance to pop into that Off-Broadway show. That’s the moment when your stuff needs to be magic. Treat your first chance like it’s your one chance.”