We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Karen Marie Jenkins. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Karen Marie below.
Karen Marie, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today What did your parents do right and how has that impacted you in your life and career?
My parents have been deceased for some time now but they taught me so much while they were alive. I think the most basic thing that stands out is their zest for living life, which involved balancing a strong work ethic while enjoying the fruits of their labor and the importance of not resting on your laurels but pivoting to maintain a balanced life. This taught me the importance of working hard at your gifts and skills, in particular doing something you love. I learned you will be rewarded with not only a balanced life, but a good lifestyle.
Along with this lesson, they taught me that you can’t rest on your laurels, you must be prepared to pivot to move into other skill sets or industries if needed because nothing remains the same. We know this all too well during this post-pandemic time.
As a young girl, I watched my dad as he navigated working hard to achieve a college education as a nontraditional student while taking care of our family. I knew he was a high school dropout who grew up poor. He shined shoes to make money as a kid, but I witnessed his desire and the hard work he put in to achieve a different life for himself and for his young family. He and my mother got married at 17, & 18 respectively. He worked from the place of a high-school dropout, porter (janitor), and post-office clerk to a college graduate later becoming an Internal Revenue audit agent, and owning his accounting business servicing black businesses in Cincinnati and becoming a real estate owner of numerous properties in Cincinnati. I watched as he studied for his college degrees, and as he prepared himself to pivot out of IRS, after fifteen years into becoming an entrepreneur. I saw how he prepared for this transition years before it happened. This has had a major and lasting impact on me as I learned you must always prepare yourself to pivot to survive and thrive. Watching him work hard, and work smart had a lasting impact on the success I have had in my career and currently in my lifestyle as a creative entrepreneur.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
I am a former university professor of Developmental English, African American Studies, and, and a College Administrator at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) for 18 years. I also taught at Miami University-Oxford, Ohio, and Middletown, Ohio branches, along with Xavier University and Union Institute both in Cincinnati. In between and afterward I taught Art classes in Cincinnati and Atlanta to all levels of students along with being a Cultural Arts writer of Black Culture for the Cincinnati Herald Newspaper. In Washington, DC I interned at the Smithsonian and in Denver, Colorado I worked at the Black Cowboy West Museum.
I have an Associate’s degree in Fashion Merchandising from the University of Cincinnati, a Bachelor’s degree in Arts in Afro-American Studies and History from Miami University Ohio, and a Master of Arts in Humanities from Xavier University in Cincinnati.
After 18 years at NKU, I took early retirement in 2016 to pursue my budding passion for Personal Brand Photography working primarily with female entrepreneurs. From the start, my focus of the shoots utilized my skillset as an English Professor in choosing to visually narrate my client’s story while empowering my clients vs just taking portraits. My desire was to capture the essence of my client’s story by leading with a particular theme/vision and using various elements such as clothing, color, products, environment, and personality vibe to communicate their story. This process takes time as I explore who my client is.
For the past six years, my journey away from University life has taken on a more creative and artistic route landing in multiple creative outlets as a Fashion Ambassador for Macy’s, a luxury online furniture sales for also Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, and most recently, I’ve returned to my childhood dream of fashion illustration and design and with the death of my only child, my son Treye Jenkins Smith in 2021 as a result of a tragic car crash art philanthropy. He also was a creative artist.
Just as I did for my son, my mother introduced me to art with art supplies at an early age which led to a lifelong passion for art, and creativity that impacted and enhanced my life. At nine years old, she recognized that our family’s move to a new school district from the city to the suburbs negatively affected my self-esteem. Somehow she intuitively knew art would serve as a refuge for me. She was right. Some years later as a teenager, she enrolled me in a sewing class as she saw my passionate interest in fashion. I had become very skilled at sketching elaborate gowns and female clothing on my sketchpad. I also made fashionable paper dolls and eventually made a few outfits that I wore to high school.
My current interest in art philanthropy began with the sudden death of my son. Art again became a refuge and creative therapy it helped suppress the pain of loss and to forge ahead. My son, Treye had a strong passion for art also. At a very young age, I took him to all kinds of art events, artists’ studios, mural work with local artists, and art classes. At our home, I kept art supplies. He began showing a gift for sketching portraits in sixth grade. The shading on his portraits showed a keen observation. His portraits also showed his interest in African American culture and pop culture.
Up to his early death, he stayed connected to being a creative artist. He would in turn also introduce his four-year daughter to art letting her paint on his bedroom walls. She is turning five and loves art.
In honor of his life, I celebrated his legacy and talent for art, by setting up his memorial like an art exhibit, and art performance event by having spoken word artists. M family and friends told stories most very funny about his personality and hustle. Months later, still grieving I started an art foundation in his name Treye Jenkins Smith Art Fund. This past spring (2022), in his name, $500.00 was given to an African American art student, Andralyn Brown whose work was uncannily similar to Treye’s in content and style. Both attended Princeton High School.
A month before his death, dealing with the isolation of covid I returned to my childhood love of fashion illustration and began drawing outfits. I took a sewing class and began sewing outfits right away. It has been over 47 years since I last sewed and made fashion outfits.
Art and creativity have shown themselves to be a sustainable lifestyle for me and my son spanning decades and crossing generations addressing both issues of the heart, career, practical application, and creative entrepreneurship. Art and creativity are lifestyle choices.
Today, I am determined to create a positive legacy that supports and celebrates creativity and art as a sustainable lifestyle.
Is there a mission driving your creative journey?
Today, I am focused on a mission of supporting art and creativity as a sustainable and practical lifestyle that touches all aspects of life. My desire is to empower students with scholarships, content, classes, and mentoring, and to provide art supplies through my son’s art fund and my personal creative projects.
It is important to note that this fund is not about influencing others to pursue a career in the arts, but with knowledge, that art and creativity are a lifestyle that can be sustainable and empowering life while impacting others through the same. Through his fund, it is important, especially during these stressful and challenging times, to note that art is important for achieving a balanced emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual life. Art is a healing tool or resource as art and creativity allow one to focus on the job of being creative while suppressing negative things in and around you. Living an aesthetic creative life helps one to find out who they really are, embrace it despite what others are doing and learn how to live your life on your terms and values. From my life and lifestyle of art and creativity, this is what I have learned art does improve, and enhance your life and the lives of others. This is the legacy I want to leave through my son’s art fund and my personal art projects to provide others opportunities for funding, mentorship, art supplies, and classes for those who are interested and in need.
Are there any resources you wish you knew about earlier in your creative journey?
I wish I knew that the major resource in my creative journey lay within. I am and have always been the resource that I need. This was a major missing piece throughout most of my life. Too often, I downgraded and marginalized my gifts and talents as I am often acquiescent to current culture, to groups and places I didn’t fit in. But, I truly believe that one’s journey is one’s journey and from it, you can learn to improve and live a better life. And all that you learn is a testament and testimony and a resource for self-help and in helping others in their journey. That is one of the gifts, I feel I truly have. I am a good mentor and a good storyteller because of the journey that God sent me on. Today, I am very happy to say I have young women and girls that I have mentored for a very long time and I talk about my journey and how it is important to know who you are, not be influenced by what others are doing, but always be true to self and stay focused.
As long as you are always willing to learn something new, and put yourself out in the world to experience life while curating those experiences along the way, you can remain true to who you are as a very important and valuable resource.
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