Social Impact Authors: How & Why Ray Studevent Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

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I set out to take the reader, young and old alike, from all different walks of life, on an unforgettable journey that they could somehow relate to by using the universal language of laughter. I wanted to make the reader experience a gambit of emotions — laughter, anger, joy, sadness. But most of all, I wanted to instill in readers that despite what color of skin we are born with, we all belong to the same family — the human race. If we can bring ourselves to love one another unconditionally, racism can be eradicated. True Christian love can trump every problem and negative behavior in existence today if only we can follow one simple mandate: Love thy neighbor.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Studevent.

Ray Studevent was born in 1967 in Washington, D.C. during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. His biological parents — a light-skinned alcoholic Black man with a violent streak and a White woman who was a slave to her heroin addiction — abandoned him at age five leaving him orphaned and destitute. As if his life wasn’t tragic enough, Ray did not look like the run-of-the-mill mocha-complexioned bi-racial child that was a dime a dozen back in that era. He was fair-skinned with straight hair and piercing blue eyes which made him look like the White American kid living next door. Salvation came to him by way of his Black uncle and aunt who swooped in and took him to live with them in their all-Black neighborhood. But Ray’s newfound happiness came to a crashing halt when two years later, his uncle — the man he had come to idolize as a father and hero — dropped dead right before his very eyes. Instead of turning the other cheek, his aunt by marriage chose to adopt and raise him in the mean streets of Washington, D.C. at a time when it was known as Chocolate City.

Ray’s life became quite interesting, not to mention dangerous, as a “White” Negro living in the blackest city in America and being raised by a southern Black woman who grew up in Mississippi during the segregated Jim Crow era.

Race and its polarizing issues would play a vital role in Ray’s life as he tried to navigate through the ruthless aggression on the streets and his own enigmas such as, “I look White, but my mother reminds me every day that my birth certificate says I’m Black. Why did my parents abandon me? Why are all these Black folks complaining about racist White people, yet they are attacking me simply because they think I am White?”

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

After being orphaned at the tender age of five, I was miraculously adopted by my aunt and uncle who lived in Washington, D.C. I went to live in a household composed mainly of Black women in which I was the only male white-skinned member. I grew up in D.C. at a time when racial tension was at an all-time high, immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Sadly, my uncle died shortly after I came to live with them. So, my aunt who was raised in Mississippi during the 1930s and ’40s was forced to raise me as a single Black mother. She was a librarian for decades and helped me to appreciate the value of reading books, starting at the age of seven.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Oddly enough, I was fascinated with the Bible and wondered if all of those stories about Noah’s Ark, Jesus’ miracles were really true. I often wondered, “If this so-called God in the Bible is real then why is his world such a mess. Also, if everyone who tries to be a good person goes to this mystical or mythical place known as heaven after they die, then why is everyone crying so much at these funerals?” I wanted to be a good person and live by “The Golden Rule” as in treat everyone the way you would like for them to treat you. But as I went through my teen years, I discovered that the world operated by another Golden Rule: “The one with the gold, rules!” However, even though the pursuit of money drew me away from Bible principles, throughout the lowest points of my life, I always tried to somehow be a decent person. I was always aware and often afraid of God.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

While trying to make my way in the brokerage industry, I became desperate for clients and I was determined to land a big stock market investor. In January 2000, the Super Bowl was played in Florida. I was living in Miami at the time. My cousin was visiting from Washington D.C., and he had a strong resemblance to a famous NFL player. So, he bought a jersey from the store that resembled the game jersey of that player. I had learned that there would be people at Donald Trump’s famous country club Mar-a-Lago so I decided that I would try to convince the valet that the man in my car was that famous NFL player. I drove up to the valet in my nice new Mercedes Benz (trust me it was all for show, I couldn’t really afford it). I stepped out of the car as if I were regular and almost pulled it off. The valet asked me who I was there to see. I confidently smiled and said, “DT, The Donald!” He asked a couple of questions and my cover was blown. He laughed and said, “Nice try guys” and promptly pointed to the exit lane. Later that year, I would indeed land a huge investor by simply telling him the truth. The lesson I learned was that plain old hard work and honesty go a long way in this messed up world.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Black Sheep was written as a social justice memoir and has been aptly described as “The Notebook Meets The Help.” While it’s not surprising that middle-aged to older women have been especially drawn to the book’s central character, Lemell Studevent, I set out to appeal to the younger readers with the comical and mischievous antics of her son. Understandably, Black women tend to magnate and sympathize with the plight of the strong Black mother, while White people, women in particular, tend to sympathize with the young child more than the mother. As a child, I benefited tremendously from the library system and I wanted it to appeal to the ever-growing population of bi-racial youths of today encouraging them to start reading books and maybe even take some of their similar stories and spin them into their own book. I set out to take the reader, young and old alike, from all different walks of life, on an unforgettable journey that they could somehow relate to by using the universal language of laughter. I wanted to make the reader experience a gambit of emotions — laughter, anger, joy, sadness. But most of all, I wanted to instill in readers that despite what color of skin we are born with, we all belong to the same family — the human race. If we can bring ourselves to love one another unconditionally, racism can be eradicated. True Christian love can trump every problem and negative behavior in existence today if only we can follow one simple mandate: Love thy neighbor.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

There are so many stories in the book to choose from but I will go with one that appeared in an early chapter. My mother worried that because I was light-skinned I would start to develop a superior complex and belittle her and my sisters. She nipped that in the bud by showing me my birth certificate and pointing to space where it indicated that I was “Black.” I always felt the need to prove to her that I was “Black” and proud of it. I’ll never forget the first time she sent me to the store all by myself to pick up a few items for the family. I remember feeling really nervous because a lot of tough guys always looking to pick a fight hung out by the grocery store. She handed me a list that consisted of eggs, milk, bread, rice and sugar. Well, in my honest and rather innocent attempt to prove my blackness to my mother, I brought home brown eggs, chocolate milk, brown sugar and wheat bread. The store didn’t carry brown rice so I got the next best thing I could find — Uncle Ben’s brand of white rice. I figured the illustration of the iconic Black man on the box would make up for the rice being white instead of brown. Momma was not happy because all of the “darker” versions of the foods were more expensive. She tried to pretend to be angry at me but Momma couldn’t help but chuckle at my attempt to earn my first bonafide “Black card.” That incident inspired one of the funniest lines in the book whereby someone asked her how I could possibly be her son. Finding it amusing, Momma responded politely, “Sir, if a brown cow can eat green grass and give off white milk, why can’t a brown woman eat collard greens and give off a white son?” Another one of her witty responses to the same question and definitely one of my favorites was, “If that black as Ace of Spades Dark Vader can be the white boy Luke Skywalker’s father, then how come I can’t be this white child’s mother.” Momma would go on to explain, “I know it’s Darth Vader and not Dark. But since Hollywood insists on depicting a Black man as being a deadbeat dad even in outer space, I think its okay for me to refer to him as Dark Vader.”

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I had an epiphany come over me while giving the eulogy at my mother’s funeral inside of a Baptist church filled to capacity. As she rested in peace inside her casket only a couple of feet away from where I stood, I began to recount the most memorable experiences that Momma and I shared together. As I relayed these stories, I noticed that people were laughing and crying at the same time. When I reached the end of my speech, I received a standing ovation and wanting to hear more, people proceeded to invite me over for dinner. Right then and there, it dawned on me just how courageous the woman who had experienced racism as a child in Mississippi from White people truly was for having taken in a blue-eyed rascal and providing him with a stable loving environment no matter how much hardship it would create for her. This was the pivotal moment the idea of writing our love story was conceived and from there it began to gain momentum with each passing day.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Sometimes you have a vision but you lack the faith and savviness to bring it to life. Well, much to my delight, both my literary agent and the in-house publicist my publisher assigned to work with me have been so persistent in making sure that Black Sheep has gotten the notoriety that it has. Despite being overloaded with so many other book projects, both women have given my memoir great priority. Thanks to them, I have been invited to do television and radio interviews to share my story, which has impacted and touched the hearts of listeners and viewers. I feel so grateful and humbled when I receive a barrage of e-mails, texts, and telephone calls from people shortly after an interview telling me how much my life story resonates with them. Their relentless pursuit of finding radio and television programming directors, book review editors, and even film and television folks who might be receptive to my life story has been nothing short of amazing. It truly warms my heart to see these two incredible women so highly motivated and dedicated to raising awareness to “issues that call for tissues” such as racism, Alzheimer’s, adoption and the other important topics discussed in the book. In retrospect, they come from different walks of life and have their own unique personality, however, they have joined forces and resources to create what has been an incredible wave of excitement and interest surrounding the book. Similar to the story of Black Sheep, they have adopted the book and treated it as if it were their own. Because of their efforts, many people have been positively influenced so far.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Well, on the surface, I think that the education system in this country needs to be re-evaluated. Germany starts training children at the age of fourteen to learn a trade. Even if they don’t end up working in that career for the long haul, at least they have something to help them get established in life and support themselves. When students graduate in America, the emphasis is on them going to college. Sadly, many of them can’t afford to go to college or health insurance so they either end up in debt or opt to take a low-level service job with benefits or means just so they can make a decent living. Of course, this is partly designed so the other option is to join the military. Secondly, there is no emphasis being put on preserving and strengthening the family unit any longer. So, children who are born out of wedlock or their parents are divorced grow up in a single-parent home. It used to be something special to be a responsible and well-respected father. But the roles of the parents have changed dramatically. These days, many women now want to experience it all — a successful career, the doting husband and rewarding motherhood. Some even prefer to raise their children alone. Sadly, I believe the broken-down family structure has contributed immensely to the problems in this country. Without a solid foundation at home, the odds of a child growing up to be a productive member of society are far less than one who comes from a solid two-parent home. Research has shown that the majority of prisoners are from broken homes. The father figure has been reduced to the object of humor and ridicule and video games have seduced many young men into not even caring about getting married and starting a family. Men are no longer men because they have no fathers to show them the importance of being a solid father figure to their children. Finally, the removal of God from society has really hurt it. There is no accountability nor reverence for God any longer. I believe society will always suffer as long as there is no father in the home nor in the heavens to help provide direction and guidance to help folks navigate through the difficulties of life.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Alexander the Great once said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” A “lion” or strong leader is someone who can recognize the strengths and weaknesses in individuals and maximize their strengths accordingly. In doing so, everyone benefits as well as contributes to the cause at full capacity. Along the way, a good leader builds the confidence of those he or she is leading. Before a leader can do this, he or she has to know specifically what they are looking for in their followers to help achieve the goal at hand. If by chance the leader discovers something that he or she is not looking for, yet it can further the cause, they will be humble enough to incorporate it into the plan. A leader is defined more by what he or she does rather than what they say, because the respect comes from their followers based on trusting that their actions harmonize with their words. Then as a leader, he or she may empower the sheep that have been entrusted in their care and encourage them to look within themselves to discover the lion inside thus helping them achieve their full potential. An effective leader can turn a flock of sheep into lions without them even realizing it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Always make time for your passion. I used to love to write when I was young but I allowed the pitfalls of life to drown out my passion. When I began to write seriously, I had to go through some growing pains. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how much I regret not pursuing the passion I had as a child. When I was in my mid-twenties, I met an agent in Los Angeles who read a screenplay I had written. He was with a major agency in Century City at the time. Despite being extremely busy and having a full roster of clients, he actually took the time to read my script. He returned my screenplay back to me all red-inked and gave me three months to get it back to him with all the changes and corrections made. Regrettably, I never did because I just didn’t make the time to pursue my passion.
  2. Value friends and genuine friendships. During my quiet moments, I often think about childhood friends and the wonderful ones I’ve made as an adult. One of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking I was too cool to spend quality time with them. I always wanted to be different but I didn’t know where to draw the line. While it was okay to be different, I shouldn’t have exercised my personal freedom at the expense of the friendships I had fostered. The more I went through life, the more I thought friends were disposable and easily replaceable. I am sometimes saddened by my failure to cultivate and value stronger friendships in my life. After my mother’s funeral, I got the opportunity to speak with some of my old friends and we all talked about how we all should have valued one another more and embraced the gift of friendship. Friendship and friends are a special gift and blessing that should never be taken for granted
  3. Set goals and strive to reach them. A person who does not have any set goals to strive for will eventually end up asking themselves, “Where did all the time go? Why haven’t I done anything with my life?” Since the pandemic began, I have watched so many movies and television shows. The more I watched, it struck me how familiar I was with so many of them. It also made me realize why it had taken so long for me to rediscover my passion for writing. Then with the nudging and encouragement my agent gave me, I finally decided to write Black Sheep. Once the creative juices started flowing and I found my rhythm, I started to agonize over all the precious time I had wasted watching countless hours of movies and television when I should have been more focused on my passion. Now, with social media, television and movie streaming services, radio and cell phones, hardly anyone takes the time or initiative to be creative. Nowadays, it’s about creating a superficial brand around their name on social media.
  4. Learn to love yourself. This is something that I didn’t learn to do until I was in my forties. Loving yourself doesn’t mean having an inflated ego or being self-centered. It simply means to treat yourself like you are your own best friend. If you can’t learn to love yourself, then how will you be able to love others? I really wish someone had told me much earlier in my life that it was perfectly okay to love myself. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to gifts such as new friendships, new cuisine, new wines. Being good to yourself will enable you to show genuine love to your family and other loved ones. When I did things out of obligation, I never felt any gratification. But when I began to understand that doing good things for others made me feel good and not the reverse as I used to think: Do good only when you feel good. Now I can honestly say that one of the most gratifying feelings I’ve ever had in my life was not so long ago when I counted down the moments of writing the final pages of Black Sheep. I can vividly recall looking in the mirror and seeing the smile on my face and feeling the joy in my heart…. “The End.”
  5. Keep a journal. I always regret not documenting my past. Recently, I voice recorded my 20,000th day of life. I would love to have been able to write “Day # 20,000” at the top of a blank page or computer screen and then proceed to fill the empty space. While its true that I have the memories in my head, I wish I could go back and read the details about what I was doing on any random day thirty or forty years ago. I would also be able to recall all of the wonderful people who may have made a difference or influenced me in some way along my journey. Having kept a journal all of these years would have been akin to having a time machine, and who in this world wouldn’t love to have one of those?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A pianist can play a song only using the white keys . . . he or she can play that same song by only using the black keys. But songs simply sound more beautiful and the pianist seems to have a lot more fun when the black and white keys are working together in harmony.” Being bi-racial, I have learned that there are great white folks and tremendous black folks. They simply have to learn to work together and harmonize as one.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I would love to sit down with Kathy Hughes, the CEO of TV One. As a native of DC, Mrs. Hughes’s name is synonymous with talk radio as well as late-night love songs. She overcame tremendous odds to achieve the great success she now enjoys. After losing her home, Kathy had to live in the radio station with her son. Drowning in debt she stuck to her vision and eventually grew to become the second wealthiest Black woman in America. The resilience and perseverance she demonstrated while experiencing great adversity is so impressive to me and this is why I would like to have the privilege of sharing a meal with her.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Black Sheep can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all other major online book outlets. To view television interviews or listen to radio interviews, readers can simply go to my author webpage at www.raystudevent.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.