Written by Morgan Forde Photographed Kinia Lombardi and Natasha Magino With Contributing Reporting from Shaakira DeLoatch
“Most people that have never really visited DC are surprised that it’s a place where actual people live,” says local actor, entrepreneur, filmmaker, and writer Kayona Ebony Brown. “I’ve never lived outside the actual city. I was raised on Irving St. … so I know a lot about how the city's changing, gentrification, and how it’s changing for good and bad.” Brown’s experiences navigating relationships and making a career in the DC arts scene inspired her to write “Of Music and Men” -- a full-length television series that Brown is working to launch. The series follows Kenya Shaw, a DC 20-something trying to launch her own independent record company. The show takes audiences through the, “inner-workings of the independent music scene, and [shows] how a unique millennial and her single friends try to find love navigating the bleakest dating scene in the country.”
Stereotypes about DC were a motivating factor in Brown’s choice to set the show here. “This place is so romanticized,” Brown says, “like it’s a means to an end. Every movie or TV show that it’s in is because [the characters] got to get something accomplished, and it’s usually some law or something. No one says, ‘We got to go to DC to find some music.’” Yet, Brown got her start in the local arts scene by DJ-ing and hosting a morning and sports radio show at Duke Ellington -- a local arts magnet school named after one of many famed musicians and artists that grew up in the District like she did.
“[Y]ou have to constantly ask if you are too comfortable. You have to be okay if the answer is not the comfortable one.”
Her stint in radio led her to pursue some voiceover work and branch out into writing and directing music videos. Eventually, she established her own indie record label when she was in her early twenties. “I was a young woman running a record label, and I was like, ‘This could be a story.’ So [“Of Music and Men”] definitely came from my own personal life,” Brown explains. “A girl in New York running a record label is kinda typical, but a girl running a record label in the city where the president lives, where everyone is coming here to change policy, a city that most people don’t even know is a real city much less a city with arts and rich art history, that’s a little different. That’s different from New York; that’s different from Nashville; that’s different from Chicago; that’s different from LA, etc.” For Brown, the biggest question is whether she can make her dreams work in her beloved hometown. After all, despite DC’s thriving creative underground, New York City and Los Angeles have long been hubs for aspiring actors, entrepreneurs, and filmmakers like herself. “You don’t know how badly I want it to happen here and how badly I don’t want to leave,” Brown says, “but I’m trying to figure out if it’s New York or if it’s LA. I hate that I don’t have a better answer, but you have to constantly ask if you are too comfortable. You have to be okay if the answer is not the comfortable one.”
When asked if she has any advice for aspiring creatives, Brown says there are times when having a “do-do-do” mindset may not always be the answer, especially for those trying to envision the next step in their careers. “In 2018, we feel like we always have to be doing,” Brown says. “I’m definitely guilty of that. I feel very uncomfortable when I’m not doing. I feel like If I'm not doing something, someone else is, and they'll get what's mine. I’m trying to just be and let the answer come to me. Most big entrepreneurs will tell you to find your why,” she continues. “For storytellers it’s a little different sometimes. Stories are little birds or butterflies. They come to you, and you just have to be in a place to be a decoder of those stories.” That said, despite the existentialism Brown has experienced in her own life, and has conveyed through the lives of her characters, she stresses balance and that it is important for young creatives to continue to put their work out into the universe, developing themselves into storytellers and accumulating experiences and lessons worth sharing. “The story [for “Of Music and Men”] came to me to be told because I happened to be writer enough or woman enough or in the right place to be able to tell it.” You can learn more about Kayona Ebony Brown and “Of Music and Men” by visiting her website: kayonabrown.com