We had the good fortune of connecting with Amir Whitaker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amir, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I owe much of the success that I have to risk-taking. I’ve embarked on lots of projects and ideas where the outcome was unknown and success was not probable. If you’re doing something that has never been done before, or trying to create something never seen, the associated risk is likely part of the reason why. Most people have a healthy fear of failure and embarrassment, and this prevents them from taking risks. I’m not as concerned with fear or the embarrassment that might come from failing. This is part of why I’m known as “Dr. Knucklehead.” While studying human motivation in graduate school, I remember a professor sharing an impactful example of how adults could benefit from aspects of the mindset they had as toddlers. The Professor talked about how toddlers trying to learn to walk afraid of falling down and are not concerned with people laughing at them. Each time the baby falls down, they slowly get back up until they eventually walk. The walking eventually evolves into running and jumping. However, as we become adults, we are more concerned with falling, failing, and people laughing at us. I’ve come to accept falling and occasional failure as part of life and the learning process. I now believe that I can take no losses, only lessons. I remember the risk I took 13 years ago to buy a one-way ticket and move to California even though I didn’t know a single person on the West Coast. Like a baby learning how to walk, I fell many times. I’m standing strong on my feet today though.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
One of the things that set me apart is my embracing of past traumas and difficulties. It took lots of writing, reflection, and support, but I fully embraced everything that went into making me who I am. Art has helped with the reflective process. I feel like it gives me the power to acknowledge pain and while providing healing. I’ve been crying a lot lately while writing music. It’s the only time I actually cry and the tears always feel good. At this point, I’m most proud of the evolution of my imagination. I’ve embraced creativity and freedom as a way of life. This has reframed the way I view things. It’s helped me find creative solutions and respond to some problems as opportunities. When moving into my new apartment two months ago, I noticed a natural tendency to think outside the box. I was doing all sorts of “MacGyver” thing as I reconstructed and decorated my new place. The imagination is critical for all people, but it’s sanctuary for creative people. We’ve had to rely on our imaginations daily to survive this pandemic. It took decades to get to where I am today, but I still feel like I have not arrived into the person I aspire to be. Being a “KnuckleHead” has become quite helpful After understanding it’s true power. As a teenager breaking laws and rules, I was called a knucklehead or someone who didn’t listen. I eventually Today I still have this hard-headedness, but use it when it comes to doubt and disbelief. I don’t listen to whispers of fear, self-doubt, or even other people not believing in me. Over the past eight years with my non-profit project knucklehead, we’ve been working with you to inspire a similar “hard-headed hope”.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve always loved the Rose Garden in Exposition Park. During the right time of year, there are hundreds of species of roses. I spent many hours studying there while going to USC. I also love Elysian Park. one of my favorite places to walk or hike and it makes you feel like you’re not in this Concrete Jungle. I love eating at any of the local and authentic restaurants and Little Ethiopia. The same can be said for Thai town or K-Town. Love the street food of LA and its resilience during the pandemic. In my neighborhood is the lady that sells pupusas and quesadillas for $2! Venice Beach is one of my favorite places on Earth. The combination of people and art there is so colorful.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Dedicating my shoutout to The Youth who inspire me every day. Special gratitude to the Freedom Fellows of Project KnuckleHead. I do because of you.