Finding and Fostering Real Community: An Interview with EDGE Mentor Kristen Newton
We sat down with EDGE mentor Kristen Newton to learn more about her story and share it with you. As the official DJ of the Indiana Pacers, her career path hasn’t exactly been the conventional one – and her passion for mentoring and connecting with young women has grown into a project that she hopes will reach people beyond the ones in her circle.
Read on for Kristen's take on community, career, her latest passion project, mentorship and her advice for the next generation of leaders.
I really believe that God has used my relationships with people to bring me closer to Him. So now, I’m an advocate for community. I champion community and friendship. Don’t do life on an island – don’t do life by yourself. Link up with people and figure it out.
Most of the time, it’s going to suck. Finding genuine community is so hard, but it’s so worth it. That’s what I’m finding with the girls that I mentor – both in and outside of EDGE – and those that I walk alongside.
I think it’s so much better than having surface level relationships where there is no depth and you find yourself going through pieces of life by yourself, wanting that intimacy but not having it. So you’re either reaching for it in the wrong places, or choosing to be alone.
After I graduated from Virginia Tech, an opportunity opened up for me to serve at a ministry about an hour away, and I got plugged in there for three years. I ran an after school program and worked with inner city kids. That's when I got into DJing.
We used to throw parties for those kids at the beginning of the year, right before Christmas break, and then at the end of the year. At the time, my (now) husband was DJing for the parties but then he moved, and I thought that someone needed to keep it going for the kids. So I raised some money, got some equipment, and I was really just doing it as an opportunity to reach teens in the inner city. Then, it got the attention of some people and they asked me if I wanted to do this music thing." Kristen ended up touring with the group until she landed her job as the DJ for the Indiana Pacers.
I didn’t even want to go to the interview at first, but my husband encouraged me and said, “Take the interview. Always take the interview.” So I auditioned, got the offer and have been with them for five years now.
I just created a video course that teaches millennial women how to navigate unhealthy relationships called HEART Convos. Honest, Elephant-sized, Authentic, Real, Transparent Conversations. HEART Convos came about after having these conversations over and over again with the women in my life. I thought, “These girls are not the only ones going through these issues. So if you and your friends could see the clips from this video series, maybe it could start those conversations for even more people.” If we're willing to have these HEART conversations with the people we're doing life with, then we can begin to cultivate deeper relationships and the genuine community that all of us crave.
I think that today, social media steers us away from having these types of conversations and relationships. On social media, everything’s filtered, perfect and polished. It’s not really a place where we’re having those conversations with people. But for me, the people who were willing to have those conversations with me changed my life – so I want to offer this to people in a way that’s not boring, but real and authentic.
Now that I'm in my mid-30s, I know that it’s worth pursuing that type of community instead of settling for surface level relationships and always wanting more.
In the HEART Convos series, I talk about everything from expectations to being vulnerable in relationships. On the topic of mentorship, I have a lesson called the Oreo Principle – think about the top layer, the bottom layer, and then the sweet stuff in the middle.
I typically tell people that your top layer is an older person or a mentor – someone who’s one life stage ahead of you. Your bottom layer is someone younger than you – a mentee. And then the sweet stuff in the middle is your peers. I believe that you have to have all three layers.
You need that wisdom and insight from the top layer; When you’re at the edge of that cliff and you’re about ready to jump, you need someone who has already jumped to let you know that it really isn’t that bad. At the same time, you also need to be in the habit of giving back and investing in those younger than you. If you’re not investing in anyone, you’re missing an opportunity to learn and to grow yourself as a leader in someone else’s life. And I think having that responsibility develops something bigger inside of us and our character.
I would love to be a content creator. I don’t always feel represented when I look at the media – as a black woman and as a Christian – I would love to tell stories that I believe are authentic and genuine, and I think that the HEART Convos content will allow me to do that. And maybe that will open some other doors to new opportunities that I'm not expecting. I didn’t want to be the Pacers DJ at first – I don’t even watch basketball. But the Lord used that opportunity to launch a whole new phase of life that I couldn’t have found any other way, and I think He'll continue to do that.
Advice for the Next Generation of Leaders
Let’s just have an honest conversation and address the elephant in the room: You don’t need to have a college degree to be successful today. We have to remember that four-year universities are not for everyone – trying to force a square into a circle just isn’t going to work. But at the same time, you shouldn't throw out education altogether. There’s still value there.
So what I would tell the next generation of leaders is to be willing to listen to your top layer – the people who have been around longer than you – and figure out how to apply their wisdom and insight to your situation right now. And be willing to have a HEART conversation about what it is that you're being called to do – career wise or otherwise.
If you're more creative-minded, you don’t have to take a traditional corporate career path. Not because the traditional path is wrong, but if you’re having that HEART conversation with yourself and the people in your life, you might come to realize that it's not the best decision for you, and that's okay.