Alumni Spotlight: Rafiah B. Sessoms

ENTERTAINMENT – This spotlight series features T. Howard Foundation (THF) alumni working in Entertainment.

Rafiah B. Sessoms (THF ’16)
Sr. Manager, Streamer Distribution – Wurl, Inc.

What do you enjoy most about your company?
The FAST space of the media business is of interest to me because it is still fairly new. There is an unlimited amount of room for innovation and that is something that has always been a key part of my career goals. With that said, it was my curiosity and a bit of universal redirection that led me here. In 2017, I started to notice the market changing and I didn’t want to be in the midst of layoffs when it became clear that things just weren’t going to continue to work the way they did for decades of traditional media. I focused more on small businesses that were tech heavy but integrated some level of content delivery and this was the first time I heard of Wurl, the timing just didn’t quite work out. Now, I was definitely in the first round of companywide layoffs and this wasn’t my first time experiencing it either. It was horrible!! So, while I was right, my timing wasn’t so much. I had just passed on a full academic scholarship to Thurgood Marshall School of Law 6 months before this. If you could imagine I was pretty distraught by my decision not to attend. I decided to try again and this time I received a call from Meta, f.k.a Facebook. This is where I started my career in tech.

In what way did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
I first got introduced to marketing back in college, when I did a media communication major. As my minor, I began taking plenty of business courses and somehow landed in a marketing class that explored customer behavior/perceptions and how various data points can help drive smart and insightful business decisions. This class also taught me that you can get paid for your creativity and use that creativity to grow products, build commercials, plan events, manage sponsorships, etc. I quickly decided that I wanted to explore more marketing courses, so I met with my college advisor and requested to declare marketing as my second major. In the end, I graduated with double majors in Media Communications and Business Administration (specialization in marketing management). To get my feet wet, I began doing summer marketing internships very early on: D’Exposition & Partners, Lord & Taylor, and even Viacom. I got started in marketing by being willing to do free summer internships and putting myself out there to ask for assistance. For example, my DREAM internship was at Viacom, and I use my professional organization (Sponsors for Educational Opportunities AKA SEO) to refer me to this role. In fact, it was SEO that also introduced me to the T. Howard Foundation.

Has your career path been linear or non-linear?
My career path has been extremely non-linear. Shifting from Meta was another big career decision but the truth is there is no right answer or single direction to your goals. You have to feel your way through the choices. I love to be on the edge of what is next and I love problem-solving. There will be a time when paying for individual subscription services is no longer feasible in every household. So, how do we continue to keep our worlds connected globally and still generate revenue? I think this is what everyone is trying to figure out now. I wanted to be in the thick of that and it’s what guides my decisions.

How has your affiliation with the T. Howard Foundation influenced your career?
I spent my summer with T. Howard interning for the Digital Media department at WEtv. This experience jumpstarted my career and was the avenue to securing my first role at AMC Networks post-graduation. Wurl delivers FAST channels for them and it makes me happy to see this come full circle! I’m grateful for this experience because my major was Film Production with a specialization in Producing for Film & TV (very non-linear, lol). I wasn’t clear how the experience merged but let’s just say I’m very clear now! The T. Howard Foundation does incredible work, is extremely reputable and if you’re lucky it’ll put you on the best track for future career success if you’re open to it.

What personal attributes have been essential to your career success?
Well, I went to a boarding school since I was 11 years old and core values were cemented into the walls. They became such a significant part of my journey and overall uniqueness which has been essential to my career success: Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Courage and Compassion. I stand on these in my personal life and share them with my team in a professional capacity.

Acknowledge your feelings and those of others
Appreciate differences and display a positive attitude through challenges
Demonstrate courtesy, gratitude and thankfulness
Recognize your self-worth, while treating others with dignity and understanding

Be accountable for your decisions and actions
Be reliable and communicate with sureness
Engage in your learning and take ownership of your actions
Fulfill duties and demonstrate stewardship

Be honest and trustworthy
Do the right thing in all circumstances
Honor your commitments
Speak up for the truth and against injustices

Develop self-discipline
Persevere through adversity and remain steadfast in pursuit of your goals
Reframe setbacks as opportunities for growth
Stand up for what you believe and express self-advocacy

Be of service as a citizen of the community
Build mutually supportive relationships
Demonstrate kindness and caring toward others
Seek to understand and empathize with others

Are you extroverted or introverted? How does this show up in your professional life and how has this trait benefited you professionally?
I’m definitely an ambivert (introverted extrovert) and I’ve yet to determine if and how much it has benefited me professionally. In the workforce, it is easy to see me. I’ve been told I exude confidence in-person and virtually. Well, I don’t ever feel that way lol In fact, I believe it’s one of the reasons my friend group is always evolving. I like to sit with myself often, it takes me time to recharge from my day-to-day and in many ways as outgoing as I seem I can be equally reserved.

Rafiah’s Piece of Advice: You’re not crazy! You’re just doing something 95% of others don’t know exists yet. Continue to pioneer and use your creativity to imagine new worlds and systems that are equitable and can be the place you aspire to thrive in.