Such “Rich”ness! A Lesson on Resiliency

Rich Shares His Journey

Rich Kissi shares his story of resiliency. How he went from boyhood interrupted to become a successful fashion photographer.

Imagine its 2000, and like many 15-year old boys, you are dreaming about making the football team, beating your homies at PlayStation and making side-eyed glances at the girls in class. Your dad is a successful Ghanaian accountant and you and your brother are living in a tony section of New Rochelle, NY, home to many black corporate titans, entertainers, doctors and social activists. Life is great, your home is the center of activity, lots of family traditions, values and celebrations. You only have to focus on your grades and side-stepping the pitfalls that come from peer pressure and making poor choices.

Until one night when you are suddenly awakened to the barrel of a cold blue steel gun staring back at you. “Put your hands up!” A voice yells. You realize, this ain’t no robbery. The police are searching your home and arresting your mom. You learn in that same moment, that your dad is also in jail and you and your brother are alone. Your chest tightens as tears of betrayal and fear synapse in your brain, and in that brief moment you know your world is forever changed.

Today, you are a millennial entrepreneur and successful photographer, channeling greats like Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts or Steven Meisel.  Building an agency that captures the beauty of diverse women for Fashion Week, and the top modeling agencies in the world. This is not fiction. This is Richard Kissi. And this is his story.

The Strategy Chick Chats With Rich

TSC: Rich, how did you get through your darkest hour?

RK: Looking back on that time, I realize it was the community that saved me. I had role models of strong black men all around me in New Rochelle. For a brief time after it all went down, my brother and I lived in the house alone. Eventually I went to live with my best friend’s family. They took me in like their own. Kept me whole.  I was always a quiet person but I became more introspective and withdrawn. It also made me humble. When we had money, everyone was around, bunch of opportunists. Then suddenly they were all gone. I felt it first-hand. After that, I realized that material things did not matter. It is also at this time that I adopted my personal life strategy, “The right choice, is always the right choice.” It forces me to pause and think about what I am doing before I act.

TSC: How has this experience made you a better man?

RK: I’m more focused and humble. During high school I played on the state championship team. One of the best teams to come out of New Rochelle. I watched as two of my teammates became local and national stars. I thought we were equals. For a minute I played the comparison game. My former teammates had made it to the NFL and the Ivy League. I wondered why I didn’t. I had the talent but I realized I lacked the mental strength.  My head game wasn’t there. I knew from playing sports and video games that to be really great at something you must have a playbook and you have to do something towards your goal every day. I start each day with a morning motivational ritual that reinforces my commitment. This is the foundation for my “focus”.

Wanting More Out of Life

TSC: What was the turning point?

RK: After high school I tried college but knew a traditional path was not in the cards. I have always known that I learn differently and am better with practical real-life experience which ignites my creativity. So I tried building a career in music and had some success managing an artist, but not at the level to sustain a living.

During this time, I helped care for my friend’s mom, who was dying from cancer. Every day I would sit with her and just talk, be there for her and do whatever she needed. The Campbell’s had been my surrogate family throughout high school and Mary and Marvin showed me the importance of creating a vision, and finding happiness in your present. Her death impacted me as though she were my mom.

Afterwards, I moved in with Marvin and the boys. Marvin was selfless, always put others first. I admired how he took the four of us from boys to men. Marvin took care of everything. He gave me time to get on my feet, discover what I wanted to do. I had a great home, but no real accountability. My turning point was five years ago. I was living a nice life. But it wasn’t a life I created. I wasn’t living up to my full potential.

TSC: What’s love got to do with it?

RK: Despite the challenges I endured, my grand vision for my life and belief in myself have kept me focused. I wanted to be married, have a partner, a strong confident woman, kids and to work for myself. When I met Isabella, I knew I was ready to put everything into the relationship. My desire to create a future legacy helped me step out of my comfort zone and set up my photography business  There are so many options available to learn and hone your craft and this helped me become a self-taught photographer. You just have to go do it. Isabella sees my passion and commitment and constantly encourages me to go for it. We got engaged this past Thanksgiving. Love is also about forgiveness. I remain close to my parents and appreciate the strong foundation they gave me and move forward from the past.

Such “Richness” Strategies for Resiliency

After interviewing Rich for his story on resiliency, I was inspired by his use of these simple strategies: having a vision and playbook; making morning motivations to stay committed; doing something every day to get better and creating his personal mantra, “The Right Choice is Always the Right Choice.” These strategies helped Rich “turn the camera” on his life and open the aperture to all the possibilities!






2 Responses to “Such “Rich”ness! A Lesson on Resiliency

  • Mary Morgan
    3 years ago

    Hi CC, I really enjoyed reading about Rich, and you wrote about him and interviewed him so beautifully! What a story about true resilience. I also enjoyed hearing about Marvin’s generosity and about the family. I can’t wait to meet you and Marvin and so many of Fred’s family and friends! Thanks for this, Mary

    • CeciliakCarter
      3 years ago

      Mary, thank you for your note and I am glad you enjoyed the story. We look forward to meeting you very soon!

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