Valeisha Butterfield Dishes on Career: I've Worked for Obama, Russell Simmons

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Valeisha Butterfield the co-founder of WEEN (Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network) and Deputy Director of Public Affairs for International Trade, speaks on life in the entertainment industry, former boss Russell Simmons and her role in the Obama administration.

How did you get started in the entertainment industry? I knew very early on that I wanted to work in the entertainment business behind the scenes. I grew up in a small town, but I knew what I heard on the television and radio had a business behind it. So I chose Clark Atlanta University because I wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. I held numerous internships in college and after college because I was committed to breaking in.

You were formerly the director for Russell Simmons hip-hop summit. I had been doing a lot of unpaid work for music labels, so I decided to email Russell Simmons with my best five-sentence pitch on why he should hire me. He responded within three minutes and told me to come into his office for a meeting. He was such a humble guy who was open to meeting new people with new ideas. It was a 30-minute meeting one-on-one and at the end he offered me an unpaid internship. I ended up spending about six years there as a vice president for his non-profit division and a vice president. It’s been one of my most rewarding professional experiences.

You’re the daughter of a congressman and elected official. How did they feel about you going into the entertainment industry? I’m from a small town in North Carolina, so although my parents are extremely intelligent they had no idea what the entertainment business was outside of what they saw on television. It wasn’t until they came to attend an event I helped organize and saw me being recognized on stage with big name executives that they really got it.

The entertainment industry is dominated by males. Is that the reason you found WEEN? Yes. It was a huge part in me founding WEEN. I was fortunate to have a boss in Russell that motivated his employees to reach their full potential and I wanted to do that for other women.

What advice can you give other young women who want to follow your path? I think sometimes as women we feel we have to be the smartest women in the room or the most beautiful women in the room to be successful. I’ve found that’s not the case. Be dedicated to whatever it is you love to do and everything else will follow.

Within the past year you’ve transitioned into the Deputy of Public Affairs for the Obama Administration. How has it changed your life?  A lot of people think my job is so different from the entertainment industry. Yes, I am working for the federal government, but it’s still a creative environment, which is similar to the entertainment industry.  It’s still marketing, public relations and brand development -- all the things I love. 

You started your position as Deputy Director during a time when President Obama was extremely popular. How difficult is to now be a part of an administration that's losing popularity? I think our President said it best, he wasn’t elected to do what’s popular, he was elected to do what’s right. I think for me, I do the work that I was called to do and hold myself accountable. I think people will look back on these days and understand these are challenging times. It’s a process.

How can young people get more involved in politics? Young people can get involved in politics by volunteering, voting and dedicating themselves to a cause. I think it’s so important that we all remember, change doesn’t happen over night. 

Where do you see your career 10 years down the road? I would love WEEN to be operating fully in television/film, and as a non- profit. I want us to tell the stories of untold women. If we can get there in the next 10 years, I’d feel like my life was just about complete.

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