Social Justice Media: Detavio Samuels ’02 of REVOLT Media & TV
Meet Detavio Samuels, Duke '02 and the newest COO of Sean "Diddy" Combs' REVOLT TV, leading the way for social justice, journalism, and hip-hop.
First, a meeting with the media team to recap on current activities. Then a brand meeting and a check in with the braintrust team—the young eyes in the company reviewing content ideas. If he’s lucky, he’ll squeeze in an hour-long working block to get cracking on the latest company project launch. All that and it’s not even lunch time. Meet Detavio Samuels ’02, new Chief Operating Officer of REVOLT Media and TV, the nation’s leading curator and distributor of hip-hop content.
Founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs, REVOLT is a multi-platform ecosystem (television, digital, social and live events) that uses hip-hop—the biggest driver of global culture—to help millennials and Gen Z understand the world around them and impact change.
I interviewed Samuels to learn more about REVOLT, how it is making impact in the current social uprising, and the power of knowing the vision. Hear more from Samuels and his REVOLT Media & TV colleagues, Cherisse McKenzie (Head of Production), Deon Graham (VP, Digital) and Eboni K. Williams (Host & Executive Producer) in the upcoming Duke Create and DEMAN workshop, a behind the scenes of look at Revolt Black News.
Can you walk us through your journey from Duke (Class of 2002) to becoming the COO of REVOLT Media & TV?
I’m actually very jealous of the opportunity you guys have. Back when I was at Duke, we only had paths for pre-law, pre-medicine, etc. During the second semester of my senior year, I took my first marketing class and fell in love with it. I decided then that I wanted to be a CMO, but I was only 21 and just about to graduate. I quickly realized I would probably need my MBA to achieve my goal. The average age for graduating with an MBA is 28; I didn’t want to wait that long. So, I applied to business school one year out of college, and was fortunate enough to be accepted at Stanford Graduate School of Business. The beauty of that is just how quickly I was able to learn and be exposed to this growing interest of mine. It didn’t take me long to realize that one of my gifts is that I am probably equal parts business and creative—and so would need to find roles that leveraged both skillsets.
After I led a branded content campaign with Beats by Dre (before they were a household name), I realized that the future of marketing, advertising, and branding is not just creating ads—but about creating content that people would choose to engage with and choose to consume.
How has REVOLT Media and TV transformed to respond to COVID and growing social uprising?
We realized that you cannot have a pre-COVID business model in a post-covid world. COVID-19 has put us on another rapidly developing trajectory—REVOLT is on the verge of a whole new business.
Since March, we have transitioned to focus more on social justice issues, mainly through our REVOLT BLACK NEWS series. Although REVOLT has always focused on highlighting the experiences of Black people across the United States, now more than ever, our work has recognizable importance. As the news developed that Black and brown folk are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and the social uprising in response to police brutality unfolded, REVOLT has grown its focus on social justice. It is the only thing we have been doing for the past six weeks.
How has REVOLT Media & TV taken up the social movement? Where will it lead this social zeitgeist?
The way I see it is, hip-hop is revolutionary and the brand is called REVOLT, so we can’t do anything but be part of the revolution. I feel like we have all the ingredients to really go out and change the culture. My current mindset is that social justice will never go away.
Even in the future, REVOLT will always be at least 50% social justice. We want to keep the pressure going, featuring stories about Black people and the issues facing the Black community, even when everyone else thinks it’s time to move on. Social justice is now ingrained in our brand. It’s ingrained in what we do.
What is the goal of REVOLT Media & TV right now?
It all goes back to the story of the free Black press. The first Black newspaper launched in 1827. It became a beacon of light for Black stories and Black success. When there was no platform to give us a voice, the world did not know our issues and our stories. Then came Black radio and Black television. But as these platforms grew, they also lost power. They were essentially defunded because advertisers would not run ads on these platforms.
As a result, the big headline now is that the Black press is “all but invisible” today. But now is when we need it the most. At REVOLT, we want to reverse that invisibility. We believe Black America is fired up and looking for solutions, so we want to give them a spectrum of voices from the Black perspective so that people can make their own informed choices. We’ve very solution focused. Our hope is that we give Black America a voice and perspective that they’ve asked for, that is necessary for this moment. Through that, we can find and identify our own solutions.
We are creating the leading platform for voicing the Black experience.
Did you always know you wanted to work at a company like REVOLT Media & TV?
When I was at Duke I did not know I wanted to be in this position. However, working here does intersect with my past. I majored in African and African American Studies, I pledged Kappa my freshman year, and I was involved in the Black community at Duke. The success of Black culture and Black people has always been a North Star for me but I didn’t know I wanted to do this. I didn’t even know this stuff existed. It was my love for Black culture and my nurturing inner circle of mentors and friends that helped get me here.
If you know what you want when you are 50 when you are only 20 years old, something is wrong—it means those 30 years of experience will not amount to anything. You cannot, and should not, know who you want to be. What you should have is dreams, what you should have is goals, because from there you find yourself through the progression.
The vision, firstly on the business side of things, is that REVOLT goes from being a startup brand to a household name. We want the world to know REVOLT as a global force shaping culture, as hip-hop has done throughout history. I, personally, want to see REVOLT content globally. I want to see REVOLT in as many places as we can be, reaching as many folks as we can, exposing the world to the Black perspective at large.
How can someone looking to change get more involved?
Follow everything REVOLT. If you want to make a difference, this is where you can start.
Do you have advice for students currently seeking employment in media or entertainment?
- Lean on your network. Use this time to branch out and learn as much as possible about various industries you are interested in.
- Cultivate demonstrable interests. Whatever your ideal project is or if you consider yourself a maker, seek ways to “make” things to have them serve as examples of where you want your passions to take you. Make it more than just words.
- Recognize what you leverage and offer. The Gen Z, Gen X perspective is crucial in the media industry these days. Offer your help, perspective, and time when you can. That can often lead to further opportunities down the road.
Omolola Sanusi ’21 is from Maryland and majoring in literature with a concentration in film and media, cinematic arts and receiving a certificate in decision sciences. As the captain of the Creative Art Student Team, she supports her fellow team members in developing content for Duke Arts and strengthening the arts community at Duke. She encourages all students to explore the varied opportunities Duke offers in the arts.