By: Amari D. Pollard
Three women found their way to each other and are now helping to carry themselves into their respective spotlights within the Syracuse entertainment industry, together.
The light smell of vanilla and coffee beans welcomed me as I left the damp night for the coziness of Cafe Kubal. The baristas quietly chatted as they shuffled over the counter, wiping away spilled almond milk and cookie crumbs. I settled at a nearby table, collecting myself before the ladies arrived. As I reached in my purse for my tape recorder, La Shaun “LS” Jones, LaKisa Renee and Tammy Reese sashayed through the door, shaking off the cold as they introduced themselves. The interview wasn’t supposed to start for another 20 minutes, but we all had the same idea to get there early, something I should have foreseen, considering they are businesswomen.
We quickly became acquainted, laughing over LaKisa eyeing the barista that was taking too long to make her coffee and chatting about the film they’re working on, “Priest the Lost Son.” The film, starring Robin Givens and Jamal Woolard, is about a father trying to get his son out of the drug game. Tammy is the Production Assistant for the film while LS and LaKisa are the Casting Directors, and all three have acting roles. This is just one of many collaborations the women have worked on together over the years, and it’s definitely anything but coincidental.
You see, there’s a special way their relationship functions. They’re each other’s support system, talent agents, co-creators, and in an industry that oftentimes feels cold and un-welcoming, they’ve found solace in each other.
After moving to Syracuse from New York City LS decided to enroll in acting classes at Barbizon, an acting and modeling agency, as a way to make friends. As a self-proclaimed tomboy, LS was never really interested in entertainment, the heals, the makeup, the acting, but after only three weeks of classes, her teacher asked her if she’d be interested in teaching herself. LS taught at Barbizon for two years, teaching people how to walk on the runway, go on go-sees, and do hair and makeup. That’s actually how she met LaKisa; she was her teacher.
Their friendship continued as they pursued their individual careers. LS worked as an event and set coordinator, an actress and worked at Syracuse Stage, while LaKisa worked on her cosmetics line Lè Du Jour, her apparel line Community Proud Apparel, and as a Teaching Consultant at the Center for Community Alternatives, teaching students about fashion, makeup, wellness and fitness.
After a few years working separately, they got back together and started managing models and doing coordination. Eventually, they got the idea to start a company that focused on providing promotion and consulting services for models and other talents. LSK Modeling & Events Company is now going on five years and with accomplishments like coordinating Syracuse’s first International Fashion Show and being the back and front managers for Couture Fashion Week in NYC, the business is going strong.
LS and LaKisa had been business partners for two years when they first met Tammy in 2014 at the Syracuse International Film Festival. Tammy was already a well-established actress in Syracuse, having worked with Syracuse’s The Media Unit for 10 years, performed at The Redhouse in The Color Purple and Dreamgirls, and now she’s even producing a film she wrote called “Loving The Same Man.” At first, Tammy was nervous to approach LS and LaKisa because she had been a fan of their work within the industry and was a little intimidated by it all, but once she introduced herself; they immediately clicked.
To name all their individual and collective achievements would be to create quite a long list, but luckily, there are two words that encompass them perfectly: Renaissance women. They have done and do everything, and all while being moms (except LaKisa, but she says she’s getting there). There is clear love and admiration they have for each other; they’re not just a representation of girl power, but something deeper; they’re sisterhood. They’re women cheering each other on and as one climbs, she makes sure they all climb. I wanted some insight on how they make it work and share their thoughts.
Amari Pollard: Was it hard for you to individually break into the entertainment industry in Syracuse?
LaKisa Renee: Oh yeah! Syracuse is one of those places where you have to know people to get ahead, so us being black women in a market dominated by white men and white women is hard. People were kind of standoffish at first, and we had to really prove ourselves to everyone.
La Shaun “LS” Jones: We were already stereotyped as unreliable or ghetto without people even talking to us. Then you have those people you think will support you but aren’t your biggest supporters when it comes down to it. We learned to have thick skin in this business, and each situation has made us better businesswomen.
Amari: What you do requires a lot of networking, but it also requires you to be your biggest advocate. How do become comfortable with talking yourselves up?
Tammy: You have to promote yourself, but some will take it as you thinking you’re better than people. That’s not the case, you just have to get your name out there. You have to get that exposure.
LS: Every day is an audition for us even though we’ve had our company for a few years. We never come off as though we have big egos, or we’re all that because we want to help and reach out to everyone.
LaKisa: We just want to bring people together and prove that together we are better; that women, black women especially, can work together because there’s this idea that a lot of black women can’t.
Amari: There has been a huge emphasis on sisterhood over the years, and especially now. How important is it for you all to have this tight support system?
LS: That’s one of the reasons why we started [LSK Modeling & Events Company] in the first place. There’s a lot of minorities, women of color and men of color who don’t get the opportunity to shine in some of the local productions. We’re a company that other agencies come to for minorities for their projects. That’s one of our top goals, to support minority talent because no one else is supporting us.
Tammy: LS and Kisa are Casting Directors for “Priest The Lost Son” and I’m the Production Assistant, and we are always reaching out to people to be a part of the project. We’re trying to give people the chance; we’re presenting them with the door, all they have to do is open it. We know it’s not just about us, but we really want to see other people do their thing as well.
Amari: You are all about giving minorities opportunities, so how essential is it to have proper representation in entertainment?
LaKisa: So essential, especially for kids and teens because they follow what they see in the media. If all you see are minorities playing gang members and bad guys, then that impacts what they think they’re going to think they’re capable of. When you see them in positive roles like doctors, lawyers, scientists, it empowers people. You start to see this movement happen where they realize their intelligence and what matters––that they can be the cool, smart people too. It’s important to set that example, because people are always watching and following.
LS: Exactly! It’s important to make sure we get clients and gigs that represent us in the most positive light possible. If we don’t agree with the representation, then it’s not going to happen because we don’t want to be represented in a certain type of light––reality TV does enough of that.
Tammy: I don’t want people to down themselves. I don’t want people to think ‘I’m too big, I can’t do this’, or ‘I’m from the hood. I am thick, and I also put myself through college and have won many awards for my craft. Don’t ever think you can’t do something because of who you are or your past.
Amari: Does seeing more women of color directing and starring in TV and film give you all hope?
LS: Especially during this time, with the whole political climate. I honestly think this is the year of women. Black, white, every woman. We need to support each other.
Amari: You’re all working on ”Priest The Lost Son” now, and I used to be one of those people that thought everything about working on a film was glamorous. Then I worked on a movie set last year in Syracuse and got a huge reality check.
LS: They’ve had us on set from 7 a.m. to 11 at night.
LaKisa: I had a scene with Robin, and it was just a few lines back and forth … It took us almost four hours to do those lines. They had to do my lines first then get her reaction, and vice versa. I literally stood in a doorway freezing for almost four hours on the snowiest day ever, and I got sick, but that’s what you have to do. You have to sacrifice, and it was worth it.
LS: So worth it! And Ms. Robin Givens is such a professional. We hadn’t rehearsed with her or acted opposite of her before, we just did a quick-dry read, and then it was “action” with her. She is legit, so professional and warm.
Amari: What advice do you have for women looking to get into entertainment, or just pursuing their dreams?
Tammy: Don’t be scared. Go for it, just know that you’re going to have upsets but in the end, it’ll all be worth it. You’re going to hear no but you’ll hear yes as well. There are so many opportunities and achievements and joy.
LaKisa: Be patient, because nothing happens overnight. It took me a long time to get to these point––years. You have to have thick skin and do your research. Once you think you know everything, there’s something else to learn.
LS: Find people that will love your idea and are willing to invest in it. I feel that when people give up on their dreams, then it really wasn’t their passion in the first place.