Ernest Owens: I say I’m a multi–media journalist, be- cause when you say the word journalist people get turned off...I do a lot of things; I do video, I do visual, I do graphic design, I do writing, I do all of it, so it’s multi–media journalism...I work WITH the establishment, I don’t work for the establishment. I’m contributing my work to you; I’m helping you out, Huffington Post...So I get to talk about things like that, things like feminism, I can talk about Beyoncé and how she can do better, I can talk all those great things. And fun fact, Beyoncé went to my high school.
Street: Who else is included in the Empire?
EO: I have a great team. We call it CMOC, Creative Men of Color...We talk about rac- ism, rape culture awareness, we talk about a lot of stuff.
Street: And the website has a very professional design.
EO: I wanted to take important stuff and make it sexy. So that, when you look at the site, you don’t feel like you’re going to “The National Association of blah blah blah.” It looks stylish, looks chic, but then you’re learning so much cool stuff at the same time...My webpage is a public service. It’s just that it’s chic.
Street: What’s your proudest accomplishment to date?
EO: Losing the Class Board election my freshman year.
Street: Really? Why?
EO: I thought I was going to be the next president of the United States...I was the kid that a lot of kids are at Penn right now and it sucked. I had my whole thing planned out...My first day at Penn was the first day NSO…I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had Kinko copy cards, with a little Penn logo, with my double major at the top. And I had like 1500 of them, and I was passing them out, and I didn’t know anyone...But I came in here thinking I was going to be class president and I lost that election, and I lost it epicly, and I had this horrible NEC thing. And that was so embarrassing on my part, I didn’t know what to do! I was like wait, this is not part of the plan!
Street: So what’d you do?
EO: Then WQHS said, “Hey! You want to do a radio show and speak your mind?”...And then that just kept going and going, and I realized that what I ended up loving was me- dia, because I saw how the media reflected on me... My entire Penn experience at that point was like, why am I here, maybe I made the wrong decision, maybe I’m not up for this Ivy League thing...And doing that got me experience to find out Penn from a different light. I was able to re–design myself. Like, make myself a personality, make myself a brand. And I began to say, I’m going to be bold, I’m going to be fearless, I’m going to speak my mind, and I’m going to do that because I’m going to control my media.
Street: And you’re referring to your radio show, Ernestly Speaking? What’s that like?
EO: Controversial. When I first did it my first semester they almost cut the show—people tried to get the show off, because they were a little salty...We talk about sex, dating, relationships, it was a Wendy Williams type of show...But we’re not regulated by the FCC, and that’s what people don’t know about our show.
Street: So now the big question: Why do you choose to make your discourse so public?
EO: Because people won’t hear me otherwise...And I remember, when I was very little I used to be very timid. I used to have anxiety attacks, and I used to be passive...People won’t hear you if you don’t say anything...And I think that especially now with mental health being an issue, I want to encourage people to start expressing themselves. I do it not for you all, I do it for my health. It’s therapeutic to speak what’s on my mind. It’s not just for the shows and likes and friends and all that crap, it’s for me! So when I go to bed at night, I don’t have any regrets...Because I know that, if I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but at least I was right letting other people know I was wrong.
Street: Do you find that you reach people or just create controversy?
EO: I hate the word controversy. I think the word controversy is a stigmatizing word that many people use to try to distract what I’m saying.
Street: But controversy has arisen about what you write.
EO: No matter how people feel about me, they’re still reading it. And when they’re by themselves with that laptop in their lonely rooms in the dark, they’re sitting there with a moral conscience telling themselves, “He’s right.” They may not admit it, but they’ll say it...They may not give me the credit and I don’t want the credit, because it’s not about that. What I want is for people to have better mindsets about these things...So sometimes I go in there head–first...A lot of people, they can’t do that. All these cultural groups, they’re under politics, they want to be in senior societies, they want to be cool, so they don’t want to piss people off. Me? What do I got to lose? This is what I do for a living. I’m an activist first, a journalist second.
Street: What are your thoughts on senior societies?
EO: People are always saying, I’m like the Leonardo DiCaprio of senior societies. Like, “What! You do all this stuff and you’re not in?” No! Because I was honest, that’s why I’m not in them...I pissed a few people off. So I always joke that I’m in a society, it’s called the Illuminati. Look it up...And all the kids that cry and whimper about it all the time, they didn’t get in, I’m just like, “But does that make anything you do less legit?”
Street: So what about “Rape Culture Awareness Week.” How does that differ from already established events like Take Back the Night?
EO: Because I’m a man.
Street: How about One in Four?
EO: One in Four, well they’re Greek men I think, aren’t they?
Street: Nope. Not only.
EO: Well they’re all white men, mostly.
Street: So why not join them and combine forces?
EO: Well, a lot of times, when you want to take initiative, you don’t got time to wait for other people...I think this school is so decentralized to the point that everyone feels like every time you want to do something you gotta get checked by another group, you gotta have this protocol. Why can’t you just make your own shit? I said fuck it, I’m gonna make my own Rape Awareness Week.
Street: But doesn’t that contribute to the decentralization?
EO: I think that there’s no versatility in leadership on this campus because, you know, One in Four’s an establishment, but sometimes people want an alternative. And for that week, I wanted to give an alternative way of looking at this issue.
Street: Tell us more about the recent NEC scandal following UA elections.
EO: I’m a social media tycoon, in my own right. I can smell bullshit a mile away on social media... I am against vanity on social media. [Ed. Note: ernestowens.com]...I saw Gabe’s page, and I found that there were some fake likes. And I said, “This is weird.”...And I screenshotted! I even posted on their facebook page like, “Yo, you got fake likes!” Look, I give people the heads up before I do anything, for the most part... And, it was funny because I came into Penn with an NEC case that I got charged for and got disqualified from the class board, and then to leave graduating out with a NEC case where I’m the person filing the complaint...It’s interesting how life is a big, huge boomerang.
Street: How do you think people would describe you?
EO: If they’re being fair, they’ll say I’m opinionated, they’ll say I’m attractive—I think everyone who doesn’t like me knows I’m cute. Ambitious. I think people say I’m ambitious. I think people will say I’m upfront. I think I’m very upfront.
Street: Now describe yourself in three words.
EO: Charismatic. Resilient. Relevant.
Street: What will you be doing on this day in 10 years?
EO: Probably doing an interview like this for 20/20.