Ken Miles, Social Impact Entrepreneur
“How do you create awareness and a conversation in a way that reduces stigma, provides adequate resources, as well as a holistic perspective? How do we get well?”
Born in Harlem, Ken Miles is a social impact entrepreneur, connector and consultant with a focus on community development, and a background in digital media and advertising. An Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) at Civic Hall, he is thinking through his initiative NeedSomebody to help curate conversations that reduce the stigma around Black communities and mental health. Ken is also a co-founder of Hire Harlem, a platform to identify and support Black, LatinX, and women-owned businesses in Harlem, and in the process reduce the youth workforce opportunity gap. Ken also serves on West Harlem’s Community Board #9. A graduate of Vassar College, Ken co-chaired the Black alumni association (AAAVC) and served as the youngest member on their Board of Trustees.
What Does He Do?
Ken is currently working on NeedSomebody’s #BlackCanCrack speakers series, which brings together experts and practitioners in the field of mental health to talk about their work and share their insights with the goal of helping better identifying what designing through trauma can look like.
How Did He Get Into This Work?
Ken was raised in a family of educators — his stepdad was a vocational teacher and his mother taught public school in Queens. It was his grandmother, however, who worked at Henry Street Settlement for thirty-eight years, instilling in him that “there is more than one way to learn, the value of service, and an understanding that community matters.”
Ken is keenly aware of how his mother created an opportunity for him. While other teachers took the summer off from teaching, she drove a school bus so that he and his brother were able to attend upper-middle-class Coleman Country Day Camp. It was during these summers when he was first exposed to swimming, horseback riding, and — his first sighting of a lacrosse stick. Years later, one of his high school technology teachers started a lacrosse team which ultimately led to Vassar recruiting Ken and offering him a sports scholarship.
After losing his twin brother to cancer, Ken was steered in the direction of therapy by a friend who is a black psychotherapist.
“Navigating that journey on and off for the better part of a decade, I came to understand how important mental health and wellness was not just for my community but also thinking about some of the Black founders I encountered grappling with their own (unaddressed) needs. Many of us are in similar boats, few paddles, and I’m of the belief the water will get rougher to navigate as we look ahead to emerging technologies that will shift our relationship to one another, and the communities to which we are a part of.”
Ken’s work comes as he tries to shine a light that while suicide is up in across America, it has been particularly devastating to the African-American population. Given the unaffordability of care, Ken finds himself interrogating, “What are models for spaces and facilitation for mental health not derived from our capitalist economy? How can we see to it that those who don’t have access to insurance can still have the ability to be well, to be healthy?”
What Project Is He Working On?
During May, Ken convened his #BlackCanCrack speaker series at Civic Hall. The event was designed to “bring together experts and practitioners in the field of mental health to talk about their work, and share their insights with the goal of helping better identifying what designing through our trauma can look like.” Speakers included: Dr. Claire Green-Forde, W. Jason Rosario of The Lives of Men, and Dr. Byron Young of the Mental Health Service Corps.
Across any metric — especially judging from the engaged sold-out crowd — it was a huge success. Ken’s takeaway: “It made me hopeful that listening can make us better people.”
For his HireHarlem platform, Ken is currently thinking through the user experience of the platform, the tools to connect business owners with resources they may need, and how Machine Learning may be able to facilitate this.
How Did He Come to Civic Hall?
“I’ve crashed numerous Civic Hall talks, which I’ve found to be excellent. When I’ve gone to citywide-related activations I care about, usually, Civic Hall has been represented. More importantly, I know unlike traditional workspaces, Civic Hall is designing an intentional community of civic thinkers and doers. Watching that community expand, and recognizing the plans for the new space, it was a no-brainer to try and connect with folks who I feel have aligned priorities in imagining what NYC’s future can look like, and subsequently, cities nationwide.”
Ken splits his time between Harlem and as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Civic Hall. “Being that I’m here only part-time, it’s a testament that I can be as engaged as I am. To me, that’s a stronger indicator of the intentional community that Civic Hall is cultivating.”
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
“I’m interested in connecting with (eco)system thinkers. With people who have non-traditional products in the civic tech space, and how you structure a brand. I get that the market drives us to consider products, but who considers the frameworks and constraints that determine what some of these products look like/ can become? So folks with policy and brand building experience, I’d love to connect.”
Ken is also seeking developers for HireHarlem, with a preference given to those who see the future of work as well as the need for more strategic conversations on circulation of local dollars as inextricably linked.
Finally, Ken is interested in chatting with members who have managed to build out their “personal CMS”: “How do people maintain the networks they create? How you leverage or maximize your network? I want to learn this.”
“There’s an upcoming Mr. Rogers documentary and in the trailer, Fred Rogers says something that I keep coming back to That the work is about imbuing people with a sense that, ‘I am loved and am capable of love in return.’ I think that a sense of well being is both internal and external. I think that it comes from a space of how we relate to ourselves, but also how we relate to… our neighbors…”