Canvas Rebel

Meet Emmanuel Williams

9/14/202310 min read

We were lucky to catch up with Emmanuel Williams recently and have shared our conversation below.

Emmanuel, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Do you think your parents have had a meaningful impact on you and your journey?

My parents did so much for me and my brother growing up. They didn’t have the most money, yet always did the best they could with what they had. My mom would take us to carnivals, movies, and amusement parks, while my dad would take us around his friends and let us play video games most days. Saturday morning cartoons, gaming with pops, and kung fu movies were our thing. My folks always made stuff work behind the scenes, and I assumed it was the norm for most people. I learned that wasn’t the case since my parents rarely allowed me to go out with friends or attend events by myself; I was somewhat sheltered and was known for being “that kid that was always on punishment” on the block, haha.

I didn’t gain perspective or fully appreciate my parents until I got kicked out of the house around my senior year of high school. My best friend allowed me to stay at his spot for a few days and even came and picked me up at the bus station. When I arrived at his home I realized this dude didn’t have any heat, no hot water, and not even a bed. I was shocked. I slept on the cold floor with no blankets, took a cold shower, and went to school the next day. This was my friend’s norm every day.

I even had the opportunity to stay at my crush’s house for a night during the time of being kicked out and gained clarity on how she’s lived with her parents. Her day-to-day was different from mine. After a week of crashing around and staying at a few people’s houses, I was exposed to other people’s norms and how they lived. It made me really think about the life my parents created for me, and their constant sacrifices; the sacrifices they made for me to go to private school and the many gifts they gave during Christmas and my birthday. My parents always carried strong and loving faces, despite sometimes struggling financially, emotionally, and mentally. I learned how to love because of them and to never take things in life for granted.

My parents were always honest and hella real with my brother and me. Sometimes too real, haha. My dad would tease us a lot and make constant jokes about everything. His intentions was for his sons to develop a thick skin and to think quickly in the heat of the moment, and he influenced me to not take life so seriously. He taught me to laugh and to always find the silver lining when the harshness of life and its problems came along. I remember the lesson he taught me and my brother when I was four. One day when my dad was cutting our hair, he made me grab my brother’s butt and had my brother grab my butt. He looked at both of us and said, “When me and your mother are gone, you only have each other. His ass is in your hands and your ass is in his.”

I feel I inherited my dad’s mannerisms and my mother’s kindness. My mom taught me to always go for what I want and to be independent. She always pushed me to be the best because she forsaw my capabilities even when I didn’t. She taught me to be resilient, persistent, and determined in whatever I put my mind to. She always reminded me that words meant very little, yet actions meant the world and to focus on people’s actions instead of what they say. One of my favorite lessons she taught me in high school was, “By the end of your life, you’ll only be able to count your real friends on one hand, if even that.”

As I said earlier. My folks are real. I learned to be extremely honest because of them. They influenced me to be authentic, to always keep it real, and to really be myself; it’s got to the point where it is easy to spot inauthenticity and fake personalities because of them. My parents developed the foundation of my character; how to be strong, reliable, trustworthy, patient, firm, and extremely kind. They impacted me to use my strong voice to inspire others, keep sh*t 100, never compromise my integrity, and never let weak-minded individuals influence me or my purpose.

Just wanna say thank you, Mom and Dad! Thank you for your efforts, sacrifices, love, and support for all these years and years to come; thank you for raising such an amazing son. If I had to do it again, I’d pick you two to be my parents again, haha. Love you!

Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Emmanuel “Mannie” Williams. I am a visual storyteller, social media personality, season 14 American Ninja Warrior, and the founder of Akiyoshi, a streetwear clothing brand. It all started with a friend’s camera I borrowed. I got into making videos back in 2012, creating funny, relatable YouTube content just for fun. Some months later, I started to attract attention from friends and ended up enjoying the process of writing, filming, editing, and uploading. From 2013-2017, I began experimenting with shooting various styles of videos, making personal short films, class documentaries, and commercials, and eventually creating cinematography vlogs and adventures. This started drawing the attention of clients who wanted promotions, music videos, and event highlights, which added nicely to my portfolio.

I spent so much time studying and developing my film craft, yet I fell into what many artists fall into; not understanding the business side of things and not knowing my worth. I moved to Los Angles in late 2019 to be exposed to more creatives and entrepreneurs that understood all angles to become successful financially and artistically. Since Los Angles has countless opportunities for videographers, photographers, and content creators, I would just pull up to all the functions with my camera and connect with people in person or on social media. A few events led to another, which put me in the positions of helping friends shoot passion projects, being involved in full-production commercial shoots and feature films, filming at a celebrity’s birthday party, filming red-carpet premieres, and so on.

It’s hard to niche down or pigeonhole me as a creative because I had to learn how to do everything from the ground up; scriptwriting, producing, social media marketing & strategy, website development, branding, and content development. I’m sure other creatives out there can relate to being influenced to specify into one or two skill sets when they have an arsenal of skill sets they developed: AKA “been wearing all of the hats.” I disliked that some clients only saw me as a videographer or editor when I provided more value than just a delivery of a 2-minute highlight video, hoping to garner the desired results they were looking for without a strategy.

I felt lost with clients and their needs, so I started telling jokes and funny stories on social media, garnering an active audience that could relate to the topics. At that point, an old idea I had a few years back hit me again like a bag of rocks: “Dawg! Why don’t you take all the knowledge, skills, and value you developed over the years and apply it to your sh*t! You have a clearer vision and resources now!”

So I decided to create Akiyoshi. Akiyoshi is a visual arts and clothing apparel company focused on empowering authenticity in creatives, artists, and people who never fit in with the mainstream or norm. The messages I’m building around this community through streetwear and arts are the following:

“To always be who you are meant to be!”
“To be okay with who you are even when going against the world.”
“To develop self-belief and confidence in your path and character.”
“To know that you are not alone. There are others with similar experiences.”

I want Akiyoshi to remind people to always express who they are, even if it’s not the norm, and be inspired by different voices, art forms, styles, dreams, and visions. It took me over 10 years with a camera to figure out exactly how I wanted to express my message; and what kind of stories I wanted to tell the world. I want to share many different types of tales, especially the black sheep stories. I want to inspire the black sheep of today.

How did you build your audience on social media?

I started building an audience by sharing my random funny thoughts and posts on the internet; I just put myself out there and wanted to laugh at my own jokes; I enjoyed the whole process and getting feedback from friends. When strangers online made comments on my videos and asked me to create more, it built momentum and inspired more creativity. I always knew the best way to reach people was by finding experiences we all can relate to and adding humor to them.

As I posted videos more consistently, I started to see what kind of videos my audience wanted more of; they enjoyed my storytime content and my outlandish skits based on the engagement and shares. People became invested in stories and asked me how they could share their own. I also talk to my audience as if they were in the same room as me and do my best to get back to them. I remember being a teenager watching my favorite YouTuber create videos and tuning in and getting excited when they responded to my comments; being older and on the other side, I see that’s how some of my younger audience and fans look at me. I want to connect with them and give them the experience the online OGs gave me back in the day.

My advice for anyone trying to build an audience is to get comfortable posting whatever you enjoy; it could be teaching people a subject, telling jokes, creating art, skateboarding, whatever; have fun, post first, and don’t even worry if you get comments or not; the point is to build confidence; many people are scared to put themselves out there and never start; I have a talented friend who tells the funniest jokes and has the ability to inspire people in all his work environments; he honestly should have a podcast and talk about wanting to get his voice out there; however, he’s scared to put himself out there on social media; if he could get over that, he would be a star just for his personality.

Once you get comfortable, find some relatable topics or interests and create content talking about them; this draws in audiences with similar interests; people with similar interests tend to form communities and followings; they ask you questions, comment on your content, and want you to share your thoughts even further; that’s when you engage with them, creating more trust and/or potential sales in the future, depending on the angle you want to explore.

Stay consistent and provide value; consistency is powerful, as it builds momentum, however don’t burn yourself out; many creatives feel they need to post every day and come up with ideas every hour by the hour like an assembly line because that’s the social media culture and algorithm; instead, create a weekly or monthly schedule that works for your personal needs and mental health; we are human, and we already get enough stress from the real world; we don’t need to add unnecessary pressure and stress from the social media world too; we don’t have to play “keeping up with the virtual Jones” on Instagram.

Social media breaks are sometimes needed, and it’s perfectly okay to communicate that to your audience; don’t be so concerned about your follower number count; followers come and go like seasons and ho’s, but your real fans will always stay by your side and will understand; your real audience will always appreciate authenticity and don’t follow you just to ride your wave; they follow you because of you and the value you bring.

In your view, what can society do to best support artists, creatives, and a thriving creative ecosystem?

Honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. I think creatives need financial resources and funding. When my school was going through budget cuts, the first programs they considered shutting down were the art classes and workshops. If local governments or private companies were able to get involved with the communities to provide art grants, sponsorships, or crowd-funding platforms, it would allow creatives to focus their full potential on their creative endeavors and studies instead of balancing working 2 jobs to support their monthly living expenses in today’s economy. Let’s be real. The dream of the average artist is to be able to support themselves through their projects; they are willing to work if they can use their creative juices; however, a lot of that energy is exhausted trying to maintain a livelihood.

This ties in with education and training. Like leveling up in a video game, creatives sometimes require guidance, especially those starting. Most of us are taught to work and develop our artistic craft, yet rarely is there any guidance on business development. I can create all the phenomenal music, pottery, fashion designs, web designs, and films I want; I’m not provided the educational resources of a workshop or course that talks about independent contracts, accounting, marketing, funneling, fees, or any general guideline to create long-term business strategies to operate my art on an entrepreneurial level. Financial resources and opportunities are needed within the creative ecosystem. Mentorship programs and guidance complement the overall growth of a creative and their impact on the world.