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Conversations with Ernest Ricks

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ernest Ricks.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
My name is Ernest Ricks, Jr. I never set out to be a business owner or an entrepreneur of any sort. As a member of a phenomenal Christian Media company, called Trackstarz, I simply wanted to play a role and add to their outstanding content. Trackstarz has a weekly Saturday show from noon to 2 pm and a very loyal following. I noticed that their fan base, at least the men in their fan base like to talk about sports in the chat section before shows, so I thought a fantasy football league would make their fanbase feel more like a community. They allowed me to start the league.

I wanted to make the league super interactive so I would wear a referee uniform during the breaks of their show and do a small fantasy football /basketball update for those in the league. While working for Trackstarz, I met Derrick Myers. Derrick, one of the Trackstarz personalities DJ Jeremaya (Chris Dawson), and I started a show that would come on right before Trackstarz that would turn those “before show conversations” into actual sports show, we called Debate Fuel. We quickly noticed there were serious gaps in our knowledge about certain sports topics so I thought to fill those gaps with “correspondents” who knew more about topics we didn’t have interest in, but our audience did, like MMA or baseball. Before I knew it, we had a 12 man team of correspondents.

They were so knowledgeable I wanted to give them all their own podcast, so I did and we began a podcast network called Trackstarz Sports. Before we knew it we had nearly 300 episodes of content and a fairly decent listenership. At that point, I wanted to increase my partnership with Trackstarz and become a part-owner of Trackstarz Sports. However, the lead owner of Trackstarz, said that it would be too difficult to make me a part-owner and because of his lack of interest in pushing the Sports unit any further, I should rename the company, move forward as an independent brand. I truly didn’t want to do that at all, and I was remarkably scared to move forward as a sole owner, but after speaking to my beautiful wife, Crystal Ricks, and my team of advisors, the My Team My Voice (MTMV) Sports Podcast Network was created.

Since that time we have launched over 1,000 podcast episodes, have created a Spin and Gospel Hip Hop Award-nominated radio show, website, YouTube channel, Blog, and have found unique ways to engage our fanbase. We have had great interviews with sports personalities like Fox Sports Chris Broussard, Shedeur Sanders, Female Football Star Santia Deck, Baseball Legend Daryl Strawberry, and Ozzie Smith, NFL stars Shelby Harris of the Denver Broncos, Super Bowl Champion Cyril Grayson, and many more amazing athletes and Christian Hip Hop Artists. Our podcast has been heard over 203,000 thousand times since our launch and our listening audience is expanding as we diversify our content.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The biggest struggles have been finding our audience. Initially as a member of the Trackstarz family, the audience was there for every show. Their fanbase is so loyal, everything under the Trackstarz’ name finds success because the Trackstarz Universe, the name of their fanbase, believes in their vision and supports their endeavors. Once I launched my company, with a new name, and our shows were no longer going live under their streaming channels there was a significant drop in support.

We have been in a constant struggle since that point to find our loyal fanbase, our listeners, and those who believe in our vision as well. Creating our Facebook group and investing more time in getting to know those who were listening, has helped us a lot. Along with the Trackstarz heavily supporting our efforts, by bringing us on their show, wearing our paraphernalia, and coming on our shows they have played a role in increasing brand awareness. Our podcast network is a Christian-based Sports Podcast Network. On most of our shows, we have a ton of fun talk sports and playing the hottest in Christian Hip-Hop (CHH).

Finding our way into the Sports world as respected voices and finding our way into the CHH community has been challenging as well. After years of interviews and covering major sporting events we’re making progress in those areas. The last major struggle is my own lack of skills in certain areas. I couldn’t make videos, didn’t know how to make high-quality audio content, didn’t know how to create merchandise, and didn’t truly know how to lead. God gave me a team of people with all these remarkable skills and the willingness to teach me things I didn’t know.

He also gave me an incredible wife, Crystal Ricks, who encourages me constantly to grow as a leader and pushes me to strengthen my areas of weakness. Then he gave me incredible role models to show me how to be an effective leader as the company was growing. I now have at least an understanding of how to do everything my company needs and I’ve grown tremendously as a leader.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Outside of owning my podcast network, I am a professor of Cell Biology and Biotechnology at Georgia Gwinnett College. I earned my Ph.D. in Biomedical Science from Morehouse School of Medicine and completed my post-doctoral training at Emory University. As a professor at GGC, I find great joy in helping my students gain the skills and knowledge they need to accomplish their life’s goals. I do my best to make learning fun and “sticky”, meaning I want to create memorable experiences in the classroom that will allow my students to retain the information they learn in class.

I am known for being a passionate, caring, and innovative instructor. At least I hope so, lol. In my career, I am most proud of my students that have made steps towards their future goals, like getting into medical school, graduate school, or landing jobs in their field of interest. I love when they email me or text me about the progress they are making along their journeys. I try to fill the screen with happy emojis, because I want them to know how much joy it brings me to see them doing so well. To answer the last question, I’m not quite sure, I am blessed to work with a staff of teachers who all care about their students and their craft the way I do. They all desire to be innovative in the classroom, to improve themselves as instructors, and to never let the content grow stale.

They are passionate about their work and I’m blessed to be a part of such an amazing team of instructors. I guess the only thing that truly sets me apart is that I am the only black male in the department. It did not start that way, but a great colleague of mine moved on, as we all do in the profession, so now am I the only black male professor in the Biology department. It does make me feel a great sense of responsibility towards retaining our African American Biology students, and mainly our males because though our retention rates are on par with other colleges, it could be significantly improved.

As a podcast network owner, I am mainly focused on amplifying the voice of my team and making their dreams to cover sports at the highest level, a reality. Our collective focus is to deliver high-quality sports content and help people in their walk with Christ. My team of Vonora Lewis, Nathan Olufemi, Conrad Hilton, Miles Austin, Will Smith, Ciara Monroe, Chris Morris, Robert Davis, Camille Grant, Jeremiah Thomas, and Christopher Phiouthong, all aid in that goal by either hosting great podcasts, leading in our community service efforts, designing remarkable graphics and videos, helping us acquire media credentials for major sporting events, or providing our followers with funny and informative social media content.

As a leader of our team, I do my best to provide a family-style supportive atmosphere to help foster growth and development, increase opportunities for our team, and creative freedom. I also work alongside my team by hosting shows with them, interviewing artists and athletes, covering major sporting events like the 2021 HBCU Celebration Bowl, acquiring interviews for shows on our network, acquiring advertisements, writing articles, creating and scheduling our team retreats, and providing encouragement and critique when necessary. I’m truly blessed to work with such amazing people, they make it a joy to chase this dream.

Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
I grew up in Louisiana, so my life revolved around God, Family, Food, and Football. I spent most of my time in Church, in school, other educational training programs, or playing sports. My mother, Vanessa Ricks, and my Father, Ernest Ricks, Sr., were very hard-working people and great parents, but I constantly stayed in trouble. I was suspended at least 3 times every year from 2nd grade to 8th grade. My dad was a boxer and he taught me how to box, so as a kid I fought all the time.

I was also a fat kid, so that didn’t help. Just being around other kids, would lead to getting teased. I didn’t like that so I’d fight. I was constantly in trouble at school and at home. I didn’t stop getting suspended until I reached high school. One day, I was sent to the Assistant Principal for an incident that happened in class. When he went to go and get my file it was an empty Manila folder. I had been in trouble so much I knew my actual record looked more like a novel than that empty folder he was holding. I asked him was that my folder and he said yeah, I said but it’s empty and he said yes this is your first offense in high school. He told me “You start fresh in high school”. I told him, “ If you don’t put that behavior write-up in that folder, you will never see me again”. He agreed, and that was my last time in a principal’s office for any disciplinary reasons.

I was a curious child and asked tons of questions. My interests at the time were religion, football, and ants. I wanted to know a lot about Jesus. My childhood preacher Pastor Frank Davis of Bibleway Missionary Baptist Church and Sunday school teachers made the Bible so fun! It came alive and I wanted to know more about Daniel and the Lion’s Den, King David, Moses, and all the stories they would talk about with their cut-out images they would use to “live animate” the story.

For football, I was just drawn to it, it was so fun to watch and play, it quickly became my favorite sport though I spent most of my time training for boxing with my dad. I don’t why I was so taken by ants and ant colonies, but I would spend hours outside watching them. I would love to watch them “gang fight” other small insects. It was always fun and I never quite grow out of that interest.

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Image Credits
Will Smith of Waywater Entertainment and Sean David Grant of Jaidot INC

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