BE Modern Man: Kenneth Stephens
Attorney, commercial litigator; 32; Partner, Stephens, Reed & Armstrong
I formerly managed a law firm that focuses primarily on advising construction companies and litigating their disputes. In May of 2019, my firm merged with another well-known firm to create a new law firm, Stephens, Reed, & Armstrong. We are a wholly minority-owned law firm with two offices servicing clients throughout Texas. All three named partners are members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and have strong commercial litigation experience.
By building a practice in the area of construction law, I’ve been able to inspire other minorities to consider starting practices in areas of law where minorities are typically underrepresented. I’ve also been able to hire multiple associates from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, the Houston HBCU that I attended for my undergraduate and law school education.
In addition to practicing law, I’ve decided to launch a YouTube channel called #GrindLife where I share my knowledge of entrepreneurship with others. The platform allows me to reach back and help other people who are trying to start a business without formal business education or experience.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?
I am most proud of keeping my promise to God and becoming a lawyer. In 2009, I was weeks away from graduating from college with honors and receiving a bachelor’s degree in business management, when I was falsely accused of a crime, arrested, and sent to jail. While I was in jail, I prayed about the situation and promised God that if my case was dismissed, I would take it as a sign that I am supposed to practice law. After my case was dismissed, I kept my promise and after passing the bar exam, I had the judge that presided over my case swear me into the profession.
HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?
When I was in law school, I applied to hundreds of law firms. I traveled around the country interviewing, often times at my own expense. Many of these firms were large corporate law firms and I was betting on getting hired by one of them so that I could quickly pay off my student loans before starting my own law firm. Unfortunately, I received hundreds of rejection letters and no offer.
I graduated from law school and was a young, naïve, newly minted lawyer. I worked for a small law firm with a base salary of $1,800.00 per month. After months of not knowing how I was going to pay rent or buy groceries, I decided to start my own law firm. All I had was a laptop and hope.
I struggled initially to get clients and scraped up contract work from other attorneys. Out of necessity, I discovered the power of social media marketing and this helped my practice take off. Fast forward to today and many of those firms have reached out to me directly or indirectly about positions at their firms.
WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?
My father, Kenneth Stephens Sr. is my biggest male role model. The three things he instilled in me are faith, family, and the power of education. I watched how he leveraged his military career into a Ph.D. two masters degrees and a means take care of his family. I also saw how he did whatever was necessary to make sure that his family was taken care of. Sometimes this meant checking his ego and taking jobs that were well beneath his experience and pay level. However, in the end, watching him persevere and get to the position he is in now was very inspiring.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Check your ego. I used to have a huge ego problem. I was easily offended and if I felt slighted, I wouldn’t let it go. I also thought very highly of myself and it likely caused me to miss opportunities. Since learning to check my ego, I’ve been able to develop more meaningful relationships and have seen upticks in business.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?
I define manhood as recognizing the responsibilities you have to God, family, and your community, embracing those responsibilities, and doing all that you can to make sure that you are handling them.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?
Our resilience. Black men in this country catch hell. Whether it be the looming fear of being stopped by the cops for no reason or going out of the way to be “non-threatening” to make others comfortable, we endure a lot.
However, despite these types of constant pressures and limited resources, we thrive. We climb corporate ladders as high as the ceilings will allow us to go and when we get tired of the glass ceiling, we go and design our own where the sky is the limit.
BE Modern Man is an online and social media campaign designed to celebrate black men making valuable contributions in every profession, industry, community, and area of endeavor. Each year, we solicit nominations in order to select men of color for inclusion in the 100 Black Enterprise Modern Men of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize men who epitomize the BEMM credo “Extraordinary is our normal” in their day-to-day lives, presenting authentic examples of the typical black man rarely seen in mainstream media. The BE Modern Men of Distinction are celebrated annually at Black Men XCEL (www.blackenterprise.com/blackmenxcel/). Click this link to submit a nomination for BE Modern Man: https://www.blackenterprise.com/nominate/. Follow BE Modern Man on Twitter: @bemodernman and Instagram: @be_modernman.