If Emmanuel Iheke, Jr. could describe himself in one word it would be “dependent.” However, not a dependency upon the success of his social platforms, UCLA degree and several achievements, but a dependency on his relationship with God. As founder and CEO of the online lifestyle media platform, Un-Associated, Emmanuel has committed his time to spread messages of Biblical encouragement and truth that he believes every person needs to understand. He credits his freedom, confidence and identity in his relationship with God alone. Emmanuel speaks with Her Campus at UCLA to walk us through his brand and where he finds deliverance in a society where materialism and “hustle culture” is celebrated.
- You are the founder and CEO of Un-Associated. Tell us a little bit more about what it is, how and when you started it and what led you to create the media platform?
Emmanuel Iheke, Jr.: Un-Associated is a lifestyle media platform and a brand. We create content whether it be podcasts, editorials, blogs, interviews and different types of videos. Through creative content, our mission is to inspire people to actually know and start a relationship with God by understanding their identity in Him. Specifically understanding that their identity has nothing to do with their past experiences, sins, how people perceive them, the world's labels, but it has everything to do with who God has simply created them to be. So we try to help people discover themselves and discover their purpose. The journey started in 2018.
I felt I was in a space where I was feeling very down, a lot was going on in my life during the time and it got to the point where it was pitch black in my room, I’m trying to fall asleep and thinking about how I considered myself a “loser.” People talk about hearing the voice of God. I didn't hear an audible voice but as I was thinking about how much of a loser I was there was a thought that interrupted everything. I believe that was the voice of God, I believe that was the Holy Spirit communicating to me. What the Holy Spirit told me was that I am a “winner,” which completely contradicted how my life was going at the time. Fast forward to some months later, I am now entering into this time with God where He started to show me that there is a contradiction between who He is creating me to be and what the world says about me, what my past says about me, what my sins say about me and so on. In order for me to understand who I was, I had to disregard the things that would try to define me in the world and find my identity in God alone. When I started to realize who I was in Christ and understand my purpose this mindset helped me with every struggle that I faced in my life: academically or non-academically. My confidence, my whole life, my purpose and my fulfillment came from this revelation alone. With this, I decided that more people needed to know about this and this message needed to be spread. I had already been preaching since high school so it only made sense for me to build a platform where we spread this message. I spread that message through the mediums that I believe are most effective during this time.
- Talk to us about the team that you work with and the different roles that play a part in running an online platform.
EI: The team has had a lot of changes throughout the last two years. It started off as just solely me doing everything. Eventually, we had writers come on and be a part of the team. To this day, the writing department is one of the largest departments in our company, and our writers write a new blog every week. I have my editor-in-chief, Danielle, who is an amazing blessing in my life and a blessing to the company. She runs and oversees the entire blog. At one point we had a marketing team and an outreach team but those dissolved. As of right now, it's just me and our writing department.
- Under the umbrella of Un-Associated, you are also the host of your own podcast, "Churchboy Confessions." If you had the chance to speak one message to every college student, what would that message be and why?
EI: The message would revolve around understanding the importance of having Jesus Christ in your life. I think that especially around the age of 18 to 24 years, those are the real developmental years for a lot of us. If you're going to change your life it's going to be within those years, and that will dictate how you're going to be for the rest of your life. That is an overstatement, but I feel like there's a lot of truth to that. I’m sure a lot of people can attest to this, but a lot of people find purpose and identity by turning to so many different things, even when they don’t understand or realize what they are doing.
A lot of people have their different religions, their zodiac signs, or their obsession with their academics, they're just looking for something to fulfill themselves and find purpose in. I feel like there are so many distractions and we’re all caught up on this vain path towards this idea of a “perfect life.”
The thing about accepting Jesus Christ into your life is that once you've accepted Him, you’ve signed a contract. A contract that you are going to have a perfect life. An everlasting life, after this one. You realize that this life isn't about chasing your dreams, getting your goals, you know all this other like very flighty inspirational stuff that you hear today. It's more so about doing whatever God has put you on this Earth to do. You have your everlasting life, you have your success, your prosperity, your fulfillment. You have these things once you've accepted Jesus Christ into your life. You know who you are, you know your purpose in that you fulfill your purpose here, you die and then you go and live in an everlasting life of peace without sorrow with God. A lot of us don't have that mindset. We're just so focused on our life here on this Earth, focused on being fulfilled with different accomplishments that we can rack up while we're here on Earth. Those accomplishments aren't even the things that define you.
You’re not a better person because you have accomplished more, you're not a better person because you have higher grades, you're not a better person because of all these different things that we try to attach our worth to. Jesus Christ has done so much for us already and there's so much that we're chasing in vain. By accepting Him into our lives, that is the number one thing that is important and the number one thing that should be on our plate.
- Walk us through what a typical day in the life looks like for Emmanuel.
EI: Nowadays, I live a very repetitive life. The first thing I do when I wake up is doing my devotional. I have to journal, I have to read the Bible and spend my time with God. That takes about thirty minutes to an hour. After, I workout and then eat breakfast. I'll probably watch a little bit of Netflix, Youtube, or Hulu. Then, I start doing everything I need to do for Un-Associated. I wear a lot of caps within the brand so one day it will be editing the YouTube videos for Kreate with Kendra or Churchboy Confessions, or editing the audio. Currently, I'm trying to create our next apparel drop. Other times it's conducting social media research and creating posts for social media. The rest of the time, I plan out everything that we're going to publish for each week.
- As of today, what do you find our generation struggles the most with? How can we best go about it?
EI: I think our generation struggles the most with being deceived. Deceived in what we believe we're supposed to be striving after. I think that we're so obsessed with this “invisible scoreboard” and this invisible “measuring stick.” We feel like we have to check off all of these boxes or a list of criteria in order to be something valuable. I feel like because we have all subscribed to that idea, that mindset it's caused a lot of us to fall into depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, etc. I think that the solution to that is recognizing our worth and the preordained purpose that has been given to us through Christ by God.
- With a year like 2020, and now entering 2021, what would you say to people that are feeling emotions of worry, doubt and anxiety?
EI: There have been times where I felt like I didn't have anything to look forward to. During those moments, one thing I had to ask myself is, “Why do I always have to feel like I needed something to look forward to?” I feel like a lot of us put our comfort in something that is “coming next.” It takes away from the realization of what is going on right now. We get so caught up in wanting what's going to happen next that we don't even ask ourselves if we're prepared for whatever we want to happen, which could very well be the reason why what's happening next is not happening. The reality is you might not be ready and you might not be in the right mindset.
I've been doing Un-Associated for two years now. In the beginning, I thought that Un-Associated would be something that would be national and popular by now, but it's not. Yet at the same time, what gets me up in the morning is not the mindset of “one day it's going to be this” and “one day it's going to become that.” What makes me continue to move forward is the fact that God needs me to do this. God wants me to do this. God is using me to do this. I'd say to those that may be struggling with this to ask themselves, “What is God wanting me to do right now?” You have a purpose every day. What does God want you to be doing right now? Where is your faith currently at? Where is your mindset at? Where is your relationship with God right now? Do you fear God? Do you love God?
It's so many things. When you focus on God you don't need something to “look forward to.” It's not a “one day I'm going to have a big house” and “I'm going to be financially stable.” The reality is that you may never be financially stable, you may never have that “big house'' because a lot of people have that dream and just never got it. Those materialistic things are not where you find your hope and peace in. It's supposed to come from the fact that you have God and that peace that surpasses you comes from that relationship with God. It comes from every word that you use to praise him and your growing relationship with Him. A solace. A sanctuary that you have with God. Being with God is like you're content with whether you have a lot or a little. Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That's not to say that I can do “anything.” But more so when things are poppin’ and things are not poppin’, I still have something to look forward to.
I'm good because I have my God. That's that. It's what should be the main focus of everyone's life.
- You explain graduating in 2020 as “entering the sea of adulthood without a life jacket.” As a class of 2020 graduate, what was the process of navigating life, post grad, in the midst of a pandemic and social injustice?
EI: Yes. It's different for different people. Some people come out of graduation with an offer. For me initially, that was my plan. I thought that I was going to come out of college with an offer but it didn't work out like that. I would say the whole experience made me just give my time to God. I believe that Un-Associated is going to be what I do for the rest of my life. So even if I were to get a job, it would be something temporary. However, originally I wanted to work at a place like Complex or Hypebeast and learn the ropes of the business. I love those companies as is, but it wasn't working out with COVID-19. The opportunities weren't there with the hiring freezes, people weren't in the office and the opportunities weren't there.
I got to a point where I had to ask myself, “What do I do?” I was reminded of in Ephesians Chapter 2 it says, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." My understanding of that is that God has already preordained our path and the path that we're going to walk in. We're supposed to rely on Him, trust Him and listen to what He has for us to do. I personally believe that I am going to be ministering for the rest of my life. I'm going to have a mic, I'm going to be talking about God, I'm going to be spreading the Gospel.
With that being said, it got to the point where I had tried everything and it wasn’t working out. So I asked myself, "What if I just pause on the job applications and devote the rest of my 2020 to doing exactly what God wants me to do at every given moment?" And that's what I've been doing. It's been scary. I suffered from a lot of fear and anxiety. What's something that's allowed me to get rid of that fear and anxiety is recognizing that I'm a vessel. If I've committed my life to Christ, I surrendered my life to Christ, my life is simply not my own anymore. All I need to do is listen to Him because He is responsible for what happens next. It's not me. That is what has really been encouraging me this entire time. I know what I could be doing. Yet, I don't find fulfillment in the things that I’ve been gifted with and have accomplished. I'd rather do exactly what I was why I was supposed to be here on this Earth and have that fulfillment in knowing that God is with me.
- Whether it be inside or outside of the classroom, what is the most memorable lesson you’ve learned during your time at UCLA?
EI: Family is very important. It's very important to have your brothers or sisters. A lot of times God uses your family to comfort you in times where you need it. Especially when your back is against the wall and it seems like everyone else in the world is against you. But, I'm talking about family: the people that you would die for, the people that care for you no matter what. Find those, not trust friends, not just associates, because those come and go. Your family is going to be the ones that are going to be with you. Even though you're wrong or you made a mistake, they aren’t going to be the ones that are going to air you out. They're going to be the ones that are going to comfort you and try to get you back on your feet when you're feeling low. One of my brothers, Jonathan Kidd, has really been God-sent in my life and throughout my entire college career, along with Isaiah. Jonathan really had an impact on my faith. The term “iron sharpens iron?” He was my other iron. If I ever did anything that was a little off, Jonathan was the one on my head and vice versa. The expectations that we had for each other, times where we comforted one another when we needed it most, all of that was really fundamental to my success and my sanity throughout college. Those are the people that are really going to stand by your side no matter what goes on. Find them.
- What is one piece of advice you have for people wanting to grow as a content creator?
EI: This is an interesting question because I'm a “content creator” but I only create content because that's how I can spread the Gospel. I don't see myself as a videographer or a podcast host; I just see those as a means to an end.
If I were to say something to a content creator I would say be authentic and whatever happens after that, happens after that. Just be yourself. I hate when I see people on Tik Tok or people on Instagram and can tell when someone is doing something because they “want influence” or “they want fame” and attention. You can tell the difference between someone who is genuinely passionate about their work versus someones who wants to share this information because they can help other people or that it is purposeful. I feel like everyone wants to be a “content creator” and wants to be an “influencer” nowadays and you got to ask, “For what?”
Is there any way that this glorifies God? That's the real question. Is this God's will for your life? Are you spreading valuable information? Are you passionate about that information? Is this information that can really help people? Why are you doing this?
I feel like once you figure that out and you recognize that it’s what God wants me to be doing, everything kind of just falls into place, at least it did for me. For me, I’m going to record a podcast every week regardless of what goes on in that week because that's what I'm supposed to be doing. I genuinely want people to feel the blessings that I feel when the Holy Spirit speaks to me. So content creators, when you know it's what God wants you to be doing and it's what you're supposed to be doing, everything else will fall into place. You're going to be consistent, determined in your work and continuously striving.
The best thing is that if you fail, you're going to get back up. That’s what just happens. You're a child of God and that's what you do. That's what we do.
- What do you hope to achieve with Un-Associated? And what do you hope to achieve in the long term?
EI: I truly believe that Un-Associated will become something global and something that will impact many lives. Not just on the surface level sense, where it's like, “Oh, that's very inspirational.” No, it's converting people, it's actually making people know Christ, and an eagerness to grow a relationship with Him. Ultimately it's going to be whatever God wants it to be, when He wants it to be and that's been my mindset. I've come to the point where I realized that this is not the, “Emmanuel Show.” I'm just a feature in this. This is God doing His thing. He has the plans, He's the conductor and orchestrator of my life. With that, He has different people playing different roles. I'm one of those people who are playing a role. I did not write my own script. All I can do is read off that script. Long-term, at the end of this life, I just want to be at the point where I know I did everything that I could do.
I want to be content knowing that I did everything I was supposed to do for God. That's my goal.
Her Campus at UCLA would like to thank fellow Bruin, Emmanuel Iheke, Jr. for speaking and sharing valuable, encouraging truth our world desperately needs today. Being a student in 2020 is unnerving, but Emmanuel Iheke, Jr.'s advice can make the transition to adult life seem a little less daunting. Be sure to check out the links and follow to stay up to date with Emmanuel and all things Un-Associated!