Jeneé Osterheldt

Beyond the bling: Karen Civil advises rap stars and the rest of us

Karen Civil is helping fund a playground in Haiti, inspiring philanthropy in her generation.
Karen Civil is helping fund a playground in Haiti, inspiring philanthropy in her generation. From Karen Civil

Lena Dunham isn’t the only voice of the young generation of women.

Karen Civil may not have an HBO show, but she figured out the power of the Internet long before Twitter and Facebook.

As a tween in New Jersey, she ran one of the biggest Backstreet Boys fansites, and eventually her savvy led to an internship at New York’s Hot 97 radio station. Now, at 30, she is known as the social media strategist to the stars, including Mary J. Blige and Lil Wayne.

Three years ago, Beats by Dre hired her as digital marketing director. She nurtured the online presence and got hip-hop heavyweights to rock the headphones.

On Wednesday, Karen will be in Kansas City for her Be You & Live Civil Tour. As she helped build the brands of others, she has built a following of her own, earning a spot in Ebony magazine’s “Power 100.” She has nearly 300,000 followers on Twitter, and her lifestyle site,, is visited by more than 3 million people a month.

She’s often asked how she made the jump from Jersey girl to Los Angeles It-girl. They see the famous friends and luxury clothes, and want a piece of it, too.

Karen wants them to dig deeper than champagne dreams and five-star wishes. So she started another blog: There she shares news of a playground she’s building in Haiti, the sisterhood brunch she hosts and a book she plans to release next year, “Live Civil: 5 Tools for Unlocking Your Potential and Living Your Purpose.”

“I get so many emails, tweets and messages from people trying to figure out how to do this, but it’s bigger than getting a paycheck,” Karen tells me over the phone.

“Social media can help or hurt you. People are more into other people’s lives than their own. Everyone sees everyone else’s success online, and we allow it to magnify our own failure. But this is where you have to realize who you are as an individual. I run at my own pace. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t get caught up in someone else’s race.”

She has been touring college campuses this year, spreading her motivational message to the youth, but it’s not all students. She will bring her talk to the Plaza library, hosted by the ladies of Té Chic Boutique. Women, she says, are natural nurturers and juggle a lot more than men.

“It’s important to build each other up,” she says. “A lot of women don’t get to know each other because they think they don’t have anything in common. They have their guards up, and they are taking care of themselves, families, career, school and have a lot on their plate. Our daily lives can consume us, but it’s important to make that connection.

“My purpose is to help people find their voice. I come from a great home and fully supportive family that helped to nurture my dreams. A lot of people don’t have those same things in their household. Society sets us up to be everything but ourselves, but I want to take a moment and say to people, love yourself. Find your purpose. You are unique, and that makes you great. I pursued my dreams. You can do it, too.”

To reach Jeneé Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or email “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. On Twitter @jeneeinkc.


Meet Karen Civil and hear her words of inspiration from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Plaza library, 4801 Main. Tickets are $25-$40. For more information, visit