Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Darrious Hilmon of CAN TV Is Helping To Change Our World

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To know and trust from the moment that I was born that I was enough. To trust my instincts. To truly believe that the world needed me in it. To recognize that a leader is empowered by owning his or her mistakes, and to leap at the opportunity to take ownership for them, while sharing the lessons learned from each. The mix of shock and respect I spy on the faces of my team members when I take ownership of a mistake or ‘bad’ decision is one of my favorites.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darrious Hilmon.

Darrious Hilmon currently serves as the Executive Director of CAN TV. A native Detroiter, Hilmon has called Chicago home for the past 13 years. As a first-generation college graduate, Hilmon is an ardent proponent of education equity and the intentional creation of pathways to access and opportunity for historically underserved, under-supported and under-resourced communities, specifically Black and Brown. Hilmon has more than 25 years of demonstrable experience in strategic fund development, marketing and communications, and events management.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Joining CAN TV, Chicago’s public access television network, I wasn’t looking for this role, but ultimately Divine Order prevailed. A recruiter reached out to me back in June of 2022. During our first conversation, he noted how clear it was to him that I loved the job I had at the time. Still, he shared the story of CAN TV, and I shared how much I admired public access television and had been an avid viewer of the public access station in my hometown of Detroit. Our conversation ended with him thanking me for my time, and me wishing him success with the search. With that, I moved on with my life.

Fast forward five months and the same recruiter reached out to me again advising that there had been some updates on the position we’d discussed previously, and he’d love to ‘thought partner’ with me. We had our second conversation the day after Thanksgiving and, during the call something in my gut told me that this might just be the opportunity meant for me.

Fast forward two and a half years and I find myself three months shy of my second anniversary as Executive Director of CAN TV, shuttering at the thought that I almost let this incredible role pass me by. On my very first day on the job, I still hadn’t realized that this position is everything I’ve always wanted my entire career. Non-profit and television, for me, is the absolute best of both worlds.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

A memory I will never forget is the first time CAN TV went live with a one-hour Mayoral election analysis special in 2023. As I spied the then Mayor giving her concession speech on the monitor, a wave of nerves rushed over my body. At that exact moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks; I was actually living out my childhood dream! As a child, I used to use hair brushes as microphones, pretending to be my favorite news anchor, Beverly Payne. Now, at the age of 54, the microphone was real, the cameras really on, and the professional life I could only imagine for myself growing up, was my reality.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s challenging for me to think of one specific mistake I made, but I can say that I make mistakes every day and that’s okay. Mistakes are an opportunity to continue improving. I had to work to get to a point where my relationship with failure and mistakes changed. While it may seem impressive and I’m proud of myself for it, I graduated high school a year early and did well in college solely because of my fear of failure. While that fear motivated me, I had to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way and free myself up to make them. People hold themselves back too often because they’re scared of making mistakes and it paralyzes them. If you mess something up, take ownership for fixing it, then learn from the experience and move on with your life. I really have come to understand that mistakes are inevitable and are where growth and breakthroughs happen. At the end of the day, we are all trying our best. Through my own actions, I want to encourage folks to give themselves and each other grace. Mistakes don’t kill you, but they can make you stronger and better.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Every day, our organization works with the understanding of an African Proverb that reads, “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter is always the hero.” In the current world where there is so much vitriol and lack of civility, we at CAN TV ensure that those who would not have a voice, have a voice. Not just for us to tell their stories, but for them to own their stories and be the lion. That’s why I’m extremely proud of how much we’ve expanded our reach in the last year. We launched our streaming in September 2022 and, since that launch, we have had about 34 million streams and viewers.

We are more than sound bites, we are public trust and want to give everyone the chance to share their experiences, stories and more no matter if I or another CAN TV team member disagrees. In these times of hate, we are all modeling the behavior of how to have conversations and disagree without being disagreeable. We need that type of dialogue with understanding and listening now more than ever — that’s the power of what CAN TV is doing.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There are hundreds of individuals who’ve been impacted by CAN TV’s work. At CAN TV, we work closely with amazing community producers like Elma Lucas whose youth-centered program Elma & Company has been airing on our network for 31 years. Elma recently accepted an award for community producer of the year from CAN TV and said in her speech that, “CAN TV did as much for me as I could have ever done for them.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Come under the tent. Join the conversation and dialogue CAN TV is working to grow and strengthen throughout the 77 communities that make Chicago one of the most unique and diverse cities in the country. I firmly believe that our best chance of addressing six hundred years of American history is centered in what CAN TV is doing right now; which is trying to get folks from different sides of an issue to have a conversation, to humanize and see each other as people, not statistics. We are working with the intention to create opportunities for the community to connect with one another. It might be messy at times, but we are going to hold each other and ourselves accountable by doing the work. Everything we need to get to where we want to get to is within us but we have to come under the tent of community and talk to each other, and listen to understand.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I would define “Leadership” as showing more than telling. Leadership is the understanding that the greatest legacy you can leave is through empowering other leaders. True leaders are in the trenches with their teams, not watching from a perch on high. True leaders, through words, and more importantly actions, command the respect of your team, they don’t simply demand it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

To know and trust from the moment that I was born that I was enough. To trust my instincts. To truly believe that the world needed me in it. To recognize that a leader is empowered by owning his or her mistakes, and to leap at the opportunity to take ownership for them, while sharing the lessons learned from each. The mix of shock and respect I spy on the faces of my team members when I take ownership of a mistake or ‘bad’ decision is one of my favorites.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement of conversation and seeing ourselves in each other. Part of the reason our society is in its current state is because we’ve found ways under the guise of race and religion, and sexual orientation and the like, to dehumanize each other. I believe that if we create more room for conversation where people can look each other in the eye and see themselves in the person sitting across from them, the greater our chances of finally achieving that ‘more perfect union’.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do the work in urgency, not panic.” Urgency will help you move as efficiently as possible; however, panic makes you skip steps and there’s no good to be had in missing steps. As long as it takes to get that step done, is what it takes. You can fake it for a minute, but not for a lifetime.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ha! I love a good tag team! I’m actually torn between Dolly Parton and Barack Obama. Despite how different the two may seem, there’s less of a gap than you might think. I have been inspired equally and deeply by both. Most recently, President Obama gave one of the most thoughtful and honest responses to the crisis going on in the Middle East that I’ve ever heard. He was fearless, speaking the painful truths that few others would dare. For all that he has been through, running for president and being in office during times of such vitriol, he has always led with grace and put others before his own pride and ego. Dolly Parton was always a huge part of my childhood because my mother loved her to pieces. Dolly is so refreshingly authentic. But, don’t be fooled, underneath the big hair and flashy attire, lives a brilliant singer and songwriter, and an astute business woman who truly cares about people. For me both Dolly and Obama are grace and love personified.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can access CAN TV’s work through In addition, for those located in Chicago, CAN TV’s programming can be viewed on its five local cable channels (CAN TV 19, 21, 27, 36, and 42). For everyone else, you can stream our programs on, or download the can tv+ app. Readers can also follow us on our social media pages including our Instagram at @cantvchicago and our YouTube channel.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thank you sincerely for providing me with this incredible platform to share and connect with others!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Darrious Hilmon of CAN TV Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.