Well, I really can’t remember the last time I posted to MY blog. I’ve started several drafts over the past year but haven’t finished anything. To say that I’ve been busy is an understatement. Since my last post, I got married to my soul mate, assembled a dynamic board of directors for the organization I founded – E4 Youth, moved twice, shepherded over 40 high school/college age kids as they earned access to and covered SXSW, had an ugly bike accident which resulted in two chipped teeth and finally gotten back on a path to financial stability… i.e. an actual salary.
I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of other stuff but those are definitely the highlights and each are probably worthy of at least a chapter in the stalled autobiography that I started writing 3 years ago. The overriding message I want to impart in this post is how happy and thankful I am to still be here pursuing my passions.
I’ve come a long way
About a year and a half ago, I sent an email to a friend and supporter saying how I was at my wit’s end. I was literally selling my last possessions in order to pay bills. Although I’ve always had success reaching students with programs and approaches, I myself was in a constant struggle for subsistence. Life is a marathon and I had been in a dead sprint for 3 plus years – attempting to be everything to everyone just so that I could stay afloat. I was the web guy, educational consultant, youth advocate that helped creative kids but don’t forget the part about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) where they’re throwing all the grant dollars too. It’s difficult to share the fact that I was struggling for so long but hey it’s the truth and ultimately, sharing that struggle with others has opened the door to a sustained pathway of success. (Lesson – It’s ok to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is not weakness.)
My friend said they would help me but there were some things that I would need to do in order to make that possible. The first was:
Focus and refine your message
From the current E4 Youth web site:
ABOUT E4 YOUTH
E4 Youth is an Austin-based, non-profit organization founded by Carl Settles Jr. in 2009. Through partnerships with Austin area schools, E4 Youth works with kids, parents, teachers and creative professionals to establish pathways to careers in commercial creative arts. Since it’s inception, E4 Youth has worked directly with over 700 students.
Help arty kids find careers in the commercial creative arts.
In order for them to advocate for me, I needed a more concise message about who I was and what I was attempting to accomplish. Sure, I can do LOTS of things well but how many of those could I do well at one time? Which of those things was I most passionate about? Is there a real need for that? If so, how does my branding reflect that passion? From where has my previous support came? What can I learn from those folks and why they supported me?
These are great questions that I still ask myself daily. It was a painstaking process and fortunately my friend had some resources/relationships that helped me get top notch pro bono guidance in these areas. I began to see the thread throughout my career regarding creativity and education.
I have always been happiest as a creative and the students that I had the most success with were creatives as well. No one is consistently reaching out to them in an earnest way and saying you can have a viable career doing what you love. In fact, access to the arts for less affluent kids, especially African Americans, has been on the constant decline for the past 30 years. This is despite evidence that those with access to the arts get better grades, graduate from college and ultimately get better jobs.
I also came to acknowledge that most all of my support has come from the commercial creative arts industry (i.e. ad agencies, production houses, media companies, etc.) There are plenty of organizations to soak up those STEM dollars but the arts, particularly with a business slant, are essentially untapped. I had to embrace what was unique about what I do and make it clear to others.
Next, I had to:
Get the books and business structure in order
I’m a creative and although I’m more functional than many of my other creative colleagues, I hate the tedium of book keeping. This was another painful part of what I had to do. I had to reconcile where I had been financially for the last several years “sprinting” and then develop a baseline for how I was going to move forward “cruising”. My wife, then fiance, played a huge role in forcing me to be more financially accountable. I had to separate my for profit and non-profit financial dealings and make concrete decisions about how I was going to move forward.
It’s easy to get caught up in hedging your bets on whether you are a for profit or non-profit or a combination there of. Getting my books in order made me declare exactly what I was doing and how. There are pros and cons for whatever path you choose. By founding a non-profit and wanting to get paid, you risk loosing the organization you built because you cannot be both a board member and an employee. Employees can be let go and I have seen this happen with people I respect.
With that in mind, I had to:
Assemble the right leadership team
Building a non-profit that you would like to compensate you is a little odd. You must have a board of directors and they ultimately steward the organization. So, you are essentially recruiting your bosses. You are asking them to volunteer significant amounts of money, passion and time on your behalf. Again, my friend and our collective networks were essential in walking me through this process.
We assembled a job description for a Chairman of the Board and frankly I thought the quest was insane. Basically, we’d like for someone to give loads of their time, money and prestige to lead us in building a $200K – $500K a year organization… oh, and you don’t get paid. Any takers?
Well, amazingly there were some folks out there willing to entertain this idea. I believe this is largely because of the time and care we invested in the previous two steps plus some divine pixy dust. In addition to the leadership we recruited from within the ad industry, we found 2 dynamic gentlemen to round out the board leadership team. One that had been quietly watching my progress for years and another that I met through a mutual friend.
Alas by the fall of 2013, I had a leadership team along with a strong foundation for growth. Since then, we’ve continued to gain momentum… raising some cash and impacting creative youth in some profound ways. We’re still a long way from achieving our overall organizational goals, but it feels good to look back on the distance we’ve traveled in such a short time. I am truly thankful!
I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote address to Ronald McDonald House Scholarship Award recipients in Austin, TX. I was inspired to meet such a wonderful group of diverse and brilliant youth. I’ve uploaded a copy of my speech here for your pleasure. Click the player below to give it a listen. Enjoy!
Won’t play? Download It!
Advanced File Sharing For Online Business
With more and more aspects of traditional professional environments becoming digitized, businesses of all different sizes and in all different genres are moving more of their services and functions online. Of course, depending on what business you’re in, a great deal of activity still occurs the old-fashioned way – in an office, with pen, paper, and in-person meetings. However, there is simply no doubting that an efficient and functional online platform is becoming an increasingly necessary aspect of the average business, which is why many companies are actively seeking ways to improve their images and functionality online.
It can be difficult to know where to start when improving a company website, but one of the most dynamic solutions is to invest in advanced file sharing services. With the ability to help you in transferring files, improving business security online, and even improving your company image and storage capabilities, advanced file sharing can transform your online business. Here are a few of the specifics.
Large File Sharing
Many large files – from extensive documents, to video files and presentations – cannot be sent by ordinary email because they exceed size limits. An advanced file sharing service will provide your business with the necessary capability to send and share such files, enabling more efficient communications between employees or with clients. Depending on the types of files you typically use in your business, this can be a very valuable asset.
Another significant potential perk of advanced file sharing is the ability to take advantage of cloud storage and sharing. Consider, for example, cloud computing powered by Share File, which allows users to save, share and access files on a digital network, rather than on specific devices. This means two things: first, if you save an ongoing bit of work on your work computer, you can then access that work on the cloud from a separate device at home, either for convenience or in the event that your work computer is for any reason damaged or compromised. And second, if you are working on something with a group, the cloud will allow easy access for everyone granted access to the project, resulting in very efficient group work.
Appearance & Utility
Advanced file sharing systems can also provide the online portion of your business with extremely user-friendly services and functions. To begin with, the added features discussed previously can be integrated into any business website, meaning that they fit in naturally with your website’s existing design. Additionally, you can gain access to functional tools such as mobile apps, desktop widgets, etc. that all connect to the file sharing system. The ultimate result is an aesthetically smooth, user-friendly system that will be easy to use for both employees and clients.
I grew up on hip hop and naturally, I’m a big fan of Russell Simmons. He has been the prototype for the urban entrepreneur with tentacles that extend well beyond music into television, comedy, fashion, retail and financial services. He has also been an activist and done a great deal of philanthropic work over the years. All the while, he has continued to embrace his culture. So, I have deep and heartfelt respect for him and much of what he stands for.
And that brings me to one of his more recent ventures, Global Grind. I first heard of Global Grind a few years ago when I was watching the reality TV show Run’s House on MTV. Uncle Russell was hyped about this new venture that was set to capitalize on the explosion of social media – an urban focused social news / entertainment portal. The idea intrigued and excited me. After all, much of my work has been focused on helping young people of color leverage media to tell their own stories.
As time went on, I stopped watching Run’s House and more or less forgot about Global Grind. In fact, a few years passed and only after following Russell Simmons on Facebook, did I realize that Global Grind was up and running. I would have to say that was about a year ago. Since then, I have checked out the site on several occasions – typically after following a link on Mr. Simmons’ Facebook feed. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed at what I’ve seen.
I understand that such ventures are supported by advertising but the ratio of advertising real estate to content on many pages is something like 5 to 1. Additionally, much of the content more or less is gossip and I see very little evidence of actual journalism. So after a year of clicking and being disappointed, I decided to write Mr. Simmons a respectful letter on Facebook explaining some of my thoughts. The letter follows:
I am a long time admirer and have much respect for your accomplishments and philanthropic work. I am a social entrepreneur that works to expose creative youth to media related careers such as advertising and production. You are a great role model.
However, I wanted to express my disappointment with your web property Global Grind. As you know, we as African Americans over index as consumers in the marketplace and while I recognize that an entity such as Global Grind is supported by revenue, it seems as though the site is overburdened with ads and banners compared to actual content. Moreover, the use of static ads may net impressions but in today’s interactive world, they accomplish very little in the realm of true engagement – what your advertisers are truly looking for.
I realize that you do not run the site on a day to day basis. However, you wield substantial influence and I feel like Global Grind and its current deployment is a wasted opportunity/platform to innovate and uplift. That’s my humble opinion and I’m sure you receive random messages such as this all the time. If you have taken the time to read this, it is much appreciated. I wish you continued success.
Will Mr. Simmons ever read my letter? I’m not sure. Will my letter make a difference in how they run the site? Probably not. I understand the nature of business. Nevertheless, I feel better for expressing myself.
2012 has been a year of adjustment for me. Today I had to put my dog and best friend of 5 years, Chauncey, to sleep. It was sad. I’d owned Chauncey since he was a pup but much of his life was spent living with a friend and his dogs. When I started my journey as a social entrepreneur, I was on the road a lot and basically only had a room to live in when I was in town. My friend was a dog lover and Chauncey got along well with his dogs. So, it made sense for him to stay there.
I had some feelings of guilt for not being able to have him with me all the time. I paid for his food, flea meds and vet visits. I would hang out and walk him and the other dogs. Nevertheless, there were long periods when I would barely see him.
This past summer, my friend called me concerned about at a rapidly growing cyst on Chauncey’s gut. In the space of just a few weeks, it had grown to the size of a volleyball. He was miserable and it had to be removed immediately. The surgery was successful but Chauncey’s surgery wound developed a bad infection. At one point, my friend called me over in the middle of the night because we feared Chauncey wasn’t going to make it then. Luckily, we got him on some heavy antibiotics and eventually he appeared to make a full recovery.
Since then, my friend had to move suddenly and I was fortunate enough to be in a position to take Chauncey back in with me. Finally, after three years, he was back in my life on a daily basis. Although he had mellowed some over the years, Chauncey still was gregarious. He craved attention and absolutely loved to play with balls, any ball. If you threw it, he would never tire of chasing it. Even earlier today. Chauncey was down for chasing that damn ball.
However, over the past month, I noticed that Chauncey was becoming more lethargic. He was also losing weight. We took him to the vet just three weeks ago and he checked out fine but just 5 days ago I noticed another large cyst on his shoulder that seemed to appear out of nowhere. It was already larger than a golf ball and there was also significant growth and swelling on his neck. That’s when I knew his time with us here was coming to a rapid end.
I cried. I’ve cried several times over the past few days. Chauncey continued to grow more lethargic with brief periods of lucidity. Finally, I took him to the clinic today and in a matter of seconds he was gone… at peace. Finally.
Chauncey, I’m so thankful for you to have been in my life. I miss you. I will miss you. I love you… My friend. Goodbye!
And as 2012 comes to an end, I am thankful. Dealing with loss is something we all must overcome. I choose to embrace it, learn and move forward.
I don’t normally write about ad campaigns but this latest Burger King® ad intersects just right with my interests in media and health. Last Weekend, I’d settled in to watch some Sunday afternoon football and there it was… the #WhopperMoment spot. (BK apparently disabled the embed feature on the YoutTube version of the spot. So, you’ll have to visit them there to actually view it.)
Shot from the documentary like perspective of the husband’s cell phone, the spot features a couple at 2:30am in the middle what is supposed to be the expectant mother’s 1st late night craving. And due to the sheer adorableness, you forget for a moment where they are. I mean, what’s more precious than a Dad documenting his son’s journey into the world for his boy and all the world to remember? But then it registers they’re in freakin’ BK baaaby! Say what?! Are you kidding me? What self respecting parent in the 21st Century would even admit to feeding their unborn child Burger King®?
And then comes the kicker… They announce, it’s the 55th anniversary of the Whopper® and Burger King® wants you to share your #WhopperMoments on Twitter. Whopper Moments… seriously? If you look up synonyms for Whopper, you’ll find things like “a big lie, gross untruth, falsehood or fabrication” Meriam Webster defines it as an “extravagant or monstrous lie”. Burger King has actually produced a spot and bought air time asking folks to ridicule them in social media!? Wow, you just can’t make stuff like this up. You can check out the latest #WhopperMoments on Twitter by clicking the link.
And there you have it, A Whopper Moment of Failure in Advertising & Social Media.
Despite many declarations over the past few years of being “post-racial”, race has continued to play a large role in politics and indeed daily American life. Repeated calls to “take OUR country back”, questioning Obama’s Americanness and claims that the Democrats just want the government to do everything for them while “job creators” do all the real work are just re-calibrated code for “colored folks are lazy”. Well, the 2012 election is over and I believe it may represent a turning point in the Republican party and its so called “Southern Strategy“.
From The Nation.
Given that the majority of voters in national elections have been white, the “Southern Strategy” has served Republicans well over the years. So much so that they have become victims of their own success. They’ve built a house of cards supported by decades of half truths that their base is clearly invested in believing. But now, we have reached a demographic tipping point in which the numbers of white voters will continue to decline while those of non-white voters, who now overwhelmingly support the Democrats, will continue to grow for generations. Republicans are left with a base of support that is anti-intellectual and out of step with mainstream thought in America.
Case in point. Many Republicans ignore basic scientific findings such as the human causes of global warming and the theory of evolution. They are against gay marriage and are xenophobic on issues of immigration. They view Obama, who is actually right of center, as a left wing socialist. Obamacare, which is based on Republican proposals for healthcare reform, is described as a government takeover. Meanwhile, actual liberal supporters wanted a single payer government run system instead of one that will put more money in the hands of private insurance companies. Tax rates are actually lower now than they’ve been for 30 years. Oil production is at an all time high. The relative size of government has shrunk. There is no historical correlation between low US tax rates and collective economic prosperity. The “Southern Strategy” of appealing to emotion vs logic has largely run its course.
For Republicans to remain relevant, they will have to moderate their stances on many of the “culture war” issues while somehow retaining a base that is largely against moderation. Democrats have actually staked out most of the moderate positions. So, Republicans risk alienating their base while trying to reclaim positions that they conceded years ago to moderates and liberals.
As a moderate myself, I wish that there were 2 parties that actually attempted to vie for my vote. Too often, Democrats have taken the minority vote for granted and have espoused an almost parochial approach to issues that I care about. For instance, I am not against the idea of charter schools because too often our public schools are failing us. At the same time, the more often Republican espoused idea of a voucher system is too inadequate an approach to address our educational needs. Not to mention, it’s hard for me to support a party where many deny our black president’s American citizenship or somehow believe the jury is still out on issues like global warming. The world is laughing at us and I am loathed to take the Republicans seriously when they repeatedly fall short of rigorous introspection.
So, Republicans have painted themselves into a corner and I have a feeling it will create quite a mess as they attempt to venture out of it.
Well, this Friday, May 11, 2012 I’ll be officially one year older. It’s been quite a journey and I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported me over the years. It was just over 4 years ago with the prospect of turning 40 that I decided to lay everything on the line and pursue what I believed in. I have no regrets. During that time, I have helped to provide educational and career opportunities for over 1500 teachers and students in Central Texas and have dropped 80+ lbs. None of it has been easy, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. Even now, as I face a seemingly insurmountable task of of raising 44K to support the It Could Be U Digital Youth Academy that kicks off exactly 1 month after my birthday, I only get excited about the opportunity to serve others.
I’ve come to believe that the previous 20 years of my adult life were ultimately about my own selfish and gluttonous pursuits. Not to say that I was on a negative track at all. I was a school teacher in priority schools, developed web sites and software, produced and played music, broke into the advertising community and generally had a good time. Nevertheless, I realize that I was indeed fearful of truly venturing out on my own. My entrepreneurial endeavors were half-baked and I was unwilling to deal with the hardships that come with virulent commitment to seeing such things through to their conclusion.
And then their was my physical state. I was obese. I estimate that I was at least 330lbs at one time. I was in serious DENIAL and headed to an early grave. It’s amazing the lengths that one can go through to remain in that state. I have never been skinny. Nevertheless, I was an all state athlete in high school and frankly despite my natural gifts I was lazy. I worked hard on the field and in practice but I never really dedicated my own personal time to getting in shape. Working out was just what I had to ‘deal with” in order to play the sport I loved at the time – high school football. After high school and no real attention from major colleges, I set those dreams aside to pursue a music degree.
I love music but I also came to recognize that performing was not my true passion. I didn’t have a need to be on stage or really even be validated in that way. Again, I had some natural gifts and I worked hard at honing them to a certain extent. Nevertheless, I was often bored with music. In my 30’s I began to discover the art of “producing”… that is facilitating for others. I have a knack for recognizing talent and putting them in situations where they can flourish. Whether it was music, voice over, software development or media production, I began to figure out that was my sweet spot. I prefer to be in the background making things happen for others. That is what brings me joy.
Robotics instructor Mark Barron explains the basketball playing robot his students developed this year.
Some of my best days are visiting classrooms to interact with students and teachers. Great teachers inspire me because they often times toil away in relative obscurity. They are driven by more than money and they really love their students. They go beyond teaching subjects and teach people. That’s the difference. I get excited just being around them because their dedication is infectious. They are the real game changers. All of the things that I have experienced to date have prepared me for what I do today… being an athlete, a creative, an educator, a techie allows me to see connections that others may not. The issues we face today are not going to be addressed by traditional approaches to education because the nature of work has profoundly changed. Modern product development is not done in silos. Great creative without technical infrastructure is virtually useless and the same goes for innovative tech devoid of good design.
The It Could Be U Digital Youth Academy addresses this issue. 20 students who have competed via portfolio submissions come together for 5 weeks to learn from the best and the brightest across media, tech, finance, health and science to develop digital content and applications to promote healthy lifestyles among their peers. Even better, they get to return to their respective communities in the fall to execute and measure the products they create during the summer. This IS modern product development. Harness creativity, technology and science to solve real problems. These tasks are not beyond our youth. It’s just that we’ve never really engaged them in process.
So, if you believe in my passion, I need your help. As little as $10 helps us accomplish our goals for the summer and gets you special perks via our Indiegogo campaign.
Over the past several months, I have been paying professional mentors and teachers to help students prepare professionally reviewed portfolios in their chosen fields of interest. Over 50 students from Austin and Pflugerville ISDs have submitted their portfolios to become one of 20 students we will hire and train for 5 weeks at the It Could Be U Summer Academy which kicks off in June. Students are led by 3 professional mentors in the fields of science / technology, media / arts and business along with a slate of top notch Guest Lecturers from advertising, technology, science and business. After surveying these fields, students join a business group and develop digital applications and content designed to promote healthy lifestyles. Students that complete the academy return to their respective campuses in the fall to be employed year round to execute and measure the products they have developed during the summer academy.
So, what does that mean for students? Well, if you’re a musician, that may mean writing music that you believe can influence your peers to lead healthier lifestyles and then being able to track and measure that affect over time. If you’re into software development, maybe that means developing an app leveraging Google APIs to help your peers find healthy food sources in their neighborhoods. Into journalism? Perhaps you choose to launch a podcast series or cooking show targeting your peers? The point is that a student can utilize their passion and creativity to solve real problems bringing them genuine confidence, recognition and yes, money! It Could Be U Academy graduates become community advocates that are empowered to leverage media, technology and access to a network of highly skilled professional mentors looking to make a difference!
So, this is my CALL TO ACTION for you to support the It Could Be U Digital Youth Academy!
DONATE and help us HIRE 20 deserving high school youth! They’ll work with top professionals as they develop digital media and applications to promote healthy lifestyles. You can give as little as 10 bucks and get special perks such as early releases of products, personalized video post cards or even help more students participate and get a shot at a year round part time job.
Check out this short documentary that follows students as they seek out mentors and submit their portfolios.