Meeting Ms. Issa Rae

This weekend, I had the opportunity to collaborate with LionsHead Media, a black tech company out of Durham, and photograph Issa Rae of HBO’s “Insecure” as she spoke to an auditorium full of students at North Carolina Central University. Kicking it backstage with Issa (like we’re best friends, right?) was nothing short of inspiring. This young lady is doing exactly what I want to do in a lane that’s different from my own, but the same principles are applicable. She has taken a corporate web platform (YouTube), created an unmarketed but very real aspect of black culture in “Awkward Black Girl”, and developed such a cult following that she was able to author a NYT bestseller, pen a deal with HBO, and take everything that she’s learned to an HBCU campus in order to inspire the next generation of young black creative minds.

It was super dope to be able to connect with her backstage chatting with her about her come up, getting an autograph for my wife, and listening to Corey Freeman, Creative Director at LionsHead Media, explain to her the impact that Durham’s Black Wall Street had on the United States. Additionally, I was able to create content off the personal interaction as well as capture some awesome photographs of her that I couldn’t have gotten without having the access I got through LionsHead. But the most powerful things I got from the conversation between NCCU student Christina Boyd-Clark of LionsHead Media and Issa were these five quotes that I was able to jot down in my notebook in between snapping. Take them and allow them to inspire you as you work to further your brand and your community.

“(The stereotypes that the media shows) are valid black experiences but not the only black experiences.”
“In this day and age, there’s no excuse not to create.”
“Where’s your content online?”
“I get a lot of inspiration just by living life.”
“(Success) depends on talent and consistency, but consistency more than anything else.”

All very simple concepts but I chose them as my top quotes because it shows that, in this day and age, the formula for success is not rocket science. It’s just about taking care of the basics and doing so consistently. You have to provide a different angle that isn’t already out there. You have to be putting yourself out there. You have to live life and interact with people in order to create. And you have to go hard regularly. So do it and maybe one day I’ll be photographing your speaking engagement.

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Once again, major shoutout to LionsHead Media for the opportunity to meet a young lady who is working to change the conversation around black lifestyle and what is seen as the norm within our culture. We’re not all gangstas, charismatic entertainers, welfare moms, and bad b_____es. Some of us are awkward and insecure and oddly funny folks who don’t like seeing the same person in the hall three times in a work day because how many times can you really say “Hello”?

 

Make professional development a priority.

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Out of the Night

Though this blog is for people of all backgrounds, being that today is the first day of Black History Month, I’m going to take a step from the professional side of things to honor the legacy of those who fought, are fighting, and will fight for equality for people of all backgrounds.

 

Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit, from pole to pole
I thank the only God there is for saving my soul
From the threat of slavery as we knew it
But truly, it just switched forms as they often do it
“They” being the powerful. “They” being the rich
“They” being those who pay rappers more for saying “nigga” and “bitch”
Brother and nigga, same number of syllables
But one does something that the other doesn’t to our mental and our physical
The language we use numbs us to the pain
There is power words. There is power in names
Know that your ancestors marched for something much greater
The time to fight is now. We are not promised later
Sandra has no later. Neither does Tamir
Nor do the Johns, Crawford or Ferrell. Am I being clear?
Black lives only mattered when,  on them, a price tag was placed
Then we were pacified by false prophets like MA$E
So, this month, don’t just remember, but also set a plan
Right now, it’s death to the system which birth the Ku Klux Klan
Let’s fight a righteous war. The Haves vs. the Have Nots
And be willing to give it all you have got
I don’t care about being on the right side of history. I care about doing right.
And, after right is done, just as I came, I will step back into the night.

 

Make making black history a priority.

Leave a Legacy

In the autumn of 2003, I was asked to represent the Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools district at a conference for high-performing minority students across the country. After my first conference, my presence was requested two more times, one conference being in Princeton, NJ and the other in Cambridge, MA. On my travels, I met some driven, like-minded young people who come from underrepresented populations within high achieving school systems. We hashed out issues, discussed solutions that would help us close the minority student achievement gap, and worked to inspire change. Each conference was a transformative experience and they were the first of many experiences like this that I would have during my high school years.

This morning, I had the opportunity to speak to around 150 students in this year’s group at the Minority Student Achievement Network’s annual conference. I was honored because, 13 years before, I sat right where those students sat and I knew, in part, what they were experiencing. What I had not seen at their age was the level of racial and political polarity that they are seeing right now. I had not seen videos of people who look just like me killed at the hands of those who were supposed to protect me. So, as I moderated the panel of more recent MSAN alumni (interjecting when I felt the question was pivotal and my experience would add to the conference attendees’ collective understanding), I worked to provide wisdom. I told them things that I felt would help them succeed as students, as minority students, as young adults, and as minority young adults.

The level of attentiveness to myself and the four panelists was inspiring. They sat, listened, asked great questions (one very articulate young lady asked “How did your experience at MSAN change the way you viewed your purpose?”), and were obviously trying to understand how they could carry the legacy that began 16 years ago. I was transparent with them. I told them my successes and my challenges. I told them to stand for what they believe but to know that what you believe, if not popular, could come with consequences. I let them know that they ought not let anyone else define their success.

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It is important to me to give back, especially to those who gave to me. When Ms. Lorie Clark called me and asked if I could moderate this alumni panel, even though I knew this was my last day at work before my vacation, I made sure to block off 2 hours on my schedule. Do you know why? Because 1) the students needed me and 2) my job wouldn’t have me were it not for programs like MSAN and LEAD and AVID and YLI, so any chance I have to give back to them, I will. I am a firm believer in the fact that young people need to see someone who looks like them in a position of success.

Now, whether you’re reading this and you’re a minority or a white male who comes from a long line of financial wealth, you have a responsibility as a human being to reach back and pull someone else up to stand beside you. And then, as they get to your level, propel them forward ahead of you. The next generation is not your competition. The next generation is your legacy. Today, I saw mine and I was proud of the work that they are doing.

 

Make your legacy a priority.

Why I Love What I Do

I fundraise.

I fundraise for a relatively small PS-8 independent school.

I fundraise for a relatively small PS-8 independent school that is in one of the most educated metropolitan areas in the nation per capita.

Yet, when I look at the school, I see that it is only 30% “diverse” (minority). I don’t know the exact percentage breakdown but I do know that the number of kids who have two African American or Latino parents is slim. The dollars I raise don’t just go to making sure that all students (regardless of race) have the opportunity to go to the school. The money also goes to professional development of faculty & staff as well as technological enhancements.

The thing is, no matter what, kids whose parents can afford teachers with all those credentials and all of that tech would have those resources regardless. But I am ensuring that those kids who may not have had anywhere else they could go to receive such an outstanding education with all the bells and whistles get it. And the poor white kids have family members who go to this school and know that there is financial aid. But, if you’re a struggling Black or Brown family with no ties to the school’s community, you think that the $xx,000 price tag is set in stone and you don’t even apply to go.

Well, guess what? It’s not set in stone. And I’m out here raising money so that all kids, regardless of where they start, can have the same opportunity to finish in the same place that Becky with the good hair’s kids finish.

America cannot be great without all Americans being given the opportunity to be great and that means evening the playing field. So that’s my agenda. To make the world fair. If that offends you, ask yourself this question: Why?

Find a reason bigger than yourself to be great at what you do.

 

Make professional development a priority.