Blackoutlets Podcast EP4: Lincoln Stephens

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From the moment one meets Lincoln Stephens it becomes immediately clear that not only is Lincoln a man with a vision for the future, but he is a man who possesses the conviction and faith to transform that vision into reality. A graduate of the University of Missouri and a veteran of the advertising and communication industry, Lincoln has dedicated his career to transforming his vision of a culturally and intellectually diverse advertising industry into a reality. A process that has taken him across the country and into the board rooms of some of the most respected brands in the world, Lincoln’s journey has resulted in the creation of a transformative  non-profit organization known as The Marcus Graham Project.

Co-founded by Lincoln and a group of like minded communication professionals in 2007, the Marcus Graham Project is a multi-functional network that looks to cultivate a new generation of diverse media and marketing leaders through mentoring, education and interdisciplinary training initiatives. Based out of Dallas, Texas and named after the fictional advertising executive played by Eddie Murphy in the 1992 film Boomerang, the Marcus Graham Project looks to not only prepare individuals from diverse backgrounds for success in advertising, but also in a manner similar to Murphy, present advertising as a viable career path to a new generation.

In episode 4 of the Blackoutlets’ Podcast, Lincoln describes his Journey into advertising, his work as an Executive Director and Co-founder of the Marcus Graham Project and he shares how faith, dedication and determination have helped lead him to a career of achievement.

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Blackoutlets Podcast EP3: Jessica Simien Interview

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There are those who consume media, those who create media, and those who critique media. Jessica Simien does all of the above. A public relations professional and digital media entrepreneur, Jessica Simien has set out to build a career that is not only reflective of the media landscape but also helps shape the media landscape.

The founder of the self titled entertainment news and lifestyle website JessicaSimien.com, Jessica has turned her passion for pop culture and communication into a platform for audience engagement and creative professional development. A venture that started out as Jessica’s personal pastime, JessicaSimien.com now hosts a staff of young writers and interns each looking to develop their skills as communication professionals. A website which covers a wide range of topics, Jessica pride’s herself on providing content that is reflective of the social, cultural and intellectual diversity of her growing audience.

Now while there is no shortage of entertainment focused websites on the internet, Jessica’s site and her work at large is truly significant in that at the core of her work is a desire to provide access to those who have traditionally not had a voice within the existing media framework. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Jessica has taken the challenges of living in a small media market and used them as motivation to create opportunities where there previously were none. Whether it is through her marketing partnerships with independently owned business or through her Hometown Heroes series which highlights the work of often overlooked advocates for social change, Jessica looks to challenge the perception that communities are beholden to media perceptions but are in fact architects of the media itself.

In the 3rd episode of the Blackoutlets Podcasts  Jessica Simien shares how she has turned a lack of opportunity into what she believes will become an emerging media movement.

The Black Bruins: Spoken Word For Those Who Have Gone Unheard

There are times when a message can transcend it’s intended audience. Though inspired by specific events and designed to evoke a response from a targeted audience, a well crafted message has the ability to allow seemingly disparate communities to find common ground and unite behind a shared cause. On November 4th such a message was delivered by a group of UCLA students known as The Black Bruins.

A spoken word piece that was performed by third year UCLA student Sy Stokes and published via youtube, the self titled “Black Bruins” not only highlights the lack of African American representation in the UCLA student body but fundamentally challenges the reputation of UCLA as a diverse institution. An  impassioned presentation of a variety of UCLA admissions, graduation, financial aid and university administrative spending statistics, Stokes makes what was by far the most buzzworthy revelation when he explains that UCLA has more NCAA national championships (109) than black male freshman (48). It is from this damning statistic that Stokes goes on to assert that the make up UCLA’s student body is both reflective of the of the value that the institution places on black students, and detrimental in shaping the priorities and aspirations of future generations of black male students.

uclaThough it is clear that the Black Bruins message was intended for the immediate UCLA community (administrators, faculty, students etc), the words of Sy Stokes and the Black Bruins have struck a cord with individuals far beyond the grassy knolls of the UCLA campus.  Since the initial release of the “Black Bruins” video, hundreds of thousands of individuals have viewed the video on youtube. From this large group of viewers, a smaller subset have gone on to sign an  accompanying change.org petition urging UCLA to adopt new diversity initiatives. Extending beyond digital activism, the message of the Black Bruins has been covered by numerous news agencies and has become the catalyst for renewed national debate surrounding the state of higher education admission practices and the social ramifications said practices hold not only for particular minority communities but for the quality of education for all Americans.

While only time will tell if the Black Bruins’ message will have a  lasting impact on UCLA as an institution, there is no doubt that the “Black Bruins” is already a socially significant media object. More than simply challenging specific policies of UCLA, the “Black Bruins” elucidates the misleading qualities of the institution’s communication narrative and brand. Though the lack of black students may be something that is felt by the members of the student body on a daily basis, there is certainly no shortage of black representation across the UCLA website and literature.  This is not to say that UCLA should not showcase the black students they have, but as Sy Stokes so eloquently explains, “this school is not diverse just because you put it on a pamphlet.” The fact that the “Black Bruins” acts as both a local call to action as well as a digital artifact means that one does not have to be physically on campus to understand there is a disconnect between the UCLA message and the UCLA reality when it comes to diversity.

Race Forward: A Resource for Understanding Race in Media, In Principal & In Practice

While Blackoutlets looks to focus on the issues that face black content creators of media, it is important to remember that many of these issues have an impact that extend far beyond the production and consumption of media. Issues of framing, access, ownership, gender and race (especially race) permeate through every facet of the American experience. It is in understanding the broad intersectionality of these issues that we can gain a better perspective of how these issues shape distinct areas such as media.

One institution that is dedicated to holistically understanding and addressing the impact of race across society is Race Forward.  Founded in 1981 and formerly known as the Applied Research Center, Race Forward is an organization which forwards the discussion of race through a combination of analytical and social measures. Utilizing a variety of research methodologies, Race Forward looks to quantify and contextualize the impact of racial inequality on large-scale institutions.  In addition to research, Race Forward publishes a daily investigative reporting website called Colorlines which provides a community focused approach to daily headline stories.

Organizations like Race Forward are significant in that they not only provide resources for understanding how social structures interact with race, but they also provide an independent lens for framing issues of race. While many media organizations struggle to tackle race in a way that will not upset the sensibilities of the majority of their audience, Race Forward, as a non-profit organization is not tied to maintaining the same racial status quo brand of coverage. This diversity of perspective is critical as common analysis often focuses on the legitimacy of even considering race as a factor in the social phenomena that occur.

It is because of organizations like Race Forward that sites like Blackoutlets can exist.