Monday, February 23, 2009

Hey, I have a new updated blog that can be found here. But while your here feel free to look at my new portfolio! 

Friday, October 17, 2008

There are thirty thousand students at Tech and about 3 percent of those are African American students who enter into a university system that makes them feel like their one of ten. So naturally we cling to the people whom we feel most comfortable and as a results that’s a big part of the reason as to why the student union at 12pm looks strikingly like an HBCU cafeteria. Now, I have always cherished my college experience and always said that I wouldn’t change it for the world. But I have realized that at a school like Tech I was perhaps one of the few black students who harvested an affection and affinity for the university itself outside of just affection for other students. This is probably due to my involvement with orientation recruitment and interacting with the school on a more personal level than most black students. But even with that, I can’t help but wonder what my experience would have been like if I went to an HBCU.

I’ve always had strong opinions on what HBCU's offer students and how significant the “Black Experience” is in the overall scheme of things. I never understood quite how attending an all black university was a good preparation for integrating into the actuality of a predominantly white corporate America. Sure, you might feel more comfortable in school surrounded by people who look and think like you, but what about when you graduate?

And secondly isn’t going to a fairly large white school statistically like attending an HBCU within a large university. Just looking at the numbers, most HBCU ‘s have a total enrollment range of around 2000 – 5000 students, which is statistically similar to the black population within a predominantly white school. Sure, they might be dispersed throughout a larger white population but if anything this experience is much more aligned with the professional culture presented in the real world after graduation.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to spend some time on some HBCU campuses here on the east coast and have gotten a small glimpse into the black experience. Now as a strategist I’m naturally curious in how people interact within different environments but I must admit that the allure of historically black universities garner their own sense of intrigue and appeal. As an outsider looking in I’ve always known there were cultural differences you forfeit when attending a traditional predominantly white university. Most notably in the marching bands, homecoming events, parties, the prolific Greek life, step-shows, and family traditions. True, most of these you can attain on a smaller scale at traditional universities but not nearly in comparison of the authenticity and intensity of an HBCU.

But after spending a couple a days on yard at Hampton University I realized that those things although important, were a lot less significant in the true nature of the black experience. Now I only had a couple of days to immerse myself into the HBCU collegiate life but I think the real equity of the university lies in the character of the students who attend HBCU’s. Students who flourish at an institution that allows young African American students to develop personality and character in an environment that’s tailored toward their needs.

I can’t speak for all universities but in terms of those that I have attended it seems as if the black population’s creativity and desire to express themselves is somewhat suppressed in larger predominantly white universities. Now, whether that’s due to a slight intimidation factor as a result of disproportionate representation in the classroom, I don’t know. But in any case, it just seems as if black students don’t receive the same level of expressive encouragement as they would receive in an all black classroom.

And I think it’s that very fabric of encouragement that allows students to interact so freely in the classroom and on campus. Fostering a spirit of enthusiasm in which gives HBCU's the reputation for harvesting students that are more naturally outgoing and outspoken about what’s happening on their campus as well as in the community.

I was fortunate enough to attend North Carolinas A&T homecoming last week and outside of the band, festivities and step show it was much like Tech’s homecoming just in a different fashion. But the one thing that really set it apart was the intrinsic adoration for the schools traditions and legacy held within the hearts of the students. Perhaps the best way I can I paint this picture would be in the actions of a grandmother I meet on campus. She was proudly proclaiming her allegiance to A&T in her ornately decorated vintage A&T sweater. She was escorting her daughter an A&T alumni and granddaughter a current student through a tour of the campus as it was when she attended. honestly, I don’t think that I’ve seen anything as beautiful as the pride of a family who has fulfilled the legacy of a third generation student.

I think that’s where the real turning point lies in the black experience discussion. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding which school you should attend but in terms of pride, what university can match this level of tradition and pride to an incoming black students like an HBCU can.

I can’t say that my overall perception of the black experience has changed because honestly it does come back to that same cliché’ answerer you always hear “ It depends on the individual”. But I will say this, I think the purpose of a college education has shifted among middle class Americans, black and white. Thirty years ago I would argue that college was about attaining a degree and getting a decent job. It was the gateway into living a comfortable life; it was all about the American dream. Now days, I think college is more about the experience. It’s about the people you meet, the experiences you have, and opening yourself up to more than what’s going on in your world. And at least in that respect I can see why HBCU Alumnus are so adamant about the black experience.

Hampton University : The graduates Crossing Ogden Circle. A graduation night tradition for graduating seniors.

This Maze and Frankie Beverly joint had everybody SANGIN!!!

North Carolina A&T Drum-line and Step show:

The Omega's put it down but didn't win.

Road Trip Fun!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

It normally takes something quite special to inspire me enough to actually roll myself to the computer and write about it. Normally it’s an idea or concept that pushes the boundaries of creative thinking or something that is intuitively thought provoking. Something along the lines of that feeling you get when you hear your favorite song for the first time, not realizing how much you appreciate it until an hour later when your frantically trying to conjure up the lyrics over a discordant melody that you have somehow managed to hold onto within your head. They don’t happen to often but I definitely got that itch to write after my encounter with an LA artist by the name of MR. Brain Wash (MBW). No, I didn’t actually get the opportunity to meet the mastermind himself but his art exhibit off Sunset and Vine, spoke volumes about the heart of this artist and the way he thinks.

Fist off, the exhibit itself was something to see but the venue and the atmosphere in which it was hosted was truly phenomenal. Every aspect of the showing served as an intricate part of this incredible experience. In fact the venue at times seemed to merge into the art that was on display. Mr. brain Wash had covered every inch of the 1500 foot warehouse with his own artistic signature. The quality and detail behind the work that was inscribed upon the walls and floor was every bit as inspiring and ornate as the hand signed pieces hanging on display. After about ten minuets I came to realize that this was not just another artist trying to do something different just to be different but rather here was a guy who exhausted every opportunity to express himself. The floors, the ceiling, the walls, all were part of his blank canvas in which he used to complement the message in his pieces. I remember thinking to myself here was someone who had created a three -dimensional interactive medium to tall his story. It was the venue in its entirety that was the exhibit, not just the work on the walls. From The larger than life instillations that prominently dwarfed the buildings entrance to the melodic rhythms being blasted from the second story dj booth, every aspect of experience was in its own way, a small piece of the story being told in this exhibit.

The majority of his work is a unique perspective on classic art pieces familiar within the impressionism period, interrupted by intrusive anachronistic twenty first century pop culture. Often times the pieces are fully replicated to their original state by hand (an accomplishment in itself) only to be slightly enhanced or decimated, depending on your personal opinion, by his own creative interpretation. One of my favorite pieces is a classic remake of Alfred Sisley’s Boulevard Heloise, Argenteuil. Originally painted with visible brush strokes and etchings illustrating a fairly abstract french city street MBW has provided the addition of the slightly invasive florescent orange LA city bus. An eye sore aesthetically speaking but to those who have had the displeasure of encountering LA’s public transportation it brings about an inevitable smile and a reluctant sense of appreciation.

The exhibition gave proof that Andy Warhol was one of his more respected artist as a number of his more prominently displayed pieces where a unique take on some of Warhol’s most beloved work. His classic print of the Campbell’s soup can as well as his pop art depiction of Marilyn Monroe both lent themselves as inspiration for a series of pieces in which Mr. Brain Wash has used to help brand his style.

His work is aesthetically beautiful but the real message in his work is in his relevance to today’s culture. Boldly exploring abstract concepts like truth and equality for a generation looking into a translucent future. Obama, Clinton, and McCain find their ways into a series of images focused on the subtle message of hope. One of his more powerful works is an untitled piece of Dr. King and Malcolm X examining the audacity of following your dreams.

Well, perhaps if I wear a poet at heart I would be able to fully describe the surreal experience of interacting within Mr. Brain Wash’s vision, but such is the irony of good art. It speaks to your heart, touches your soul, and not only inspires and moves you but beseeches you to share it with the world. And yet even with all that, you know the only way to truly pass on the experience is to see it in person. Unfortunately I can’t quit give you all that but here’s the next best thing… enjoy the pics.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What do we call a world that plays your kind of music all day everyday? A place that repeats, shuffles, and mixes music, information, and pictures in the exact synchronization
of your hearts desire? A dream world right! Well its more like the the iPod world. Unfortunate realm and state of existence where people have become isolated from one another all under the guise of -demand music. To the music enthusiast its perhaps the best invention known to man and who could argue with that. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on a brand new iPod Touch? I mean it’s practically the Minimus Prime version of a Macbook. But even in all of its glory there is yet a dark side to the iPod which often serves as an 8 gb multi-colored “do not disturb” visual queue to the outside world.

Undoubtedly, were all guilty of practicing in a form of musical isolationism, some more intentionally than others but that’s not always our intent. Sometimes you just want to rock out to the lyrical genius of Andre 3000 or to the smooth sounds of the Temptations rather than talking about microeconomic MPC curves on your bus ride to class. But the truth of the matter is that when unoccupied time is presented were more likely to start reaching for pods than strike up a convo. So has our society really gotten to the point that we have reduced ourselves to zombie like machines minimizing the need for human interaction? Although It may seem that way, I think not, or at least not all the time!

So, for those Ipod conspirators out there get ready to put on your game faces because that just might be the anti-pod cure to our self-indulged isolationism attitudes. Wire Magazine proclaimed Alpha Geek, Jury Hahn, is aiming to bring the sexy of human interaction back into the fabric of our culture and her medium for her cause is mobile phone gaming. But were not talking about the marvel of watching pinky chasing Ms. Pac man around on your Blackberry, oh no. Hahn dreamed up an idea of multiplayer cell phone games where people can interact with rivals and battle them on screen.

Here’s the low down, players can dial a special phone number shown on a public screen and the system will link them into to the system complete with their own personal avatar which is then identified with the users last four digits of their cell phone number. Participants are then able to compete in the mini games by using their keypad or by speaking directly into their devices.

So you want to size up the competition, well all you have to do is look around you and see what other jesters are yelling into their phones as they anxiously parade in front of the screen. Imagine while your waiting in line for Broadway tickets in the middle of Times Square you find yourself indulged in a two hundred person dodge ball game on the jumbotron in front of you. How’s that for social interaction!

Will it work… well I don’t think Hahn’s goal is to necessary lead the Anti Pod revolution but rather explore a new twist on an old form of media. Sure the interactions and communication capabilities are fascinating but under all that it’s just a great financial idea. If they are able to develop the platform without any kinks than the advertising sponsors will come. Speaking to consumers on the go and truly reaching them while their engaged in an activity is like the Holy Grail for advertisers.

When not occupied people want to interact with each other it’s an intrinsic behavior built into our beings. A good example is that episode of the Office when the gang watches the DVD screen savor screen to see if the DVD logo that bounces around the screen haphazardly would ever fall directly in the bottom left hand corner! In the midst of a Michael Scott meeting they had to find something to occupy their time? Lets face it we all hate waiting in lines and what’s even worse we have all becoming quit proficient at pretending to address some pretentious matter on our cell phone. …After all you can only fiddle around on your cell phones for so long before people realize your pretending is a lot like the person behind you. You know the person you just called out in your head for being a busy body poser! So why not pop those pods out of our ears and put our game faces on. And who knows in the midst of all the excitement it may even spark the in-thinkable...a conversation!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mais C´e´tait une expe´rience

In the chaos of my life in which I affectionately call “The Brandcenter” I managed to squeeze in the time to watch the movie Six Degrees of Separation. I must admit I was more intrigued with the concept of unifying the world through a theory of mathematics and probability then I was with the actual story line, but as the film ended I found myself captivated by Stockard Channing's closing performance. Her closing monologue was delivered with such passion and emotion, it was breathtaking. I’ve heard her performance of the Broadway rendition was absolutely exceptional and judging from her showing on screen I can see why she is regarded as one of the top thespians of our time.

But it was here that lied the most memorable part of the movie, Channing’s closing plight. The fact that she loathes the idea of turning our lives into some sort of anecdote. She questions how do we keep the experiences of life? How do we keep what happens to use and how do we fit it into our lives without turning them into anecdotes?

As I listened to her deliver that final soliloquy I wondered if I too would take this time, this chaotic period of graduate school, and turn it into an anecdote. I wondered as time went by would I eventually lose the essences of this experience? The late nights, the euphoric sense of creative freedom, and the mass hysteria that characterized the week before a project was due? Would theses memories eventually slip through the cracks of my mind and be replaced with a generic “ We had some crazy times in grad school” anecdote?

Honestly, I don’t know. But what I do is that this period has been the most fascinating time of my life and yet, somehow I feel that it too will eventually become a distant memory. Just a quick story I’ll use to relate with friends over a diner party or as an opening for polite conversation among strangers. But Channing was right, our lives are more than just anecdotes their experiences.

So, how do we hold onto our experiences? I haven’t quit figured that out yet. But in searching for a clip to include with this post I stumbled upon one of the best responses I’ve heard thus far, and though it may not be the quintessential answer I think it makes for a compelling solution. And so I’ll leave you simply with his answer.

Hold onto the experience. With both hands. It'll slip away eventually, but you'll have it for a few seconds longer. Hold on, because it's worth more than anything you posses. Hold on, and keep it, because it will keep you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Here is a case study I did for my fraternity looking at our brand and our culture. Its an over all look at the nature of our brand and some examples of companies that have been successful in building strong brands.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I recently had a group member ask me a question about how we as strategist make connections with people. His question was quite simple, what do you think of when you think about something being raw? What immediately pops into your head? What does that look like? What does it feel like? How do you uncover it and use it to connect with people?

At first glance I didn’t think much about the concept. I mean, raw is essentially that which you deem to be authentic, right. Simply the absolute basic, stripped down, purely organic content that makes up something. Not really much to it! But as I began to contemplate on this idea of understanding the nature of raw, I wonder if something intrinsically powerful resides behind the simple concept.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to witness N.E.R.D. perform live here in Richmond for the first time. The show was simply incredible. The energy, the love, the anticipation, and the camaraderie among avid fans was breathtaking. The whole experience had the making of an urban myth centered around the best hip hop concert of our time. Like it had somehow been pulled directly from a Spike Lee Joint or something. Without a doubt, the strongest aspect of the show was Pharrell’s energy, his sincerity when spiting his lyrics, and his natural ability to intimately engage the audience. I walked away that night knowing that somewhere in the venue, there were some young cats who would remember this show for the rest of their lives. That it would somehow shape the way they looked at life and how they viewed their futures.

And so it’s this phenomenon that I found so intriguing. I’m not even really a fan of Pharrell or N.E.R.D. I had followed some of their earlier music from like four years back, and had appreciated the fact that they were creating a new style and sound within the game. But truth be told, I never really rocked with them beyond what little songs they managed to get on the radio. But for those three hours while I was in the thick of the concert you would think I had been apart of the camp from day one. Like I had been somehow involved with the creation of the group and now I was just there number one fan. So…Why is that? How is that even possible?

I didn’t realize it at the time but now as I reflect on it, it becomes quite obvious. They did a phenomenal job with telling the story of the N.E.R.D brand and engaged the audience the whole way through. They embodied the very characteristics of this absolute raw concept. There wasn’t any tracks being played over the speakers or any studio produces sound effects. Just simply a blend of the band, their lyrics and the raw passion they brought to the stage. It was this encounter with the absolute rawness of what N.E.R.D. was and what they stood for that was so powerful not the notoriety of the group. And this is the god honest truth, if they would have been selling any of the bands merchandise at the end of the show, I very well might of, bought every Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream t-shirt they had available. The connection was that strong!

So I wonder what might happen if strategist could reproduce that same kind of encounter with consumers and other brands? What if we could harness those fillings people get when they encounter the raw nature of a brand and use it to help grow a company? Is it even possible? I wonder is there even any substance to this idea of encountering the raw nature of a product, or was I just overtaken by a sense of heightened emotions stimulated by rhythmic beat?