Banner | Grambling Edition:
The HBCU Tablet Magazine

Each person I quietly informed about the magazine I was building told me it was a good idea. There weren’t many I gave the news to in the first place. Maybe because I didn’t want to catch the “everybody” syndrome.

I couldn’t rap if I wanted to because “everybody” is a rapper. I work in San Francisco now where “everybody” has a startup. When I finally got off my ass to make the magazine, I didn’t want it to be the same thing you hear of from “everybody” making a magazine.

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It never started with a sleek design or a bulletproof plan either. I just felt there needed to be something that captured the essence and spirit of Grambling.

Googling won’t turn up a result for a magazine that speaks to my interests in black college education and love of the black and gold (I’m not the only one with this desire).

So I created a budget of story ideas and set out on the journey and before long I knew this was worth building.
The rest was beyond me. Most folks I asked for help did so in a hurry and free of charge. What’s really great is that they wrote for us.

The piece on the origins of the “GramFam” hashtag is insightful. Also interesting is what your entrepreneurial peers are creating. You can also get inspired by the steps a fashion blogger is taking toward living her dream.

What a joy it is to be a product of a black college. That said, we gathered some of the most celebrated HBCU moments in media that aught to give you a more to be proud of. Conversely, we included a few daggers that I hope serve to remind us of the importance in upholding the legacy of black colleges.

I give you the first installment of “Banner” quarterly magazine — a product that promises to evolve into the kind of reading experience you can’t live without. Maybe it can hold you down until the next. — MG

On Making The Leap From Print Designer To Web Developer

It was a strange Labor Day evening — strange because I’ve never taken this holiday to reflect on the fruits of my labor or lack thereof. I found myself thumbing through old magazines I managed to carry along with me on my move to San Francisco 7 months ago. In hand was an SND “Design” magazine titled “The reset button issue.” When the nostolgia of hard times began to set in, I had to check the date it ran: Fall/Winter 2009. Where the hell was I that year?

I’ll tell you. My days were spent working the trade in Los Angeles installing custom hardwood floors and helping to keep my pop’s business stay afloat. We were getting absolutely hammered by the recession. It was my first year out of news and it was a tough period for me. In fact, it was harder than the back breaking work I did on floors when a job managed to come through the shop.

By the end of that tumultuous year I was beginning to bring in just enough freelance money to sustain myself and no longer had to be an expense on books. I kind of understood that I needed to do something else, though I was never pressured to leave. I love my dad for that.

The reset button issue

By the grace of God my subscription to SND magazine was still being delivered because I certainly couldn’t afford dues and I was no longer a student. In the issue, Joe Grimm highlighted my plight and that of others in a single graph. Grimm wrote:

“For journalists, our challenge is adapting to an industry that is changing fast — far faster than any of us had expected. While each of us is involved in our own little drama — buyout, layoff, freeze, fear — the dynamics of sliding revenues, evaporating audience and digital challengers are essentially the same. Our responses to challenge will vary according to our situation and what is in us.”

I happened to fall into the “freeze” and “fear” categories after hitting a wall concluding a phenomenal internship in features and graphics at the Sun-Sentinel. Newsroom recruiter Kathy Pellegrino informed me that Tribune announced a hiring freeze and there was nothing she could do. If anyone would have pushed for me, it was her (and boy do I miss her spirit). The fear set in when I arrived to my last internship that following summer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution where layoffs were eminent and departments were already being consolidated. I was terrified that no matter how amazing a job I might have done that summer, it wouldn’t move the graphics department back to their own floor, or slow the velocity of a declining newspaper, let alone earn a job.

According to Grimm, I was supposed to “adapt” to an industry I hadn’t quite broken into. How? I guess that was my drama. There I was, a failed byproduct of a shrinking industry — jobless, freelancing and in need of skill but more importantly, work. I was likely too depressed to pay this issue any mind when it was fresh off the press. It released 2 years after I had interned at the Sun-Sentinel, and it’s now been 5 years in my possession.

A couple pages in was a large two page map of the U.S. with dots representing three categories: Time Magazine’s “10 most endangered newspapers”, “U.S. dailies closed since March 2007” and “Papers closed in 2008 and 2009”. The following column by then SND President Matt Mansfield noted the San Francisco Chronicle was included in the endangered list along with others that could close just as The Rocky Mountain News had.

Knowing The Chronicle never ceased publication brings me peace of mind. Not only are they still around, but I now code for them, and that to me is amazing. How did I get here? How did I become a coder? I guess you can say I found my reset button.

Sure, it was hard work, but the back story is comprised of a bunch of shitty experiences, like the humility it took to go to community college just to learn HTML and CSS on a budget.

A curiosity for WordPress before my instructors had any sense of the platform made me sort of advanced for that time. But I really think belief made all the difference. My belief was in the necessity of acquiring the kinds of skills needed to become a coder no matter how often my job title (or jobs available) would contradict everything I was working toward. I knew I wanted to learn the web machine. I knew I wanted to carry my design aesthetic to online storytelling. All the while I didn’t really know what path I was on. And then something happened.

One day towards the end of my year and a half stint at Gannett’s Asbury Park Design Studio, I saw a piece of work that inspired me. Or better yet, it was confirmation there was room for guys like me. The headline read “The long Strange Ride of Doc Ellis” and I found it a culmination of presentation techniques I often noticed displayed in savvy tech sites. It included parallax, easing, and curtain.js plus a mix of multimedia assets, illustration, photo and phenomenal design. I knew at that very moment what the next phase of my career would be. The time I took to learn code over the years coupled with the practice I had with clients was all preparation to do this kind of work.

A couple months later, I left my print job to pursue web full-time. I moved home to my parents house with no real job or work lined up. Just pure ambition and hopes that I’d land a gig coding. The search for freelance work began and with not so good results. I admittedly didn’t do well freelancing and learned my own limits on other people’s projects. Falling on my ass and failing was part of my process of betterment. I just hated to do it real time on other people’s dreams. My apologies didn’t save their projects and my skills had not saved me from feeling terribly inadequate. The skills I knew I had never let me down before, but they certainly did at that time in life. What I can say is that I continued to work through failure even if my clients couldn’t see it.

Taking stock of where I felt were weak areas in my toolbox, I continued to practice and try things. I was using Bootstrap for a side project but couldn’t spend the time I wanted with it because my project wasn’t bringing in any money. I found more online resources than I knew what to do with. My last dollars and cents went to further developing as a coder, with a short-term wish to just focus everything on code.

Then an opportunity came along to try something new at the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a six month contract position doing web projects. Within months an incubator had been formed and I was placed into this new space with a new team, new desks, new wall paint and an open floor plan. It was pretty much all the motivation I needed to do good work. I poured myself into my craft. My ideas about story presentation for web became the work I built. It quickly led to full-time employment just months later. And to think, the place that once made the endangered list was now “incubating” and consistently taking serious strides at online storytelling.

The leap of faith I took from print designer to web designer was all but pretty. There were points when I felt I was falling and failing. But I kept this goal of “coder” close to me through the uncertainty. That’s the thing about the reset button. When you want something bad enough you have to push it. It’s the in between step when all is bad, you’re fed up, or when it’s time for a change in specialty. Pressing the button is the step between not being able to find a way and making a way.

Grimm spoke a lot about second acts to your drama. If you’re a print designer who’s ready for a “second act” in your career and are really wanting to develop as a coder, then accept the idea that you won’t be good for a long time. Also expect to be challenged. Once you get around that, you’ll just learn and grow. One day you’ll realize you code and hopefully, you’ll also realize you wouldn’t have earned the title had you not hit the reset button.

From Hackathon, To Solving A Crisis Through Entrepreneurship

Like most, when I thought of summer, I thought of all things vacation: hot days, swimming pools; pretty much anything eventful outside the office. Looking back at my summer I noticed my view has changed of what this gloriously warm time of year is all about.

I now think of summer as an opportunity to let new things into my life. Granted this isn’t a new concept. Take my new friend Kyle for instance. He’s a web developer I had the chance of working with during the YesWeCode Hackathon in July at this year’s Essence Festival in New Orleans. He dropped his job, picked up a backpack and went on a tour through Europe. Sure, travel is a great way to embark on new things. But this summer, my mind traveled further than anywhere I could physically go, and it happened at that same hackathon where I met my backpacker buddy.

When I first heard of the hackathon I thought I might not have any business being there. Not only was I drastically wrong but I’m so glad that I applied. I was accepted to mentor young people of color as we set out to build apps intended to positively impact the communities where they come from.

This was my first go at so-called “hacking.” I know how these kinds of events work but actually participating was way beyond what I had expected. Here’s a quick rundown of how I ended up on a team called Potluck:

On day one the kids were encouraged to pitch an idea to everyone in attendance. Each idea was then written on a huge post-it with a simple title. We were all given stickers to place on the ideas we liked the most. There was one that I was particularly fond of because my buddy thought up a similar concept many years ago and pitched it to my friends and I. His idea never saw the light of day but I saw parts of my friend’s concept in this bright eyed 10th grade girl named Alex from Memphis, Tenn. She was interested in creating an app for social bartering.

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“At first I did not think I would like it and tried to get out of it when my mother told me about it” she explained. “I was very nervous of my presentation but I thought that the people seemed interested.” Consequently she earned my vote of confidence.

Following voting was a consolidation period where ideas that were similar or played well with other’s could combine. “The Barter app” saw an opportunity to partner with a “Food Desert” idea that sought to address the crisis in areas with fresh food shortages. We figured there might be an opportunity to create a system where low income people living in food deserts could barter services in exchange for fresh, locally grown food. We combined forces and were off to the races.

Just like that I found myself at a table sitting with two passionate people (a kid and an adult) with great ideas, and a few specialists. The food desert concept was the idea of a passionate woman from Atlanta. Kyle brought his developer expertise. Marshall was part designer, part marketing strategist. Melonee brought her skill in Marketing and her presentation abilities and I was the lead designer.

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We had only days to conceptualize, build, test, shape and refine our concept into a presentation pitch for a panel of judges. The pressure was on, but the deeper our discussions went, the more we all began to believe in the idea and the more evident it became that our concept could be a real solution.

Meanwhile it was also occurring to me the work I was doing was far from my regular journalistic grind I’m so accustomed to, yet the meaning of my efforts made me feel just as good. Mentoring Alex on how to plan a user interaction and watching how drawing wireframes was opening doors in her mind tugged at my heart. She took our concept and turned it into a real working prototype on paper and did an outstanding job thinking through how each screen of our app would function.

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Alex pointed out “The group was ok – we had our rough moments but we made the best of them. My favorite moment was when we finally tested the app and it moved perfectly.” She added, “The top three things I learned were how to create an app, how to pitch my idea, and how to semi use photoshop.”

Coming away from our last huddle I was totally fulfilled and proud of the work we had done as a unit and we were ready to share our prototype with the room open to questioning by the judges.

What happened next was beyond me.

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We came out with 3rd place! Prizes included Beats by Dre headphones, facebook gear, a chance to pitch our app to facebook, and we scored a 30 minute consultation with Matt Candler of 4pt0.org who will help us fine-tune our vision.

By joining a hackathon, I hacked my way into making a difference. The work I’ve done (and will be doing) is part entrepreneurial and part humanitarian and I’m absolutely passionate about the difference our app will make. We’re actually planning to bring this thing to life beyond the hackathon and develop it for both iPhone and Android devices – though it was originally created for Android which was pretty cool.

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Android

I got my hands on a copy of Android Studio and I’m excited to start getting funky with development in that area. Working with Xcode should be pretty darn fun as well. Development aside, I think team Potluck realizes the real work is in bolstering support, operating as a business, and thinking through ways building a sustainable business model that has longevity. After all, we didn’t go into this to fall short of making a difference. We understand app development alone won’t make us viable. As we solve our own problems I’ll be happily writing about our trials and tribulations along the way.