Every day at Techbook Online Corporation we aim to connect communities through content by publishing socially relevant stories of impact, issues and innovation. As Founder and CEO of the integrated-internet, multi-media publishing and sustainable marketing and news organization, I have personally taken up the responsibility to mobilize local, regional, national and global communities, by encouraging the production, safeguarding and dissemination of diversified contents in the global information networks.
Our reason for being hyper-involved in the communities we serve is many, but mainly we don't just want to talk to our constituents, we want them to talk to each other about our stories and act together. At the core of our work is the understanding that local content is the expression of a community's knowledge and experience, and the process of creating and disseminating content provides opportunities to the members of the community to interact and communicate with each other, expressing their own ideas, knowledge and culture in their own language.
As a millennial-led news organization -- staying true to our narrative of disruption -- our internal culture is reinforced with the value that serving the public is no longer enough, rather, the public we serve must first be assembled and given a voice. As an entrepreneur aiming to scale my paperless venture through investments in innovation and cluster-focused talent development, I am not only actively thinking about how am I going to appeal to the people who care now, but how am I going to get more people to care about their community so I can grow my audience.
With this thought in play, most of my tenure spearheading the Philadelphia-based publishing firm isn't spent behind a computer or in a boardroom; instead, my days and nights are spent in the community. We work wherever the people and the stories take us. In 2013, the people took us all over Philadelphia and abroad, to cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, and Miami -- I even spent time in the nation's capital. Not only are we a mobile company, we're a mission-driven social venture so we measure our impact in people, participation, progress and place.
As the year comes to a close, I wanted to share my most personal impactful images of 2013 -- some never published until now -- and tell the story of the people in them, their participation in Techbook Online's progress and the place we share, together.
BMe Awards Techbook Online Community Impact Grant
It's safe to say whatever impact we had in 2013 wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for a generous grant from BMe, a ground-breaking networking of inspired black men founded by former Knight Foundation VP, Trabian Shorters. In an recent article published on GoodMenProject.com naming Trabian Shorters 2013's "Man of the Year," it was revealed that the original name for BMe was "The Proof Project" and that Frisby-Greenwood spent significant time with Shorters on research and development before launching a pilot of BMe in Detroit and Philadelphia in 2011, awarding its first class of BMe Leaders in 2012. Working for the nation's largest journalism funder, Frisby-Greenwood -- much like Techbook Online -- believes communities are strongest when they are informed and engaged.
Black Male Graduates Honored With "Black CAPs Graduation"
Civic and community leaders, graduates and their supporters came together for the inaugural Black CAPs Philly 2013: A Celebration of Black Men's Academic Accomplishments, which was held on the grounds of City Hall Courtyard on Sunday, May 19, 2013. The event honored Black men who graduated from various campuses in and around the city and acknowledged the academic, intellectual and activist legacy of Philadelphian, Paul Robeson. Held the day after the 2013 BMe Leaderships Award, Philly was blacked out that weekend with the stories of positive Black men being held up in the community. This weekend was impactful simply because everyone embodied the same value: viewing black men as assets.
Demanding a "People's Budget:" Activists March 100 Miles to Harrisburg
Being a news organization headquartered in Philadelphia, you had no choice, but to be involved in the school funding crisis this year. It was the proverbial "song that never ends." Protests and creative activism sprang up almost every other week and Techbook Online was there to cover them all. However, out of the countless forms of activism I encountered in 2013, none was as dramatic and awe-inspiring as when activists marched 100 miles from downtown Philadelphia to Harrisburg, demanding a "people's budget" from Governor Tom Corbett. Despite public opinion -- many who were calling them crazy for ever giving a sh*t -- these bold activists (ranging in ages from 14 to 65) showed determination, conviction in a belief, and stood for something, together!
BMe Leader Pays it Forward
The youngest BMe Leader in Philadelphia, Rashuan "DJ Reezey" Williams caught my attention long before being awarded a BMe Community Impact Grant to encourage participation in recycling and composting through interactive content. Nearly two years prior, the self-proclaimed "actionist" and I built a brotherhood after he came and spoke at a Boy's Power Lunch I co-organize with family and friends. Seventeen-years-old at the time, he proved during his speech to be a rising star -- someone who will achieve great things with the right mentorship and resources. Since that time, Williams has made notable progress, yet he continues to regularly visit his former high school, Science Leadership Academy, and provide guidance to his mentees, many who participate in his Phresh Philly program. Although I've never worked with a teenager before, Williams and I both believe that we can save the world and get people to go green at the same time, so it was worth a shot -- and it's been working.
DoGooders Have Lunch With Homeless Man
As we were leaving Science Leadership Academy, Williams and I encountered Paul Klemmer, a homeless man from a privileged background in Upstate New York, now living in the streets of Philadelphia. He was making art with the few coins he collected throughout the day and it caught my attention. Williams suggested I do a story on him and I thought that would be a good idea. His experiences -- especially the story of him selling acid in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert -- entertained both Williams and I for nearly an hour. We shared our lunch with him and took a few pictures. He had a great sense of humor. I used one of the pictures recently in a post called "Living the Good Life: Doing Good for Goodness Sake" and it caught the attention of Brandon Owens, CEO of Good Tree Clothing, who emailed me asking if he could send me a few t-shirts to express his appreciation. He shared he has a heart for the homeless and the picture really spoke to him. I'm looking forward to receiving the package and "doing good" in style. I never met Brandon Owens and never heard of his organization until last week, but we connected through content. We shared the value of "doing good" for goodness sake and hopefully together we can inspire more people to do good, together.
Leading BMe to its Best Self
Being at the pilot launch of BMe at the Franklin Institute in 2011, I can say that I've literally been there from the beginning and have seen the brand grow from idea to impact. Having the opportunity to travel to L.A and join BMe Founder Trabian Shorters and other BMe Leaders from across the country was -- to date -- one of the most exciting and hands-on learning experiences of my life. The best practices I took away from spending the day with executives from the world's top advertising agency will enable me to lead Techbook Online to its best self using industry-proven strategies.
At the very first BMe event, Jeff Johnson said, "Your evolution is bigger than your brand."
He wasn't lying. Whatever growth plans I had for myself and the organization I run was accelerated and augmented by being part of a growing network of inspired black men. In that moment, during that day, I connected with Trabian Shorters, not as a brand, but as a man. He's intelligent, driven, focused and more importantly, a risk taker. In a period in time where black men are referred to as "America's Pit Bulls," Shorters left his high-profile job as the Vice President of Communities at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, to promote a different narrative around black men and boys. Much like myself when I started Techbook Online in 2009 with no internet access and no journalism background, Trabian is only focused on assets and using those assets to build communities. I'm honored to share the same time with such a talented black man.
CEO Caught Red-Handed Stealing a Moment
Last year, I had the privilege of returning back to my elementary school in South Philly and teaching the "Flood the Drummer" method to a very active group of students, ranging from kindergarten to third grade. Most of us "oldheads" knew of the rumors about the school being in its last year, but we tried to stay optimistic. Nonetheless, we got word during the middle of the year that Walter G. Smith was one of the 24 casualties of war in the Philadelphia school closing spree. This school is where I had my first kiss, met my lifelong best friend, and got my first pink slip. To come back and not only leave an emotional mark on a student's life, but the actual building itself, will remain a highlight of my life. In this moment, we were all kids, all leaving a legacy, together.
Communities Ban Together to Denounce Zimmerman's "Not Guilty" Verdict
The evening when news broke that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin the world stood silent in shock and awe. Black men in particular questioned their worth to the country -- I know I did. With a call of motivation from an ally to pull me out of my slump, I organized a rally and march to take place in Philly's iconic Love Park the next day, the site of a candlelight vigil for Trayvon Martin I co-organized shortly after his death. While both events drew nearly 1000 people, one person in particular came out to support the cause, someone who has never participated in a protest before. My older brother and former bandmate, Leonard Norris III, Assistant Pastor of New Destiny Family Worship Center in West Philadelphia, attended the Sunday afternoon gathering in the park and opened up the event with a word of prayer. While life has taken us on different path since we last performed together, having my brother present in the space during an emotionally-charged event like that was impactful to me and I know to him as well, even if he never admits it.
Techbook Online Invited to Hear From Vietnamese Activists
Days before Vietnamese activist Mihn Nguyen was scheduled to release the data his team gathered while conducting 90 community assessments on the conditions and struggles of the Viet community in Philadelphia, I was granted an exclusive interview with the millennial leader to get a more in-depth perspective on the issues his people were dealing with. During the interview I learned that 56 percent of the 15,000 Viet people residing in Philadelphia have never voted. Forty percent have never taken a naturalization test and 25 percent are living without health insurance. Thirty-four percent have less than a high school education and 55 percent reported that they make less than $10,000 annual income. Only 26 percent reported that they make more than $30,000 annual income and approximately 43 percent surveyed reported that they rent, indicating low property ownership.
A few days later, upon a invite from Nguyen, I visited the Bo De Temple in South Philadelphia to view a screening of a Village Called Versailles, a film by S. Leo Chiang that tells the story of one Viet community's political awakening in the aftermath of the costliest storm in U.S. history, and to see a presentation from the 21 Vietnamese-identified youth who participated in a six-week program entitled Journey Home. During that moment, race was no issue, we all existed as humans and we were only concerned with the progress of vulnerable Philadelphians -- the way we should be all the time.
Techbook Online at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington
Representing Philly at The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Black Youth Vote! Civic Leadership & Organizing Conference, I interviewed former teachers and NEA members Barbara Blackburn and Harry Klugel, who marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963. While grateful to experience the 50th anniversary, they both admitted they're disappointed in the conditions of today's society and blames the fact that communities have moved away from making the school the center of community life.
In addition to playing the role of journalist, I served as a facilitator for a small group conversation on running for office, featuring Diallo Brooks, People for American Way, and Dwight Bullard, Florida State Senate. In this place, we all embodied the spirit of Dr. King and felt his presence as we reclaimed our voices, our issues and our politics.
Millennial-Led News Organization Launches Teaching Hospital for Young Journalist
(Howard Sullivan, son of the legendary Leon Sullivan, inks an agreement with Techbook Online Corporation CEO, Christopher "Flood the Drummer" Norris, to launch an eight-week pilot of HYPE-J, a TMZ-style, project-based learning model, designed to transform students into hyper-local journalist. Photo Credit: TBO Inc Stock - ©2013)
In partnership with OIC of America, a handful of lucky Philadelphia high-school students interested in journalism got an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research and produce the future of news alongside Techbook Online executives. Aiming to transform students into hyper-local journalist and online content producers by leveraging smartphone technology and capabilities, Techbook Online launched HYPE-J BETA, to test the model in real-time with aspiring writers. The original model proved to be a worthwhile investment, as it provides a long-term and sustainable delivery plan to pipeline hyper-local information -- in real-time -- to our newsroom for broader development and distribution. In this moment, we were all interacting and communicating with each other, expressing our own ideas, knowledge and culture in our own language.
Animation in Action: Techbook Online's Original Characters Come to Life to Warn Youth of the Affects of Climate Change.
For the first time ever, high school students interacted with never-before-seen original characters from Techbook Online. Brainchild & W.O.R.M, developed in late 2010, was designed to educate students at an early age about climate change, the connection between soil and climate and the role earthworms play in creating healthy, organic soil. In a workshop at Mighty Writers (South) led by Techbook Online's Director of Youth & Millennial Initiatives, Rashaun Williams, students learned how climate change is harming the Earth.
They were then encouraged to create their own characters to help solve the problem many are calling the "greatest humanitarian and economic challenges of our time." In this moment, we all expressed genuine concern for Mother Nature and discussed multiple ways we can begin to repair the damage done through innovation, collaboration and social entrepreneurship.
Techbook Online Holds First-Ever Town Hall: Power of Perception.
As I stated earlier, serving the public is no longer enough -- at least not for Techbook Online -- the public we serve must first be assembled. With that belief in hand, we introduced quarterly town hall meetings into our corporate initiatives, with the assistance of Catalyst for Change Ministries, who serves as the host. Our first event was near the end of September and dealt with the issue of perception: How America views black bodies and how black men and boys perceive themselves. The theme of the event was inspired by 18 year-old Tomayo McDuffy, who many believe was falsely accused by his mentally-ill, blind next-door neighbor, who claimed the young African-American aspiring writer broke into her three-story rowhome and attempted to poison her by turning on the gas stove without lighting the burner.
Techbook Online followed the story intently. When Tomayo McDuffy was released from jail on $10,000 bail -- the morning of our first town hall -- we were there to cover every move. We were the only news organization allowed behind prison walls.
I rode in the car with young McDuffy as we drove him to our town hall meeting, gaining exclusive details that still haven't made its way to print. McDuffy spoke briefly at the event, but the most impactful moment is when Pastor Keon Gerow told all the men in the room to surround the embattled teenager as he laid hands on him, asking God to "protect and strengthen him" during his journey for justice. In that place, during that moment, we were our brother's keeper.
Millennials Gather to Ignite Good
In November, New York-based start-up Ignite Good came to Philadelphia for their Ignition Philly 2013 event and gathered nearly 50 active citizens involved in social change work from local millennial-led organizations. Over the course of three days, participants learned and developed powerful storytelling skills that will help them be more compelling and memorable advocates for themselves and their organizations. Using the public narrative framework developed at Harvard's Kennedy School, fellow BMe Leader Rashuan Williams and I served as coaches for our respective groups, leveraging our journalistic instincts to add value to the storytelling experience.
Equally, we formed relationships with millennial change agents from across the city that almost instantaneously proved to be worth the 76-hour investment. In that moment we were all family, all fighting for something bigger than ourselves. In that place, we came together to tell the story of us.
The Tale of Three Cities: BMe in Miami
I spent my 27th birthday, which was also Techbook Online's fourth anniversary, in Miami. I got to meet all the BMe Leaders from the past two years and built relationships that I pray last the rest of my life. During the weekend we had all received BMe jackets, designed by (Detroit) BMe Leader Clement "Fame" Brown, Jr., founder of Fame Shop, a high-quality provider of silk-screened and embroidery services. Each city, lead by their respective local director, shared who they dedicated their works to. Most people said family members, other said ancestors, and a few said they dedicate their work to future generations, but we all had someone in mind. In that moment, in that place, we were more than brothers, we were one.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I'm Flood the Drummer and I'm drumming for justice!