Tips For Being A By Blessing Parent/Mentor

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Caption: Me with King Ron (one of my favorite young people & our favorite host) & DJ Mike P. I met both of them when we worked together on Teens in the Park (TIP) Fest. 

One of the most important roles that I have is being a bonus mom. I take this role very seriously because (1) I do not have biological children of my own yet and (2) I believe that it is a part of my purpose on this earth. My first career was that of a teacher, largely because I have always enjoyed helping people to get from a place of not knowing… to knowing. Even now as an Executive Director, a large part of my job is to teach, to share, to facilitate.

I had breakfast with one of my by blessing suns DJ Mike P today. Mike and I met a few years ago when he was selected as an influencer for Teens in the Park (TIP) Fest and Donda’s House was selected as a partner. I was quickly impressed with Mike’s professionalism, his energy and his work ethic. We’ve been inseparable ever since. Mike is now the official DJ on WCIU’s “The Jam” and is probably the youngest DJ on TV right now.

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Caption: Me with another one of my by blessing songs Hex Hectic

On my way home, I started thinking about what it means to be a bonus mom and wanted to share some tips for those who find themselves as bonus moms or bonus dads.

(1) Understand that your by blessing children have biological parents. – As a step mom and mentor to many, I never want to replace or overshadow biological parents. I also never want to contradict them. I see my role as more of an assistant coach or an accessory to my by blessing children’s lives.

(2) Consistency is super important. – The most important thing you can do is be consistent. Show up when you say you’re going to show up. Check-in when you say you’re going to check in. Honor your promises and your commitments.

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Caption: Me and my step son Solomon, who will be 20 this year! I’ve known him since he was 10 years old [insert dramatic ugly cry]. Where has the time gone?

(3) Be an accountability partner. – Learn about your by blessing child’s goals and dreams and help them in any way that you can. As an accountability partner, your goal is to make sure they are doing what they can to make their goals and dreams come true. If they are not, it is important to redirect them. If you notice someone around them is shady or may be taking advantage of them, warn them just as you would your own biological child.

(4) Check in regularly. Life happens fast. Don’t wait until there is a crisis to catch up. Share funny messages. When you think about them send them a text or give them a call.

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Caption: Me and John The Author, another by blessing sun! 

(5) Celebrate milestones. When they accomplish amazing things celebrate with them. Mark birthdays, weddings, and other life milestones. Share experiences from your own journey including your milestones. It’s super cliche but true – experience is the best teacher!

(6) Be vulnerable. Share pieces of your journey. Your challenges. Your mistakes etc. You don’t want your by blessing child to think that life is perfect. You want them to learn how you address challenges and problems so that they can take pieces from your journey and apply it to their own lives.

 

What Are We Truly Prepared For?

We all have ideas – lists, dreams, goals and wishes.

We visualize and we have all of these plans for the future money that we will make. We take test drives of the cars we want to drive (I see you Tesla!). We get fixated and obsessed with the things we hope to accomplish.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that preparation plays in manifesting our desires. Sometimes God, the Universe, Allah, etc. does not give us what we want because we are not prepared for it.

I’m a spiritual person and I believe in the school of thought that say God knows all and God doesn’t make any mistakes.

We see everything that we want, but we don’t always see the sacrifices that have to be made to accomplish certain things and I believe that our creator, our God knows what we have the capacity and the bandwidth to withstand & to uphold.

So what does that look like on the ground? Everybody wants to be a millionaire, but few invest the time and the energy to diversify income streams to reach that million dollar status.

Lots of people want to be married… but few have the stamina, the commitment & the resolve to sit through the hard and dark times.

Many rush to have children, but many people can be naive about how lots of the energy has to shift from ones self to caring for another human being, sometimes resulting in postponed or delayed dreams, and splintered time.

During this time of year as we reflect on the current year and make plans for next year, I encourage you to really search your heart, go in your prayer closet & ask yourself are you prepared for the things you say you want? You may not be able to answer the question right away and that’s ok, but it is a question that we all have to wrestle with, because the answer (whether we speak it aloud or not) is what the universe is manifesting, for our own good (even if we don’t see it or can’t imagine it to be so).

Happy 4th Birthday Donda’s House 

Happy 4th Birthday Donda’s House
You are 4 years old today! Only about 9% of start up businesses make it to their 4th year. You are still here because you are resilient, relentless and necessary. 

Thank you for redefining family for me and so many others. You have forged lifelong bonds, you have wiped many tears and you have created many laughs. You have created brothers that don’t share blood, you have created sisters that lean on each other and you have straightened the backs and raised the voices of the many artists who have opted in to our philosophy and mission.

More than anything I am thankful for the example of Dr. Donda West. A mother who opened her doors to so many “strangers” who were looking for something. She could have focused on raising her son but instead, decided to raise her community. From her we know that home is truly where the heART is! 

Donda’s House, thank you for being another option. A space where mostly black and sprinkles of brown youth gather to reimagine individually & collectively. Thank you for sometimes being in the minority when advocating for more time, more space and more resources. Thank you for being willing to remind others that the A in STEM is missing causing a great detriment to the next generation. Thank you for moving from the margins, to the very center wherever you find yourself.

I pray that our next year is our best year. I pray that other people continue to see your value. I pray that the people who you need, find their way to you. I pray that we find our way as quickly as possible to the people who need you. I pray that you move all of our artists, volunteers, staff and Board of Directors closer to their dreams and last but not least, when all else fails, I compel you to keep the fire of your intentions burning unimaginably hot. Visibly hot. Untouchable hot. 

Thank you to everyone who has done anything to support our mission! We are the change we wish to see!

With lots of love,

Donnie Smith 

Executive Director & Co-Founder 

12 Lessons From JAY-Z’s 4:44 Album Release

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Caption: The Last Time I Got To Visit The Roc Nation Office was Dec. 2016.

Because I’ve never been good at math, and 4:44 equals 12, I’ve decided to share 12 lessons we can all learn from JAY-Z’s newest album release. Plus it is no secret that I’m a huge fan of JAY-Z & Beyonce. I’ve written extensively about my adoration for Beyonce. When it comes to JAY-Z, I am most inspired by his longevity, his willingness to take risks and his commitment to social justice and philanthropy (via the Shawn Carter Foundation). 

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JAY-Z’s newest album is set to drop on Tidal tomorrow, June 30th. I’ve been keeping a close eye from the initial announcement until now and wanted to share some tips that we can all adapt for our own enterprises:

  1. Create exclusivity which accelerates demand. We humans often find more value in things that are rare. By Jay-Z only offering his album through TIDAL, it creates more of a demand because it is more difficult to access. It will be interesting to view the metrics on TIDAL subscriptions between today (or actually dating back to the day before the public announcement of Jay-Z’s album) through 7 months (as Sprint is offering a ‘free’ TIDAL Subscription for 6 months). 
  2. Partner with other brands to amplify the message.  Sprint has 402K Subscribers on Twitter and 3.4 million “likes” on Facebook. JAY-Z is able to tap into their market through the shared social media campaign. The key to these kind of partnerships is to figure out a “win” for the brand. In the case of Sprint, they will obtain more subscribers from JAY-Z fans who make the switch, because they want the ‘free’ access to TIDAL. It also gives Sprint the opportunity to tap into the “hip-hop” community via JAY-Z’s fans who likely have a certain amount of disposable income. The listening parties are also happening inside Sprint Stores across the country, giving both brands an opportunity to tap into a different audience. 

screenshot3. Utilize fresh & unique colors. This peach & black color is an interesting combination. It is not a common color choice. It is also interesting that JAY is not including any representations of his physical self in the marketing that has occurred so far. It is likely connected to the content of the album and the overall creative vision of the project. What’s interesting is that that color scheme is now associated with JAY-Z and I’d imagine that we’ve all experienced enough impressions to make the association without even seeing the text. Notice that the add below does not have to even mention JAY-Z’s name or the name of the album. It just follows the brand identity.

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4. Tap into influencers and taste makers. JAY is hosting several album release parties around the country, utilizing well known DJs in each city. Each of the DJ’s are promoting the album release parties on their social media channels, giving more added value to SPRINT. This also taps into the exclusivity piece. Most of the cities are likely areas where JAY-Z has the greatest amount of fan support, which is why data & metrics are so important, because both allow you to take calculated risks.

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5. Utilize a variety of marketing platforms. Saturate the market. Utilize print and digital. Billboards and buses. The more that people see advertisements for the product, the more excited they become. The goal here is to make people feel like they are “surrounded” by your product.

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6. Use gamification whenever possible. Embed a puzzle/create a sense of mystery. Initially advertisements with the numbers 4:44 popped up in Times Square. Eventually we learned that is the album title. What does it mean? Is it a time that is significant to JAY? Is it a time that is significant to humanity? It piques people’s interest because they want to know what it means. Spotify used a similar strategy when just before Prince’s music became available on their platform they purchased billboards and other ad space with simply their logo in white on a purple background. See the spotify ad below.

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7. Let others do the talking for you. Allow your reputation to precede itself.  JAY-Z does have a Facebook page that is branded with the newest album and has been the primary source of distribution for most of the marketing materials. His Twitter Account is not branded with the album materials, but the product is well advertised on Twitter via Sprint, the influencers and the larger public. Lupita Nyongo shared a visual for the album here on her Facebook Page. Lupita is an accomplished actress, so tapping her to support this project is great, because again, there are going to be many fans of hers who may not be fans of JAY-Z (and vice versa). Not to mention she has 2.9 million “likes.” SPRINT is getting more impressions via Lupita’s page. screenshot

8. Align the personal and professional because it creates an echo effect. The world has been talking about the birth of The Carter Twins for the last two weeks. Jay-Z also made history earlier this month becoming the first rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Of course you want to hear from someone who is such a pioneer in the music space! It’s brilliant to release a project after a huge personal or professional milestone. When Blue was born, Jay released a singled called “Glory.” You can hear the song here.

9. Create dramatic visuals. In addition to the Lupita video, JAY dropped a similar black and white video of a black male running, seemingly out of breath. The videos are similar in length (10 – 20 seconds). The black and white is in stark contrast to the peach color of the album, but it is complimentary. Check out these stats on the power of video marketing from Boast.IO:

  1. Before reading any text, 60% of site visitors will watch a video if available. (Diode Digital)
  2. One minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. (Forrester Research)
  3. 56% of consumers believe if a company has a website, it should have video content. (Animoto)
  4. The Average user spends 16 minutes and 49 seconds a month watching online video ads. (ComScore)
  5. 80% of consumers say a video showing how a product or service works is important when learning about the company. (Animoto)
  6. Youtube has become the 2nd largest search engine – bigger than Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and AOL combined. (Etail Insights)
  7. Video search results have a 41% higher click-through than plain text results. (Animoto)
  8. 50% of marketers consider customer testimonials, explainer tutorial videos, and demonstration videos the most effective types of video content used. (Asend2)
  9. 4 out of 5 consumers day demo videos are helpful. (Animoto)
  10. Your website is 50 times more likely to appear on the first page of a search engines results page if it includes video. (Forrester Research)
  11. Online video accounts for 50% of mobile traffic, and is predicted to become 75% by 2016. (Cisco)
  12. 63% on consumers say companies who use video know how to reach their consumers. (Animoto)
  13. People stay 2 minutes longer on your site if you have video content. (ComScore)

10. Give people a short preview of what is to come. The videos seem to be a small piece of a larger story. They also include clips of the music. It never hurts to give a short preview of what is to come. The film industry has used this technique via trailers since 1913, and the fact that the practice still remains over 100 years later proves its value.

11. Once you have their attention, command the stage. You must have a clear CTA (Call to Action) once you’ve made all of this noise. It is clear that JAY-Z wants you to listen to (or maybe even watch?) the album, via the Sprint Platform, on TIDAL. Every single official thing that has been posted makes that clear. It is not enough to just post album artwork or project artwork. It is important to help people, help you, by informing them what you want them to do. It is also important that the message remain simple. When you have too many CTA’s it confuses and frustrates your audience.

12. Create multiple impressions over a specific timeline leading to the product release. Be very intentional about how you are going to market your product release. Utilize a calendar to actually plan out what will happen, when. Consider which brands, influencers and artists you can tap into, to support and amplify your work. The success (or failure) of your product or project release will be determined based on the metrics. Were you able to hit your targets in the timeline you planned?

I will definitely be up at midnight to experience the actual release of this project. I study brands like people watch sports, and I get so inspired and motivated by the brilliant things successful people do! Shout out to the entire Roc Nation Team and thank you for sharing your gifts with the world! Also, thanks for being so welcoming each time I’ve visited!

They Gone Get These Hands…

Donda’s House Inc. turns 4 years old on August 1st. This is the first summer where we were able to hire a small team beyond our paid instructors to support our work. In the past, we have had to rely heavily on generous volunteers and our active alumni to support our initiatives. This summer we have a small team of about 6 – 7 people who work our events.

Caption: A short clip of the view outside of the restaurant, via my Snapchat.

About a week ago, I joined my husband for a two week work trip, and at the end of our work trip, we are taking a one week vacation to another country to celebrate his 40th birthday. That makes 3 weeks that I will be away from Chicago. In the past, I have felt like I couldn’t travel as often and that I had to be there personally to ensure that everything went smooth. In fact, I would feel a huge sense of guilt if I couldn’t personally be there for a Donda’s House class or event.

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Caption: Hubby and I in Delaware at a delicious seaside seafood restaurant.

As an organizational leader, I have learned so much about myself over the last few years and the thing that I know for sure, is that I have to work to “replace” myself. Donda’s House has to be a well-oiled machine in that our infrastructure, our mission and our “culture” works, no matter who is at the helm and no matter if I am physically present or not.

So many organizations and institutions suffer from “founder” syndrome. Founder Syndrome is what happens when organizational founders can’t and don’t “get out of the way” to make room for innovation and for growth. Founders can also be notorious for being micro-managers. I never want to be that. If something were to ever happen to me, my hope is that others will carry the work forward and that the organization will continue to grow and support creatives as the mission intends. I want people to be able to attend a Donda’s House event and they not know (or care) whether I am there or not.

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Caption: My hubby’s doing some work with DJ Jazzy Jeff. This is where all of the magic happens, in Jeff’s studio 🙂

I wanted to share some tips for those who are in a situation where you are expected to empower a team or where you feel like you personally have to be involved in every single aspect or detail of your organization and need to exercise the art of letting go more often. Some people call it delegating. I don’t even consider it just delegating, because I want people to be empowered to make decisions and to be leaders. When you delegate something, you often intend for people to do it the exact same way that you would. My expectation is that it is equal to the way that I do it, or better!

(1) Hire people that you trust. If you hire and collaborate with people that you trust, it should be easier to let go. How do you know who you can trust? People who do what they say they are going to do (honor their word), people who seem equally (and sometimes more) passionate than you, people who have a good reputation and track record from other spaces, and people who have integrity and good character. When it comes to trust, your instincts will often be on point in terms of who you should and should not place your trust in.

(2) Communicate in writing & verbally. I believe in communicating with people the same message in multiple formats. Everybody processes and receives information differently. It is not uncommon for me to have a conversation with someone and then follow up with the same information via e-mail. It is also important to always have things in writing, just in case something goes wrong, it will be easy to find out where the breakdown happened to avoid something similar happening in the future. Good communication is the best “accountability” measure that you have in place.

(3) Hire against your weaknesses or areas of challenges. We all have areas for improvement or things that don’t come easy for us. It is important to bring people on your team who have those areas as strengths so that your entire team can bring the whole package. If everybody around you including you has a background and a strength in PR, your marketing & PR will be incredible, but your accounting may lack. If everybody around you has great visual and graphic design capabilities but you don’t have anyone who can write, then your business will suffer. Know thyself, and hire those who have your weaknesses as strengths to create a mighty, well-rounded and powerful whole package.

(4) Set clear goals and outcomes. From your events, to your social media following to your programs, and your products, you should always have a target for whatever you are doing. What is your north star? What is your why? If you are having an event, how many people do you hope to attend? What do you want people to get out of the event or experience? For products, how many units do you hope to move in what time period? You should have goals as the CEO or organizational leader, and then your team should have collective goals.

(5) Everything happens that’s supposed to happen. Let go of the fact that you can control every single thing, because you cannot. We recently had a fundraiser that just so happened to fall on the same date as a huge NBA game. We had the fundraiser date set before the NBA game was announced and there was nothing that we could do about it. There will always be circumstances and things that come up that impact you and your work, and all that you can do is try to maintain a positive and calm attitude, and handle it.

The world should get your hands and the hands of as many people who share your value system and your desired change for the world. We need all of the hands that we can get and the more hands that we have, the better we are and the quicker we can see positive change happening for us all!

Embracing The Scheduling Conflicts

For the first time in a long time, Donda’s House had to be in 3 different locations (unintentionally) at the same time. Generally, we are able to avoid these types of conflicts by being able to reschedule or postpone things. That was not the case tonight. When I first realized that we had to be in three different locations my emotional responses were:

(1) Panic

(2) Resolve

(3) Anxiety

(4) Relief

My initial reaction was to panic, because I knew that I could not personally physically be in three locations at one time. Then I moved in to resolve, all three of the events were very important and I was determined to figure out a way to make it work. Then I moved in to anxiety, once I realized where I physically had to be, would I be able find the help that I needed to be in the other locations, and after sending e-mails, text messages and SOS calls, I received more than enough responses to my call, making me feel a sense of relief.

This experience reminded me of a few things. First, we do not have the capacity to do all that needs to be done or to be all of the places we need to be (or are wanted). We have to be able to assess our values and our needs, and make our decisions based on those values and needs. For me, funding and development are the highest priority in terms of need for Donda’s House, so if I have to make a choice between funding and development and other things, funding is going to be my first choice. Second, we don’t have to assume that we are operating in binary (yes/no, black/white, either/or). By operating in binary, I would have either canceled the other events, or altered our initial commitment to participate in those events. Instead, I determined that other people could represent and speak to and for the organization, so we could in fact, be in two places at one time.

Lastly, I was reminded of the importance of asking for help. We can never be too prideful, or too timid to be able to ask others for assistance. The worst that can happen is that someone can say no, but people cannot help you/us/me if they don’t know that you/we/I need help. As you seek to grow and “scale” you have to be comfortable with allowing other people to lead, and you have to encourage other people to take ownership of and leadership of the organization.

Stop Undervaluing Being An Employee!!!

I love Tony Gaskins but I hate this quote:

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In 2017, there is this perception that everyone should be an entrepreneur and I strongly disagree. Especially because people glamorize and have a misperception of what it means to be an entrepreneur.

People think becoming an entrepreneur means:

(1) I can get up when I want to.

(2) I can work when I want to.

(3) I don’t have to answer to anyone.

LIES!!! ALL LIES! or at least half-truths. When you start a company, it is one of the riskiest things you will do. There may be times when you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. There will be times when you have to cough up $5,000 or $10,000 that you didn’t have, and you will ALWAYS have to answer to someone (people with options who can take their time and their resources elsewhere).

In 2017, I believe that our culture undervalues being an employee. As an entrepreneur, there is nothing to me that is more valuable than people who share a similar outlook on the world, and that embrace the mission of Donda’s House. Donda’s House then, isn’t just my dream, it’s a collective dream. While I happen to be one of the co-founders of the organization, you can see the handprints and footprints of lots of individuals. You can see someone else’s ideas reflected in our programs. You can see someone else’s ideas reflected in our marketing and social media. You can see someone else’s ideas in how we train and orient our volunteers. You will hear people tell me when something is a bad idea or its the wrong timing.

As Donda’s House grows, I will be looking for people who can commit to Donda’s House for an extended period of time to help us reach our mission. Don’t get me wrong, I support entrepreneurship and I’m a huge advocate of entrepreneurs (especially women entrepreneurs) but I don’t think that everyone should be an entrepreneur. Just like I don’t think that everyone should be a teacher, a therapist or a writer. Many of the worlds largest organizations have thousands of employees. Facebook has 15,724 employees. Google has 57,000 employees. Microsoft has 94,000! Imagine if all of those people decided “I don’t want to build someone else’s dream…”

I also come across so many aspiring entrepreneurs who haven’t done the due diligence to really research their industry and fully develop products and services. If you are starting a business because you want to prove to some random person that you can, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining your business when you have challenges. If you’re starting a business because it’s something that you want to do, but there is no market (or you haven’t developed the market for it yet) you’re going to struggle, and someone that is more customer- or client- focused is not only going to catch up with you, but excel beyond you. Starting a business is about solving a problem and while it’s cool to be able to like (or even love) what you do, if you are not solving a problem that other people have, your business is going to have a hard time raising profit (or addressing a societal or public challenge if you’re in the nonprofit sector).

As Myleik Teele, one of my favorite podcasters & business women says you can be “entrepreneurial” in most settings. You don’t have to necessarily have your own business to have your professional goals and dreams realized. Now if you’re employed by a company that has a culture that you’re not a fan of, that’s one thing. If your ideas are never acted on or you don’t feel valued that’s another thing. Perhaps you don’t have the right employer. My hope is that we can stop acting like being anything other than the CEO, the Director, or the Chief, or the entrepreneur is any more valuable than being in HR, being an assistant or being the front desk manager. Very few companies can exist as single-person entities. As someone who has been on both sides of the fence and in many ways I still operate within other organizations as an advisor, as an assistant (for my husband’s Rhymefest brand) and as a workshop facilitator  – ALL of the roles, from the C-Suite to the maintenance staff are essential in creating a business’s success. Plus if you’re the CEO and you’re ranting and raving about how much better you are (because you’re in this leadership position) than others, it could lead to resentment and frustration with the other members of your organization who have to see & hear you dissing and undervaluing their contribution to the organization or company’s success.

One of the organizational leaders that I have great respect for, has had the same assistant for over 20 years. When it comes to the people that I hire, while I will gladly support those who need to make transitions for whatever reasons, I am hoping to hire people that want to make a long term – 10, 15 + year commitment to the mission so that we can push OUR collective vision forward.