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.

The One Thing You’ve Done Perfectly…

One of my sister-friends posted a message on Facebook about how something that I said inspired her. The words weren’t mine, but they were words that I cling to, in times of difficulty & frustration.

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The one thing that you can guarantee is that you will survive 100% of your worst days. The fact that you are here, reading this right now, means that you’ve survived. This quote lives in my Things To Read or Do When I’m Having a Bad Day Box, and we all need one of those boxes to encourage ourselves to get back up, dust ourselves off and keep fighting.

When I wrote my last blog, I wasn’t in the best place. Q1 of 2017 knocked me down, kicked me and then put a knee in my chest. I’m happy to look at the calendar and see Q1 coming to an end on March 31st. I spent some time re-orienting my goals and setting some new ones for Q 2 which lasts April 1 – June 30.

Remember to keep yourself at the top of your priority list. You have to be strong and ok in order to have the capacity and the bandwidth to support and help others. Your happiness, your health and your peace are non-negotiable, and if you’re having a bad moment, a bad season, or a bad week, just know one thing for sure, you WILL survive!

 

Live From The Valley

Daylight savings happened yesterday, and here I am blogging from a snowy, freezing cold Chicago. The weather, is definitely indicative of my feelings at this time. I’ve documented on this blog before the ups and downs of [social] entrepreneurship and right now just so happens to be one of those moments where I am in the valley, looking ahead to a very tall mountain.

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I don’t feel defeated, and have never felt totally defeated but I feel a little bruised. In this first quarter of 2017, we’ve gotten more “no” and “not right now” responses than yesses and just like real weight lifting my muscles are starting to ache from the fatigue of lifting repetitively.

 

So what do you do in the valley? I’m spending as much time as possible trying to learn about the mountain. Speak to people who have made it to the top. Examining all of the maps and photos that are available. Checking to make sure I have the right gear – the right shoes, the right ropes, the right snacks, enough water. I’ve tried to sprint up the mountain a few times, only to find myself tumbling back down to the valley. I’m also spending a lot of time getting my fellow mountain climbers prepared for this trek.

Finally, I’ve been spending a lot of time in prayer and meditation. Taking on such a huge, ambitious goal requires a certain mental, physical and spiritual focus so that no matter what happens during the climb, you can remain focused on the reason why you are climbing and work in tandem with the forces of nature that created the mountain in the first place.

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So if you pass by me in the valley, toss your girl a bottle of water. Flash a smile and share some words of encouragement. One month from now – we should make significant progress. We won’t be at that top, but we’ll be able to look down and see the valley. 6 months from now we should be halfway to the top. One year from now we should be at that top – exhausted, fulfilled and using our binoculars to look at the next mountain we have to climb.

Marketing is a Competition for Attention

There are so many things competing for people’s attention.

The best marketing stops you in your tracks. It grabs your eyes. In terms of audio, it rises above whatever sounds may be competing for your attention. It makes you feel something.

I came across this Adidas Original Ad and was impressed because it plays with timing (the images are super dramatic in slow motion), the music compliments the pacing of the video, and sounds like a record, it drags, and last but not least it plays with iconic images of celebrities with Missy and Snoop making appearances. Celebrity Endorsements for products are usually so cliche, but this ad incorporates iconic fashion, hairstyles (snoops braids) and album imagery (Snoop’s Doggystyle Album Cover).

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This new Originals Branding really sets it apart and Paul Gaudio, Adidas Creative Director. Learn more about him in this article here.

 

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.

Boss Girl Magic

I was invited by Capri, to serve as the Guest Speaker for the Boss Girl Magic Chicago Brunch. Learn more about Boss Girl Magic here

It was so inspiring to be in the room with so many black women who were both established & aspiring entrepreneurs! My styling was done by Chiquita Carey & my makeup was done by Nicky Horne. Here are my photos:

Systems: Implementing Office Hours

Last year, I piloted the idea of hosting Office Hours and I was surprised at how popular my Office Hours were within my work community. Office Hours are an expectation within the academic community and I can remember sitting with my professors for tutoring, to discuss gaining their support for my job hunting efforts, and to discuss my approval (or disappointment) with my grade.

Last year, I hosted my Office Hours in person. Participants came to do everything from discussing time management tips to working on grant applications to fund their creative projects. Since Donda’s House does satellite programming, we don’t have our own space, which would be ideal for Office Hours or drop-in support. We are planning to offer both Office Hours and Drop-In Services when our new space opens, but until then, we had to figure out a way to be accessible for our students.

Here are some of the benefits of hosting office hours:

(1) You already have built time in your schedule to address urgent (but non-critical) issues that may arise. When people call, text, or e-mail, you can send them the link to your office hours that way you can still keep a handle on your schedule and productivity.

(2) You have a place to direct incoming inquiries (requests for meetings, pick your brain sessions and status updates).

(3) You have built in “Research & Development” (in corporate its called R & D) time. Fortune 500 companies all have built in strategies to innovate and ideate. As an entrepreneur you have to make sure that you are investing at least some of your time to researching and brainstorming.

We recently switched over to G-Suite. Within Google Calendar, there is an option to set Appointment Times. Once you set your Appointment Times, you can then e-mail out the link for people to sign up.

We also have a Conference Call Line, and I included that in the “description” section that way individuals with appointments know which number to call. We utilize Free Conference Call.com.

In the case of my Office Hours, we can discuss whatever participants, staff or volunteers want to discuss and the appointment slots are 30 minutes. Participants are encouraged to sign up for two appointments back to back, if they think they need more time. Here is the participant view:

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Here is what it looks like on the page to set up the appointment(s):

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What’s great about this system is that you also have the option to e-mail those who have signed up for appointments from directly within Google Calendar.

Note: you have to have a G-Suite Account where you are either paying $5.00/user per month, or if you’re a nonprofit, you can apply for a free account via Google for Nonprofits here. The appointments feature does not work with the free Google Accounts.

You can also look into these tools:

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Need To Meet

And here is a link to Multiple Tools that you can use, if you don’t want to use G-Suite.

In addition to using this tool internally to meet with our participants, our staff and our volunteers, I also plan to use it externally for people who want to meet.

At work, one of my internal goals for Quarter 1 is to really design systems and infrastructure to streamline communications, and this is one tool/process that will help in that effort.

 

 

 

 

My Love Affair with New Orleans…

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It is no secret that New Orleans is my favorite city outside of the Chicago, the city that I call home.

I’ve written about my love here…and here

The city of New Orleans hovers with an energy and a spirit that sticks to your thoughts. The architecture makes you feel like you’re stepping into a time capsule. Plaques throughout the city hint at just how long some of the buildings have been around. New Orleans is a fortress, that borders the Mississippi like an antique gold frame.

The only thing that I don’t like about New Orleans is the oppressive humidity (which happens mostly during the summer months). Outside of that it’s sensory perfection.

I had a chance to visit New Orleans last week to attend a conference with AARP.

We had an opportunity to tour HollyGrove – the neighborhood that Lil Wayne is from. We also had a chance to tour Bywater. In Hollygrove there is a neighborhood garden and farm, where residents are able to grow food and then sale it in the market. I spotted okra, bok choy and even organic milk and dairy products! They had a row of food where residents could fill a bag for $25.00.

StudioBE, created by artist Brandan “Bmike” Odums was super inspirational. It is a 30,000 square foot warehouse that is filled with art. StudioBE is SO hip-hop! I spent a couple of hours just taking in all of the art. Here are some of the favorite images from StudioBE:

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You can also follow Bmike on Twitter here and StudioBE on Instagram here and Facebook here.

You can also learn more about StudioBE here. StudioBE was recently featured in an episode of Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar and an article in Ebony here.

Across the street from StudioBE, is NOCCA – New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. NOCCA was founded in 1973 and is regional, pre-professional arts training center that offers students intensive instruction in culinary arts, dance, media arts: filmmaking & audio production, music (classical, jazz, vocal), theatre arts (drama, musical theatre, theatre design), visual arts, and creative writing. Students audition to study at the school tuition-free. The school has a Culinary Arts Program supported by world-famous chef Emeril Lagasse. Donda’s House works in the after school space, so it was exciting to see an arts-centered academic program! Here are my photos:

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Students work out of the Press St. Station and it is connected to the building. While we were there, Creative Writing students were giving evening presentations. Learn more about Press St. Station here.

The school was built on the site of a train station where the historic Plessy V. Ferguson case happened. Across the street from Bywater is the neighborhood Faubourg Marigny.

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I had the chance to visit Holy Trinity Chuch, the location where Solange had her wedding. Check out the photos here:

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While in New Orleans, I love to eat seafood and had the best Oysters I’ve ever had in my life a Neyow’s! Not only were the Oysters amazing, but so was everything on the menu (including the fried catfish and the fried chicken!). You have to have the signature Bow Wow drink which is 16 or so oz. of light & dark rum & fruit punch. Sip it slow, it will sneak up on you and they serve it in a to-go cup. I had the chance to meet the owner Tony and his wife Tanya was the chef! I’m always inspired to meet other couples who work together. Neyow’s will be opening up in a beautiful facility next door and they also own an event space across the street called Neyow’s Palace. Also, please have the bread pudding! It was served warm out of the oven & by far the best dessert I’ve ever tasted in my life! Check out Neyow’s on Yelp here.

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No visit to New Orleans is complete without hearing Rebirth Brass Brand at Maple Leaf.

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One day I hope to own an apartment or condo in New Orleans. I’d like to visit NOLA at least once a month at some point in the future because I love it THAT MUCH! Definitely adding NOLA to my vision board and if you have the opportunity to visit, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Self-Care Commercial…

Self-care doesn’t have to be extravagant…

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One of the hardest lessons for me as an entrepreneur, was learning to pause. When we first started Donda’s House, I would literally work 12 – 16+ hour days for 7 days straight.

I caught colds. Had back problems. Always felt like things were out of control…

We just turned 3 on August 1st and I’m proud to say that in 2016 I’ve learned the value of breaks.

I structure my weeks now to where I have at least one-day where I don’t leave my home. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still working, I just work from home. I’ll do conference calls, catch up on writing, and also do important things around the house like laundry.

I also try to reserve at least one day to a family day – usually Sundays, where I try not to do anything work related (or at least nothing heavy).

I’ve also learned to “stack” my meetings. If I book a meeting where I’m downtown, I try to book other meetings downtown the same day to maximize my time. I also reserve in-person meeting days to two days per week. For the summer, those have been my Tuesdays & Thursdays.

Finally, when I have a really big event or busy day, I try to be mindful of the schedule the day before and the day after. I’m proud to say that we’ve co-produced two festivals this summer (Teens in the Park – TIP Fest & Peace on the Beach) and we’re gearing up for AAHH! Fest!

Usually the day before and the day after, I try not to schedule too much to give myself time to prepare the day before, and to give myself time to rest & recoup the day after. Today was part work from home & part getting my mind (and gear) ready for tomorrow’s festival.

I talk alot about being a superhero! It’s important to realize that all superheroes know their limits!

Stuff To Check Out:

(1) My girl Dana Todd Pope has launched the cutest line of t-shirts, onesies, tote bags and more.

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(2) Donda’s House had the opportunity to participate in ESPN’s “The Undefeated” Townhall Conversation on Chicago Violence. I’ll have a full-blog about this soon.

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Caption: Jemele Hill did a phenomenal job hosting and moderating the conversation! Learn more about The Undefeated here.

(3) If you’re in Chicago, come through Peace on the Beach! Tomorrow from 4 pm – 8 pm, in Humboldt Park, 1440 N. Sacramento. Flyer & special Lyft Code below:

Thank you for reading my blog! It means the world to me!