What are your favorite TV shows and the lyrics to your favorite songs saying to and about you?
Students in my Mass Communications Research course presented some of their academic posters on April 19 during JOMC week. Here are links to some of the best posters. Students conducted textual analysis and content analysis on their favorite TV shows and lyrics from their favorite musical performers.
Students in my mass communication research class discussed the tragic deaths of two North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students who died this week. Alisia Dieudonne, 19, and Amhad Campbell, 21, were shot at an off-campus party and later died at a hospital from their wounds. They were bystanders at the party and were not involved in any fights, said Greensboro, N.C. police. The shooting suspect is still at large.
Searching for meaning
Students in the class needed to talk about the deaths of the students and were searching for answers as to why gun violence is so prevalent in African-American communities, where police officers kill blacks and blacks kill blacks in far greater numbers. I found it to be a teachable moment. Here is study proposal they helped me come up with from studying communication theories.
Some older students reminded me of a Newsweek article in 1995 about white suburban males and their love for rap music. The story said that 64 percent of rap music at that time was purchased by white males.
The biggest selling genre of rap at that time was gangsta, filled with bare chested, gun-toting black men, wearing hoodies and chains made famous by NWA. While rap artists rightly claimed their violent content was a reflection of their community, it may have also been foreboding something more sinister.
Cultivation theory by communication scholar George Gerbner proposes that long term exposure to media violence cultivates a Mean World Syndrome (MWS). Put another way…you become what you consume. Long-term exposure to media violence results in normalizing behavior and a desensitization to violence.
Fast forward 15-20 years later post gangsta rap and, as students started putting the puzzle together, some speculated that some of these heavy viewers of gangsta rap may be police officers today who are patrolling black neighborhoods with stereotypical images of threatening black men in their heads. It’s difficult to turn off these stereotypes in a stressful situation.
Students raised these research questions:
Have some police officers, black or white, cultivated the MWS and do they view all black males who wear hoodies or chains as threats and every black woman as angry? The media have cultivated negative images of people of color for decades, painting inaccurate portrayals that all people of color are a threat.
What is law enforcement doing to weed out these police recruits who may be victims of MWS from watching too much violent media content? It would behoove us to study the extent to which MWS has become a part of their psyche. CNN noted recently that it took more training to become a barber than it did to become a police officer. See story
At the same time, African Americans are not immune to developing MWS. They can also become desensitized to violence because of long term exposure to it. Does cultivation theory, asked students, also help explain why 82 percent of guns deaths in African American communities are homicides, according to the Brookings Institute?
Most homicides in the African American community, by the way, are caused by young black men murdering other young black men, not black or white police officers.
We need scientific studies on gun violence. But such studies are not likely because the NRA has pressured Congress since 1996 not to fund Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies on gun violence. Learn more about this in Michael Hiltzik’s column which was published in the October 5th, 2016 online edition of the L.A. Times.
Answers to the students’ questions will not get answered until Congress provides money to fund such studies. In the meantime more young people like Alisia and Ahmad run the risk of death from gun violence.
Nearly every student raised their hands. Many cited their own personal experiences with gun violence. My next question: Can you find these friends on or off campus and would they be willing to be interviewed about their experiences?
What they researched and produced as a final project in a multimedia journalism class is disturbing and heart wrenching. They interviewed mostly students who talked about seeing family members and friends die in shootings when they were small children. Most of the incidents occurred in their hometowns.
The movie “Social Network” is based on the story of Mark Zuckerburg, who in 2003 wrote computer code with his roommate in their dorm at Harvard. The code led to what we now know as Facebook, the most popular social media site on the planet.
Ten years later, two freshmen at North Carolina A&T State University built a popular website and later turned it into an app targeting Millennials (age 18-34). Their story has a peculiar Zuckerburg feel to it with, perhaps, movie potential.
A Zuckerburg moment?
Keenan Smith, co-founder of Aggiesland Photo: Courtesy of Keenan Smith
In 2013, Keenan Smith and Everette Slocum, built a website called Aggiesland in their Greensboro apartment to inform students where parties were taking place on and off campus.
They shared the website on their social media pages. News of the site spread and students began signing up.
“Soon after we discovered the potential in helping students find events on campus we enlisted a developer from A&T to convert our website into the mobile app,” said Smith.
The Aggiesland app (for Iphones) has more than 3,000 registered users. There is also an app for Android devices. The apps are free.
In 2014, Slocum and Smith pitched the app to an investors’ meeting in Greensboro and things really began taking off.
Apparently impressed with what they had done on their own, the investors became mentors to Slocum and Smith. It wasn’t the app that impressed them, said Smith, as much as it was the team he and Slocum had put together to get the app developed.
With an eye toward the future, Smith said the investors saw a team of successful and motivated developers and marketers that schools could hire to build apps for their campuses.
Learn more about Aggiesland from this recent TV interview.
Why do college students start businesses?
Students like Smith and Slocum are part of a growing trend. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by the Kauffman Foundation in 2010:
40% of the 5,077 young people surveyed (aged 8 to 24) indicated that they wanted to own their own business and be their own boss.
38% of those enrolled in college said they hoped to start their own business someday.
Other North Carolina A&T students have also started their own businesses on campus which cater to Millennials. See profiles below.
Turning passions in cash
Mario Daye is founder of Daye and Knight Productions, a video and photography company, which he started in 2012 as a student at North Carolina A&T State University. Photo: Courtesy of Mario Daye
While attending high school in Durham, Mario Daye fell in love with the film editing and photography lessons. He practiced his crafts throughout high school.
Photo: Courtesy of Mario Daye
The lessons and practice paid off. As a student at A&T, Daye began doing photo shoots and producing videos for students.
In 2012, he decided to turn his love into a business. Daye & Knight Productions caters mostly to students who want videos and photos for election campaigns, glamour shots and videos for Instagram accounts.
Daye charges no more than $100 for a student photo packages and higher rates for non-students.
Daye, who is also is in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, says he started his business because of his love for photography and videography and “because I didn’t want to work for anyone else.”
Jeffery Lockhart (left) and Jonathan McLean are founders of TheCleanslate704.com, a former blog that focused on hip-hop culture and fashion.
There’s money in beats
In 2012, love of hip hop, writing and the idea of having a business of their own after college provided the catalyst for Charlotte natives and long-time friends Jonathan McLean and Jeffrey Lockhart to start a blog called TheCleanslate704.com.
“We were writing about the way we dress,” said McLean. “It was more of our conversation to the people.”
He and Lockhart wrote about fashion, footwear and hip hop culture. They would go to concerts to interview hip hop celebrities and post the interviews on their site.
The blog got the attention of the top hip hop industry officials and it landed McLean and Lockhart internships at online hip hop or popular culture publications in New York City. As freshmen, McLean interned for two years at Complex and Lockhart at Respect and Mass Appeal.
“I was living off the energy. I was living off the energy with my best friend,” said McLean, referring to Lockhart whom he had known since age 10. “It (the experience) was way bigger than the money. It was the emotion of working in that office everyday.”
Business startups face challenges
But starting a business is not easy. Some of the conflicts are external, some internal. McLean recalled that his parents were opposed to TheCleanslate704.com .
“It was too much too soon for a then 19-year old,” said McLean as he reflected on why his parents opposed the blog. “But where would I be without that blog?”
TheCleanslate704.com no longer exists in its current form. More on that later.
Daye had to learn to deal with clients who took advantage of him on photo shoots which lasted four hours with little or no pay.
Smith said one the challenges for Aggiesland is “finding talented developers to help us scale our business and work on Aggiesland in a timely manner.”
Despite setbacks, none of the student business owners has given up on their dreams. In fact, they are making plans for their businesses after graduation. But do these business startups have a future beyond A&T? Experts say the answer is yes if they follow some advice.
Rule#1: Go tech:The Millennials are the fastest-growing workforce and the most tech savvy, according to the Pew Research Center. In a National Independent Business Federation article, John Turner, CEO of UsersThink, a digital feedback company in Pittsburgh, said, “A traditional business not looking towards tech is more likely to be doomed.”
Rule#2: Take it slow with venture capital:In the same NIBF article, Bill Fish, owner of an online reputation management company said, “What I have seen over the last five years is that people are looking for venture capitalist money far too soon in the process,” he says. “It’s becoming a bit of an idea culture, and not an idea of finding a product or service that works and then profiting from it.”
Preparing for the future
Taking advantage of the growing popularity of mobile devices and their use among Millennials, Smith and Slocum have launched this site (brownboxworks.com) to create more apps, thanks to the help of coders, business mentors and investors who see potential in their business.
“The next step for Aggiesland would be to license the technology to other schools to offer them the same service,” said Smith, who will graduate in December. Slocum will graduate next year.
“For the brownboxworks we are working on projects to raise capital for the company so that we may work on our main project in 2016 called ESPI.”
ESPI is a variation on the word espy, which means to “catch sight of.” The proposed app “allows users to post content in particular areas around a city and other people that walk by collect it and (will) be able to view it,” said Smith.
Daye is expected to graduate in December of 2017 with a degree in journalism. He wants to take some business courses that will help him make better business decisions for his production company upon graduation.
McLean also plans to take more business courses before graduating in December of 2016 and to tweak TheCleanslate704.com. Some tweaking started last year. He and Lockhart got rid of the blog.
“It was time consuming,” said McLean. “We got older,busier, school picked up. It had run its course.”
They built a new TheCleanslate704 website which focuses on selling T-shirts that McLean and Lockhart design and sell online or in person.
McLean said half of the business revenue comes from the website, the other half comes from person-to-person sales. “We just shipped a selection of T-shirts to a guy in Canada,” said McLean.
Earlier this month, TheCleanslate704 got a promotional boost after rapper Big Sean began wearing one of its T-shirts. Big Sean has recorded under Kanye West’s label GOOD Music, Def Jam and Roc Nation.
They could use the promotional help to offset the cost of producing more expensive T-shirts with a black background. “Designing and producing a T-shirt with a white background (like the one Big Sean is wearing) is a lot cheaper than producing one with a black background,” Lockhart said.
Immediate plans after graduation call for them to open a store, perhaps in Charlotte, and to add additional clothing items for sale.
McLean and Lockhart are confident about TheCleanslate704’s future.
“I’ll be honest with you. There are kids in this (journalism) department who don’t know what they are going to do when they get out. I know what I want to do,” said McLean.
GREENSBORO, N.C. An analysis of 1,114 condolences posted on the online obituary website Legacy.com the night comedian Robin Williams committed suicide revealed a deep sense of loss and an appreciation for Williams’ humor in a troubled world beyond what researchers had imagined.
The study, by communication scholars at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C. and the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., also showed that Williams’ death seemed to hit hardest among cybermouners who like him had suffered from depression and attempted to or had family members who had taken their own lives.
The researchers saved and later analyzed the condolences that mourners had posted on Legacy.com on August 11, 2014, during a 4-and a half-hour period shortly after the world learned that Williams had committed suicide at his home near San Francisco.
What is Legacy.com?
Legacy.com serves more than 1,500 online and print newspapers worldwide. Newspapers pay a fee for the site to host obituaries and accompanying guest books.
The site gets more than 24 million unique visitors each month, “making it one of the 50 most visited websites in the U.S.,” according to the website.
The study is the first of its kind to examine cybermourning in “real time”on Legacy .com.
Because of its popularity, the researchers felt Legacy.com was the perfect vehicle to learn more about how people mourn online as Williams’ fans gathered virtually to pay tribute to him.
See the permanent online memorial site that Legacy built for Williams. More than a year after his death, people are still posting condolences.
An analysis of the condolences revealed an extreme sense of loss and grief over the death of Williams, a man they deeply loved. See examples using a program called Riddle.
Researchers found many of the cybermourners had developed a family-like bond with the comedian that went beyond celebrity worship. They wrote about him as if a family member or close friend had died. They had developed an intense, one-way parasocial relationship with him. Studies differ on whether parasocial relationships established with celebrities like Williams on social media are healthy or harmful.
The study showed that his fans appreciated Williams’ humor because it helped relieve some of the stress in their lives. And they viewed Williams’ death as a new beginning. It took him away from the burden of having to deal with mental illness and drug addiction.
Williams brings mental illness to forefront
For mourners who had suffered from depression, attempted suicide or had family members who took or had tried to take their own lives, Williams’ death was even more profound.
Researchers concluded that cybermourners coping with depression and attempted suicides had lost their “poster child.” He spoke for them. By using humor, the study showed, Williams brought national attention to mental illness, drug addiction and later, suicide prevention, as calls to suicide prevention hotlines rose following his death. He also used humor to comfort fans struggling with their demons.
On the night Williams died, two cybermourners posted these notes, which expressed the sentiments of many coping with severe depression.
Thank you for being so open about having severe depression because I have it too. Maybe a few people learned enough to not say ‘just snap out of it.’ ”
Shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of a well-loved celebrity and genuine human being. No one can understand the ugly black hole of depression unless you’ve been there.He will be greatly missed, but his work will comfort family, friends and fans forever.
The study was conducted by Dr. Kenneth Campbell an associate professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., and Dr. Kim Smith, an associate professor at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C. Read the studv, which was published in the Journal of New Media and Culture.
People gathered around tables at the Innovation Quarter in Winston Salem to discuss ways to reduce hunger in the area served by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina. Photo: Courtesy of Patricia Furnish
An estimated 160 advocates dedicated to fighting hunger shared ideas on Thursday evening, September, 10, on ways to combat hunger in the Winston Salem, N.C. area. The meeting was organized by Wake Forest University and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwestern North Carolina. More.
The 1-million gallon water tower called the Peachoid, located along I-85, is the famous landmark which has put the town of Gaffney, S.C., on the international map. It is also featured in the Netflix series “House of Cards.”
As integration became the law of the land in the 1960s, Kim Smith reflects on being called the N word by a white classmate at a premier elementary school in the Upstate South Carolina town of Gaffney on the first day of class 48 years ago in August.
Note: Some may find the use of the N word in this piece offensive. The author has chosen not to reveal the real names of the teacher and classmate.
“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the colour-line”—W.E.B Du Bois, sociologist and civil rights activist
In August of 1967, I was one of five black students to integrate Central Elementary school in Gaffney, S.C. The school, located at 301 College Drive, was less than a mile from Limestone College. Many of the white college professors at Limestone enrolled their children in Central.
My parents explained years later that the decision to enroll me at Central, whose student population jumped from 500 to 505 in the fall of 1967, was to learn as soon as possible how to get along with people of another color. The sooner I waded into Central’s waters, the better, my parents concluded. They also wanted to get me into the best elementary school in Gaffney.
Central’s College-Drive neighborhood boasted of huge antebellum-style homes, with red brick and cobblestone walkways. Black lawn jockeys stood proudly at the entrances to some of these homes, where yellow daises and bright, orange marigolds accented evenly-trimmed hedges and freshly-cut grass.
College Drive contrasted with a section of Gaffney called Happy Valley, where chickens running to-and-fro made bare the front yards of shotgun houses. Some Confederate flags hung in windows as drapes and on makeshift flag poles. A store owner near Happy Valley once put up a sign in front of his store, which read: “No dogs and niggers allowed!” Years later, it occurred to me that the dog, whose name was first on the sign, had a better chance of entering the store than I. The store mysteriously burned to the ground in the early 1970s.
As soon as I walked onto the schoolyard on the first day of class, I heard the dreaded word. It threw me into the furnace of intolerance sooner than my parents had expected.
“Hey Nigger!” “Nigger!” “Nigger!” said a classmate I’ll call Tim Gathers. He pointed at me as I grabbed my lunch box out of the car and headed toward Mrs. Virginia Penny’s first-grade classroom.
I didn’t give the word nor him much thought. It was foreign to me. But the “nigger calling” continued every day for about two weeks.
Looking back, I doubt he knew what the word meant and it was probably something Tim’s parents had told him to call people who looked like me. My mother reminded me that in addition to the name calling, I came home sad because none of the children played with me during recess and Mrs. Penny didn’t encourage them to do so. That hurt more than the word.
Day of reckoning
One Saturday, my mother, father and I visited my grandparents for dinner in nearby Kings Creek, a 20-minute drive north of Gaffney. My grandmother was taking cornbread out of the oven and my grandfather was preparing his daily after-meal ritual.
Dressed in blue overalls and suspenders, my grandfather would take a hunk of cornbread, and crumble it in his two, calloused, rail-road worker hands. His left hand had four fingers instead of five, following a railroad-spike-hammer accident that left a nub where his index finger used to be.
I would watch the cornbread fall from his hands into a tall, cold, glass of buttermilk. He drank the mixture slowly, savoring every drop of the cholesterol-laden, beige and white liquid.
My grandfather focused on his buttermilk-and-cornbread concoction as family conversations ebbed and flowed around the table. But I was not into the conversations. I was thinking about the word and why I was being called a nigger. I wasn’t angry as much as I was curious and befuddled. I needed some help working through this.
During a brief lull in the conversations, I decided to make my move. I looked at my daddy across the table and asked him in the high-pitched voice of a curious 7-year old, just loud enough for everyone to hear. “Daddy. What’s a nigger?”
The question quieted the room: stunned silence.
Welcome to reality
My grandmother turned around, her face in pain over her grandson’s earlier-than expected introduction to racism. The cornbread that my grandfather had crumbled into the glass of buttermilk seemed to have become suspended in the air before it disappeared inside the green-tinted glass. He and my mother also turned to my father, who was sitting at the far end of the table. They were waiting for his response.
“Why did you ask me that?” my father asked after a long pause.
“Because a white boy has been calling me that name for two weeks now,” I replied.
The answer prompted more silence as family members began processing what had happened. My seven years of racial innocence in the town that I had grown up in had just ended.
Gaffney is a mill town located 50 miles north of Greenville, S.C., on I-85 and 50 miles south of Charlotte, N.C. Gaffney was high school football on Friday nights, where the opposing team got beat up whether it won or lost. Gaffney’s violent reputation was known throughout the state. Opposing teams, cheerleaders, band members and their supporters hated to come here for games at the football stadium.
It seemed there was little to do for teenagers to do in this town but fight and work in the textile mills. The most popular hang-out spot for teens near downtown was Hardees. Teens, mostly white, drove around in circles in the restaurant parking lot on Friday nights after the games and on weekends, until the police put a halt to loitering.
Blacks and whites, who lived mostly on opposite sides of the railroad tracks, led mostly separate yet complicated lives. In 1968, the mayor ordered a dawn-to-dusk curfew after a small riot erupted following national racial tensions in larger cities after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
On the other hand, I also recall how blacks and whites banded together to patrol neighborhoods while authorities searched for the “Gaffney Strangler,” a serial killer who had raped and murdered poor black and white women between 1967 and ’68.
See this story on the killings.
Anger bordering on violence is the best way to describe my father’s initial reaction to his son’s first experience with racism. The Korean War veteran-turned English teacher said, “Here is what you are going to do. Let me give you some words to call him.” Honky , redneck and cracker stuck out, along with some choice curse words I had never heard before.
But that’s when my mother, a reading teacher at the all black high school across town, stepped in with a more thoughtful and King-like approach. “That’s not how we are going to handle this Cooper,” as she began to calm her husband down.
“I’m going down to the school this week and have a talk with his teacher, Mrs. Penny. This name calling will not help matters.”
That following Tuesday, Mrs. Penny stood in front of the class along with my mother before lessons began that day. She thanked my mother for coming down to the school and said, “This integration thing is difficult for everybody. We have got to learn how to teach these children how to live together. And I’m determined to do that. And I’m so surprised that a cleaning woman like you would have the sense and intelligence to come talk to me about this problem.”
Insulted by the demeaning and stereotypical comment but refusing to give in to the hurt that Mrs. Penny had caused, my mother, the English teacher from across the tracks, shook Mrs. Penny ‘s hand, grabbed my hand and exited. “I’m going to pray for her,” said, walking to the car.
My mom’s visit apparently made a difference. Several days later she asked me how I was liking school. I told her that the name calling had stopped that I was playing with some new friends.
People and places change
I spent this summer in Gaffney and noticed that the town is undergoing somewhat of a racial and economic makeover, much like Mrs. Penny and the children in her class following my mother’s visit.
Central is now home to the Cherokee County History Museum. Mrs. penny’s classroom houses exhibits. Hardees is still there and its workers and clientele are more diverse. More black, Chinese and Mexican-owned restaurants and stores compete for customers along side those once exclusively owned by whites who 48 years ago wouldn’t have let them come in the front door.
In addition to a diverse group of small business owners, more jobs are coming to the area to replace those lost by the closing of many of Gaffney ‘s textile mills.
A Dollar General distribution plant will add 400 jobs later this year and Gaffney continues to benefit from the BMW plant located near Greenville. There is also talk of a casino being built by the Catawba tribe in nearby Kings Mountain, N.C.
Then there is the free international publicity Gaffney gets for being the town where the 1-million gallon water tower that is in the shape and color of a peach is located. Some say the Peachoid looks more like a butt than a peach. The town and its famous landmark is also featured in the Netflix series “House of Cards.”
Gaffney has taught me about evolving and the importance of reinventing myself. My mother has taught me the power of prayer, grace, patience and humility under pressure. My father taught me about hard work and integrity. The future looks bright for the town that I was born in and I’m not as bothered by the word nigger as I used to be.