As I looked at my Facebook page today and noticed my profile photo looking at my cover photo, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes. In April of 1919, the father of muckraking journalism and liberal, Lincoln Steffens, wrote in a letter the quote, “I have seen the future and it works.” In this letter he is after having visited the Soviet Union and coming to conclusion and opinion that a Socialist system would be good for the majority of citizens and should be adopted by other countries. I have my own thoughts and views about the pros and cons (mostly pros) about socialism, but what I really am interested in is the quote of this visionary write, of which I share a similar name. For background, for those who truly did not know this (and there are many), my birth name is actually spelled Stephens. After having attended the first journalism school in the world, the University of Missouri – Columbia and learning about Lincoln Steffens and his interested in uncovering political, social, economic corruption and challenges, I decided to use out similar name and pay homage to his legacy by changing my last name as a social media moniker. Though much of his work focused more on politics, and mine now on workforce development in the advertising and media industry, I share the same belief, though in a different context. I have seen the future and it works.
Every year that the Marcus Graham Project, brings a new class of recruits into our summer boot camp, I am increasingly excited (and concerned) about our future. I am excited because there is so much amazing talent (cultivated and uncultivated) in this country and around the globe. There is the thirst to learn. There is passion for finding purpose and there is also the pursuit of it. This summer we have been blessed to have 14 individuals participate in our summer boot camp and I am more than impressed by the talent, perspective, cohesiveness, and cultural intellect of this group. Someone asked me the other day, “How do you all find this talent?” I responded that they found us on twitter. Accident, happenstance or divine destination, I am incredibly glad that they have found us. They are showing me that this quote from this pseudo namesake is true. I am spending every day looking into the face of the future and Oh my, I see it working. I see an industry of black and brown faces, learning from one another, as well as sharing their cultural difference with and industry who has been as white as milk since its inception. (I know that reference might give some of you pause, but as a journalist, writer and truth seeker, we have to get honest, even if it makes us uncomfortable). My excitement is incredibly high, but my concern is that we have to do more to make this evolution into our future stick. We have to dig deeply and determine what can we do to advance talent development, workforce development and culture forward. Are we spending more money on award shows (i.e. Cannes and the One Show) celebrating, when we could be investing resources into a failed education in the U.S. and a youth culture that is yearning to be led and to lead. How much do WE spend on private planes, parties, award shows, car service, and the spoils of our perceived luxury vs. the luxury that we cannot afford to lose – investing in our future. Schools are failing us. Middle schools. High schools. Colleges. Advertising portfolio schools. They are failing us. The innovative programs that are advancing our next generation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math are making impact. But we need MORE. MORE. MORE. MORE. That is the concern. We just are not doing enough. And if we are honest with ourselves about what and were we allocate dollars and time, then we can see it more clearly. And if our honesty translated into action instead of lip service, than we can do more. When we started the Marcus Graham Project, we were focused on “diversity in advertising.” I would like to decree that we abolish the notion of the old rhetoric of the word “diversity”. Our future, if it going to work, is naturally diverse. Look at the changing cultural landscape of our country. It is diverse. When we say diversity, at least in our industry, it becomes, how do you say this, one of those “things.” The 80-pound polka dotted elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Let’s advance the conversation and have a pseudo funeral for the phrase “diversity in advertising” and transfer it to the notion of a future at work. R.I.P Diversity. Happy Born Day Future.