My 2011 Year in Review

2011 was an amazing year. It wasn’t without some setbacks, but it was an overwhelming success for many, many reasons. It was a year with many “firsts” that exceeded even my wildest imaginations. I consider my goals to be lofty, but in January of 2011, I had no idea things would have progressed where they are now. I haven’t “made it” yet, but there has been tremendous positive momentum that has given me the confidence that I have a chance to do something special. I’m humbled and beyond thankful for the opportunity, because I know how hard it was to get to this level. I remember the days when everything I was working on seemed like a side project, something to absorb my time before going back to Corporate America. I remember the looks I received when folks would inquire on my career. I remember all of the sacrifices personally, professionally, and financially. I remember them vividly.

At the same time, I’ve always chosen to focus on the positive and enjoy the journey. 2011 will be one of those years that I’ll never forget. It gave me a sneak peek at what is possible and has given me confidence that I’m starting to accumulate 10,000 hours. The second half of 2011 has treated me very well.

Highlights in chronological order:

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The launch of the 21st Century Youth Project started off as an after school program where we teach high school students to create mobile apps.   We launched the program at two school districts, the Naperville school district and the Crete-Monee school district. There were so many last minute curveballs leading up to the launch, but it has been one of the most professionally satisfying experiences I’ve had. We have been able to accumulate a significant amount of buzz without really trying, and I’m looking forward to more success leading into 2012 where we are expanding to other cities and more schools. More to come soon! I cannot thank Antonio Rowry enough for beginning this journey with me. We’ve also built up an exceptional Board of Advisors.

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One of the biggest surprises of 2011 was our acceptance into the American Black Film Festival, one of the most prestigious black film festivals in the world. We were a part of the HBO short film competition where they only select five films. The film festival itself was an amazing experience where I had an opportunity to meet Don King and other celebrities. Our film For Flow was also selected to the Canadian International Film Festival, St. Louis Black Film Festival, San Francisco Black Film Festival, Cannes Short Film Corner, and the New York Digital Film Festival.  There were some amazing films at the American Black Film Festival, and we were truly lucky to be included in the mix. It was the first time I realized that my film pursuits was more than an expensive hobby. It was something we could excel at the highest level.

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I had the honor of being a featured speaker at SocialDevCamp Chicago, a technology conference. It was my first time presenting at a conference, something I always wanted to do, but was never invited. My presentation at the conference was very well received, in fact receiving better than expected feedback from many of the attendees. To hear several attendees tweet that it was one of their highlights of the conference was surreal. In fact, my slides went viral on LinkedIn and Slideshare. I’ll never forget how I didn’t finish my slides until 5am, several hours before my presentation. I was beyond exhausted, but I couldn’t be more than thankful for an hour of everyone’s time, combining social responsibility and economics.

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Another humbling award was to be one of very few individuals awarded a fellowship for Chicago Ideas Week. With an amazing cast of awardees doing amazing things in Chicago, it was great to be included as one of them. From their website, Idea Fellows “are the leaders and change agents of the world tomorrow, who are making a huge impact on their local and regional communities today.” It was my first award for public service. The best part wasn’t the personal recognition, but validation of the opportunities we are attacking.

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After a couple years of wanting to launch this sort of initiative, I decided to jump forward into the film festival game.  It combines several of my interests from social responsibility, film, and connecting those that are on the ground affecting change in various ways. In working with a great friend, Todd Belcore, I thought we could create something special and push the limits of what a film festival can become. The festival is aimed at taking place in October of 2012, but we’ve had several meetings with over 40 volunteers, who are working hard to make this happen. I can’t wait to share the updates as they occur in 2012.

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After building some momentum with the 21st Century Youth Project, CNN came calling. We were thrilled to have a small segment on CNN to showcase just how innovative our program is, compared to the others that are aiming to bridge the “coding divide”. This mainstream buy-in has done wonders in making it easier to talk to school and elected officials. If you haven’t seen the preview link for our segment, we’re at the 1:00 mark. It was the first time I’ve been covered by a mainstream/global media outlet.

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In what is still surreal to me.  I was invited to write an Op-Ed piece for Crain’s on Minorities and Tech Entrepreneurship.  I was beyond thankful for the opportunity to write an opinion piece, and for a publication as prestigious as Crain’s, it was a dream come true. I remember the days where I hoped to have an opportunity to write one before I retired, but to have that opportunity extended to me this early in my career, was truly remarkable. The post was well received, and went viral in many communities. I received a tremendous amount of traffic to my blog and websites, and I’m glad the post was taken as a positive piece. I was thrilled to get mentioned on Crain’s four times in less than a week.

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Last but not least, we finalized our licensing deal for our film For Flow with HBO for two years! Every filmmaker dreams of the day they could get a project viewed by a mainstream audience, and we were lucky enough to do that early in our film careers. It was truly a blessing and will make all future meetings substantially easier when pitching more products, concepts, and films. The film will begin to be shown in February of 2012, an amazing opportunity in addition to a little cash, which doesn’t hurt.

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Other highlights of the year included my board memberships for the Chicago Comedy Film Festival and the American Chamber Opera where we had tremendous first runs. Another highlight was receiving coverage in Annesa Lacey’s feature on me on the Examiner magazine.

2011 was an amazing year, and with some new updates that I’ll hold off on until next year, but I have a feeling that 2012 will be substantially better than 2011. I’ll never forget 2011, because it’s that sneak peek into the future. A future that was a result of tremendous work, sacrifice, and partnerships with great people who helped me achieve these goals. I’ve also hired a personal coach to help me take my abilities to the next level, and just six weeks into the process, I feel like I have a better fundamental understanding on how to maximize 2012.

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9 responses to “My 2011 Year in Review

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