Former UPS Executive Boosts Pledge To Alma Mater By $15 Million

Former UPS Executive Boosts Pledge To Alma Mater By $15 Million

BALTIMORE — To help students avoid crippling college debt, former United Parcel Service executive and Morgan State University alumnus Calvin Tyler is increasing his $5 million commitment to his alma mater by $15 million to fund academic scholarships.

The expanded Calvin and Tina Tyler Endowment Scholarship Fund, created in 2002 to offer scholarships for Baltimore students, will now be used to attract students from around the country to a university eager to distinguish itself as a premier research institution, the university recently announced.

“A lot of young people in Baltimore and throughout the country are in need of help right now,” said Tyler. “Putting them further in debt through the reliance on government loans is just not the answer. Getting a college degree and graduating without debt is something that we think is very important.”

Tyler Hall, the recently constructed student services building on Morgan’s campus, stands as a legacy of Calvin and Tina Tyler’s “legacy of philanthropic giving.” (Courtesy of Morgan State University)

Student demographics suggest that nearly every Morgan student will, in the form of partial or full tuition scholarships, be impacted by the increased funds. Of the approximately 8,000 students currently attending the university, 90 percent receive some type of financial assistance.

“Forty-five percent qualify for Pell Grants, federal assistance to support students, at various level based on family support, and about 30 percent of that 45 percent are eligible for maximum benefits,” said Morgan State President David Wilson. “Thousands of students will be impacted for decades and decades to come.”

Wilson said he “literally dropped the phone” when the Tylers informed him that they wanted to raise their commitment to the university.

“When I was having the conversation with Calvin, and he said that he and Tina wanted to make a larger investment, I went quiet, because he doesn’t think in increments of a million dollars,” said Wilson. “We talked about the impact of COVID-19 in the community they come from and how it’s stressful under normal circumstances, and now students have to do three times more. He told me they wanted to do everything they can to ease the loan burden, so students could taste the magic of a Morgan State University education.”

“My wife and I have become keenly aware of the effect that the pandemic has had on a number of young people trying to get an education,” said Tyler. “We have the resources to help a lot of young people … through our endowed scholarship plan. It’s not so much that we’re supporting Morgan, it’s more that we are supporting Baltimore … Baltimore is our hometown, it’s where we’re from.”

Forced to drop out of Morgan in 1963 due to a lack of money to complete his own degree in business administration, Tyler became one of the first 10 black drivers for UPS in 1964. He closed out his career with the package delivery company as senior vice president of operations, retiring in 1998 and taking a seat on its board of directors. Tyler’s company stock options and board compensations make up the bulk of his benefactor’s wealth, according to Wilson.

“Calvin was a hard worker who has made his money work for him,” Wilson said. “He didn’t come up through diversity programs or human resources, though no slight on those organizations. At one point, he was literally the chief operating officer for a major corporation.”

Calvin Tyler began his career as one of 10 black UPS drivers before retiring as senior vice president for operation at UPS in 1988. Now a UPS director, his endowment fund has help more than 200 Morgan State University students through 46 full tuition and 176 partial scholarships. (Courtesy of Morgan State University)

Morgan’s emergence as a top research university

Morgan State University has a long history as one of four historically black colleges and universities in Maryland. Founded as Centenary Biblical Institute in 1867 to train young men in the ministry, it was renamed Morgan College in 1890 in honor of Rev. Lyttleton Morgan, its first trustee board chairman.

The school remained a private institution until 1939, when it was purchased by the state to provide more opportunities for black residents. In 1975, the school gained university status and expanded its offerings to include several doctoral programs.

Today, Morgan has 12 colleges, schools and institutes, with curricula that includes liberal arts, engineering, architecture and planning, social work, global journalism and communications. In 2007, by virtue of its growth among doctoral-granting institutions, Morgan was classified as “doctoral research institution” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Ten years later, the university was designated by the Maryland General Assembly as the state’s “preeminent public urban research university.”

Together with Bowie State University, Coppin State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University is an engine that drives both the state and national economies, according a United Negro College Fund report, “HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” released in 2017. Maryland HBCUs, said the report, generate $1 billion in total economic impact and account for more than 9,300 jobs and $9.5 billion in lifetime earnings among its graduates.

With the Tyler endowment, the largest private donation from an alumnus in university history, and a $40 million gift in 2020 from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, Morgan State is now reaping the benefits of a reputation that was decades in the making.

“These investments show what we’ve known all along,” Wilson said. “Morgan is a serious institution that is turning out the best talent in the country in a period of immense innovation. Philanthropists are buying into the notion that, if they want a significant return on their investment, Morgan is the first option to consider.”

“MacKenzie Scott was vetting us from afar, the Tylers were vetting us from up close because Dr. Wilson has been able to establish a great relationship with them,” said Donna Howard, Morgan State’s vice president for institutional advancement. “But both gifts show that we passed muster as they considered their giving. These two gifts show them to be deeply embedded in altruism and wanting their wealth to have a positive and transformational impact on our students, their families and our communities.”

(Edited by Carlin Becker and Matthew B. Hall)



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Tonio Hall Catches The Attention Of R&B Legend Donell Jones

Tonio Hall Catches The Attention Of R&B Legend Donell Jones

Social media lend a voice to the voiceless — and being heard can be life-changing. Dallas rapper Tonio Hall got the attention of R&B legend Donell Jones when he posted his cover of Jones’ “Life Goes On” on social media. Impressed with Hall’s talents, Jones shared the cover with his Instagram followers, and the exposure has been a career boost. Understanding the importance of feeding his fan base, Tonio hopes to release one single per month until his much-anticipated EP drops later this year.

Dallas rapper Tonio Hall got the attention of R&B legend Donell Jones when he posted his cover of Jones’ “Life Goes On” on social media. (Photo by Tonio Hall/@TonioHall)

His next single, “Anymore,” will drop on Valentine’s Day. In Dallas, which is predominantly a rap town, Tonio plans to tap into his rap lane while holding down the R&B side of things as well. In songs like “Don’t Push Me,” you can hear his ability to carry both tunes. Hall’s music expresses raw emotion and delves into personal situations. He deserves to be mentioned among the top up-and-coming R&B acts out there.

Zenger News chatted with Hall about his career plans, his musical influences, and how it feels to hear his music on the radio.

Percy Crawford interviewed Tonio Hall for Zenger News.


Zenger News: How’s it going, bro?

Tonio Hall: Everything been going decent, man. Everything is just right. Lets me know I’m on the right path and doing the right things.

Zenger: Looking at your social media pages, you have had a great couple of weeks. What does it mean for you to see those numbers going up and to have everyone embrace your work?

Hall: Man… it definitely lets me know I’m on the right path and doing things right. I just gotta keep going. I just gotta keep pressing the gas. Don’t let up.

Percy Crawford interviewed Tonio Hall for Zenger News. (Photo by Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Zenger: How did it make you feel to get that stamp of approval from a legend like Donell Jones for your cover and twist of “Life Goes On”?

Hall: I’m honored, man. Stuff like that really don’t happen. I’m honored. It’s a humbling experience. I’m really humble.

Zenger: Who are your musical influences?

Hall: I like Tank. A lot of “Kels” [R. Kelly] was played in the house. My pops liked Joe. He used to play that all the time. I’m inspired by all types of music. If I hear it, and I feel it, I’m inspired by it, because I’m a music head. Anything I hear, I can take something from it.

Zenger: When you do your covers, is there a process to selecting what songs you’re going to cover, or is it just whatever you are feeling at the moment?

Hall: It’s really whatever I’m feeling, but it’s also what the people want. I do a lot of writing too, and sometimes a line will remind me of a song, so I’ll cover it right quick. But it’s really what the people want.

Zenger: You’re putting a single out on Valentine’s Day titled “Anymore.” What can we expect from that joint?

Hall: Yeah! I got something dropping on V-Day. And right now, I just put out a song, “Call A Ni–ga.” You can get that now on streaming platforms and on YouTube. I just dropped the music video to that. That’s going crazy right now. They lovin’ that. I’m loving the response I’m getting from that. We just working right now, bro.

Zenger: Is that the goal right now — stay in the studio, remain busy and put out new content?

Hall: Yeah! It really is. We’re just hitting the ground running, just going, just working.

Zenger: Dallas is so synonymous with rap. Do you feel like you’re carrying the R&B genre on your back for the city?

Hall: Actually, I do. But although this metroplex is surrounded by a lot of rappers, I mess with everybody. If I hear you… I mess with everybody. And I rap too. So, really, I just so happen can carry the vocals too [laughing].

Tonio Hall is dropping one single a month as he compiles material for his first album. (Photo courtesy of Tonio Hall)

Zenger: On “Don’t Push Me,” you definitely tap into both lanes. You hear the vocals, but you also rap a little bit, and the beat could go either way as well.

Hall: ‘Preciate you for that. I got some crazy stuff lined up. I can’t wait for y’all to hear this. I want to drop something once a month for real, for real. The goal is to drop once a month.

Zenger: Can we expect an album to spin off these monthly singles?

Hall: Yeah, you definitely can. It’s going to be coming real soon. We’re getting the track list and everything we want ready right now. I’m just building up a catalog and trying to get it ready to roll out. This first album is going to be relatable. It’s about me and some stuff I went through, but some songs on there, I wrote into fruition. I wasn’t going through it at the moment, but some of the stuff I wrote, I ended up going through it. Y’all gonna love it. I got the EP dropping in the next couple of months, and I got features on there. I feel like y’all gonna love it.

Zenger: You seem to draw from your own personal experiences a lot, and that passion and pain come through your lyrics and vocals.

Hall: It’s tapping into something that I can’t even really explain. It’s going into that mode. Magic comes out. I don’t even really know how to explain it. Definitely makes it easier drawing from my own personal situations, though.

Zenger: How do you decide whether you’re going to rap or sing on a track?

Hall: Nah, see with that, I know how to pick the beats. I don’t really wanna sound too cocky, but I know if a beat too sad, I know if a beat gonna turn me up. I know if I should do this type of cadence on the beat. I know if this going to go crazy. I’m never on the same shit. I always switch up. I can go in the studio and make a R&B song, then the next song I go and record right after that R&B song is a whole rap song. They be like, “What?” My team be confused [laughing].

Zenger: You recently got your song played on the radio. What was it like to hear yourself on the radio? What was that moment like?

Hall: Bruh … it’s an indescribable feeling. You can’t fathom that. Especially for someone like me and where I came from, you just can’t fathom it. It’s crazy.

Zenger: When did you realize this music thing could become a career? When did you have your “I can make this work” moment?

Hall: Really, I don’t think I’ve felt that shit yet, because I’m still working. I’m still grindin’. I don’t know, I really haven’t felt that part yet. You know how it is — I’m still in the midst of making everything happen. It is a humbling experience to see the comments, to see the numbers climbing. I’m glad everybody rockin’ with me. I’m rockin’ with them too. I’m just going to keep applying pressure. I’m not going to let up; keep working and keep giving these folks what they want.

R&B legend Donell Jones shared Tonio Hall’s cover of “Life Goes On” by Jones on Instagram. (Photo by the Office of Governor Jim Justice/Wikimedia Commons)

Zenger: Do you have anyone in mind that you would like to work with eventually?

Hall: It’s a few people I want to work with, but really, I’m big on things being organic and natural vibes. I like having things come along naturally. If people wanna work, then I’m ready to work too. Let’s go in there and make some hits. We have been pressing the gas even harder since all this COVID stuff came along. It slowed down shows and things like that, but we have been pressing the gas and doing the things we can do. So, we’re working, man. If it makes sense, let’s work. So, when the world opens back up, we can just hit ’em, boom-boom. Just going crazy, ya heard me [laughing]. Like I said, bro, I’m gonna try and drop something every month until this EP comes out in the next couple of months. I want to give them folks something.

Zenger: If it wasn’t for Donell Jones sharing your cover on Instagram, I wouldn’t have discovered you, at least this soon. Props to the legend, Donell, and keep doing your thing. Your voice is amazing, brother.

Hall: Shout out the OG. I’m honored. Shout out, Donell. The EP will be coming out in the next couple of months. My song “Call A Ni–ga” is out right now on all streaming platforms and on YouTube. Go follow me on social media platforms @iamtoniohall. We gonna keep rockin’, man.

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)



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I SAW THE SIEGE: ‘We Were Outnumbered’ On Capitol Hill, Says Congressional Aide

I SAW THE SIEGE: ‘We Were Outnumbered’ On Capitol Hill, Says Congressional Aide

During Black History Month, Zenger News presents “I Saw the Siege,” a series of on-camera interviews with African-American eyewitnesses to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.


“I say a prayer every time I go to work and close that door” following the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, says a congressional aide who watched it play out in person. Going to work today, he says, is “my own form of PSTD.”

Michael J. McQuerry tells Zenger News that American democracy had a close call when protesters loyal to then-President Donald J. Trump smashed windows, burst through doorways and briefly occupied the nation’s legislative hive.

“I have to make sure we get across what happened, the gravity of it,” he says. “I was there. I saw that. This is serious. We came this close to maybe losing the country. We can’t come that close again.”

COVID-19 pandemic precautions had left the Capitol mostly empty, says McQuerry, putting few people in harm’s way but also leaving most of the building undefended. “You have to realize, on a regular day that complex would have had 10,000 to 15,000 people in it,” he tells Zenger, “but because we were going through the pandemic you might have had 300 to 400 people at that time, who experienced that.”

Michael McQuerry grew up in a tough Detroit neighborhood and saw violence firsthand when he moved to Washington. “After 27 years on Capitol Hill he is considered an elder statesman among his colleagues,” said Andre Johnson.  (Allison Itz/Zenger News)

“If you add that to Capitol police, and the number of people that came in, we were outnumbered,” he says.

McQuerry is a respected staffer currently working for Del. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-V.I.). (plaskett.house.gov)

McQuerry and his boss Del. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-USVI) both planned to be in the House of Representatives chamber for the reading of Electoral College votes, the final step in certifying the election victory of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Plaskett is a nonvoting delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands but still a House member. McQuerry planned to be in the gallery, social distancing but watching history play out. History had other ideas; he says he feared he would be “squashed.”

Even from the center of the bullseye, McQuerry couldn’t appreciate the urgency of the situation he was in. “I did not go to work that day thinking that an insurrection was going to happen. Who does? So we went to work,” he says.

“And we didn’t really get to see how bad, and how much danger we were facing until two days later, when all the videos came out and you saw people breaking the glass and doing things you could not imagine.”

McQuerry says, “I had never seen violence like that” and the U.S. Capitol attack “was a first for me. Let’s hope I never see it again.”  (Claire Swift/Zenger News)

A Detroit native, McQuerry says he thinks about how easily he could have become a casualty — inside the Capitol, not on the streets where he grew up. “I appreciate being alive,” he says, “because I could have been at the wrong place at the wrong time as easily not be sitting here talking to you.”

McQuerry has worked in Congress for 27 years, and knows every nook and stairwell. He thinks about Eugene Goodman, the U.S. Capitol Police officer who led the mob away from an open Senate chamber door. He took what he called “a symbolic walk” in those hallways before speaking with Zenger News.

From left, Congressional staffer Michael McQuerry,  Andre Johnson of Zenger News and Congressional staffer Jabir McKnight, all members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, perform the Kappa Diamond salute. The four points of the diamond represent God, family, fraternity and community. Achievement in every field of human endeavor is their motto.  (Allison Itz/Zenger News)

“I took that walk over here from the side of the Senate floor where the police, the Capitol Police Officer, directed them another direction,” he says.

“I took that same walk that he took. And I just wanted to, you know, just to think about what was three weeks prior — the hatred that was in that building, in that dome, in a place that was built by African-American slaves.”

(Edited by David Martosko and Kristen Butler. Visuals Produced by Claire Swift/Jorge Diaz/Allison Itz. Video Editor: Ralph Quattrucci. Director of Photography: Tim Murray.) 

 

Click here to see the complete interview with Mr. McQuerry.



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Seeking A Place ‘Where No One Knew Me,’ Baby Storme Became A Star

Seeking A Place ‘Where No One Knew Me,’ Baby Storme Became A Star

The Chinese video app TikTok has exploded in popularity since the pandemic began.

With hours of extra time on their hands, many users have turned to the app for diversion, recording 60-second dances to tracks by their favorite artists. Others have used it as a form of expression, whether to vent or to perform music of their own. New York’s Baby Storme at first found TikTok to be somewhat of an escape from real life. It was a place where she was unknown and so could be herself.

What she didn’t anticipate was using the app to launch a career. The very place where she retreated to be unknown was now making her popular — and allowing her music to take center stage. Her unique look — colorful hair, several face piercings, catchy contact lenses — captures as much attention as her soothing voice and her keyboarding talents. She is the perfect mixture of confidence and complexity.

Her new single, “Jackson,” holds the No. 1 Featured Spot on the app. The single became highly anticipated when Baby Storme released a snippet on TikTok and Lil Nas X, whose “Old Town Road” spent a record 19 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart after finding an audience on TikTok, left a comment: “Sounds really good.” Those three simple words catapulted “Jackson” to the top of the TikTok Emerging Artists Playlist on Spotify.

In an interview with Zenger News, Baby Storme reveals why she contemplated suicide just a month ago, how music saved her life, and what we can expect from her in the near future.

Percy Crawford interviewed Baby Storme for Zenger News.


Zenger News: What’s up, Storme? How’s it going?

Baby Storme: I’m good. Thank you.

Zenger: I’m very glad to hear that you are good, because in late December you made a post about being suicidal and seemingly checked into a hospital. How did you hit rock bottom? You were in a very dark spot; how did you end up there?

Storme: I was in a very toxic relationship, and basically, I just got to a point where everything was terrible. And when the relationship ended, I felt like I had exhausted all of my energy into it, and I had nothing left. I was living alone. It was just a really bad place. It was a bad time for me.

Zenger: Did you seek help to get you through those times? And are you in a mentally stable place right now?

Storme: I didn’t seek out help. I actually didn’t need help. I don’t have a mental problem. I never had a history of mental issues. It’s a really crazy story of how I ended up being put in there in the first place. It was involuntary. But I did not seek out the help. And I would say, to be honest, what really helped me was focusing on music and focusing on myself. That’s the only thing that moved me past it. You can go to a hospital, you can go to as many hospitals as you want, the only thing that’s going to fix you is you. Me focusing on my music and me focusing on what I was supposed to do, and starting to see that progress, that’s the only thing that helped me, to be honest.

Percy Crawford interviewed Baby Storme for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Zenger: And now you have completely dived into your music headfirst. I’m sure that is your happy place, and where your focus needs to be right now.

Storme: Yes, because I don’t dwell on the past at all. If anyone asks me, I have no exes, no past relationships or nothing like that. So, yeah … my music is my comfortable space.

Zenger: You have a unique look that I love. Is it inspired by someone or something, or is that all you?

Storme: No, it’s 100% me. For me, it was just like, I wanted to come up with something that I felt was unique. And I wanted to have a look that I felt like no one else had. My look is all over the place — the crazy hair, the piercings, the eyes, and this and that, so thank you for acknowledging that.

Zenger: Definitely! Is it a conscious thought process behind your appearance, or do you get a look for the day, walk out of the door and that’s just your look for that day?

Storme: It’s both. Literally both. Totally. I like both. Some things I plan, and then some things I am just totally spontaneous and just for fun. Out of nowhere. 

Zenger: What was your TikTok takeoff moment where you realized that this thing could turn into something?

Storme: That was a year ago. This time a year ago. Literally this exact time, because I had hopped on TikTok and I got on it because I wanted to get on a platform where no one knew me. At that time, that was before TikTok was like it is now. That was pre-quarantine. Because now everybody’s on TikTok. Before, people were just talking about it and they knew about it, but it wasn’t as big. I wanted to get on a platform where no one knew me, and that was just what started it. Then I started making videos about music, my personality videos and blogs and stuff, and the numbers started going up. So, when that happened, I was like, “OK, this could actually be a real thing.” So, I just went harder, and I ran with it, and now I’m here now.

Baby Storme says she plans some of her looks — but others are more spontaneous. (Terrhon Vaughn)

Zenger: Over 6.5 million likes, more than 400,000 followers on TikTok. I understand that you had a moment where you felt it could be a thing, but did you even expect this level of success and popularity?

Storme: I wasn’t shocked at all because I think it’s going to be even bigger. I think that I’m just starting off right now. I’m not in shock at all. I’m just really grateful for people that care about me enough to support me. You’ll see that this is just the beginning for me — the very-very beginning— so I’m not shocked at all. I don’t really think about the numbers. I don’t see myself as this big person. I feel like I’m just starting out.

Zenger: Your new single, “Jackson,” hit the No. 1 Featured Spot on TikTok. You made a very interesting video for that song. Give us the concept of “Jackson.”

Storme: The concept behind it is, it is a song about me being a stalker and following around the person who I am interested in. And I just take it to the next level. I just find a way to turn that craziness into a song. Because I feel like everyone has that inner crazy, especially nowadays with social media. I can be like an FBI detective at this point. Just watching. And so many people can relate, so I just wanted to turn that into a song. It’s just something that people can relate to and understand. It’s a catchy song, even though it’s about me being a stalker, which is also catchy. You don’t really realize what you’re saying while you’re singing it.

Zenger: It’s crazy because in the video, the guy doesn’t even know he’s being stalked, and in the social media era, that’s very possible. I thought it was a dope concept.

Storme: And you don’t even know it. That’s the craziest part because that’s actually true. You cannot even know. The whole story is fictional, by the way. I don’t know anyone named Jackson. I never stalked anyone, but just the idea of it I think is so realistic. Especially now with social media, you can really find anyone and follow their lives for as long as you want. You really can. It’s crazy.

Zenger: “Jackson” is so big and popular. Where do you go from “Jackson,” musically?

Storme: I want to make it bigger [laughing]. But other than that, I have a single that I’m dropping on Valentine’s Day. And it is a completely different vibe from “Jackson,” but it is just as strong of a single. It’s a low vibe. It’s very, very calm. It’s a very chill track, but it’s a vibe. But it’s very different than “Jackson.”

Zenger: You are a self-taught pianist. Can we expect more of that from you in the future?

Storme: Yes, 110%. A lot of the tracks that will eventually be heard from me are going to be strictly me on the keyboard. I actually have a song out right now called “Men,” which is my favorite song that I’ve ever put out. It’s just all me. Just on the piano, saying what I have to say. For the future moving forward, you will hear a lot more piano tracks. A lot of piano, a lot of violin, just very, very sad, but also very good.

Baby Storme never expected opening a TikTok account would lead to fame. (Terrhon Vaughn)

Zenger: I understand you saying you don’t feel like you’re that big of a person, but the reality is, you are. How did you transition from being a “regular” person to 400,000 followers with an audience?

Storme: I just don’t think about it. I really just don’t. You’re right, there is a transition, but it happened over a course of time. If it was to happen overnight, that’s a little bit different. But for me, it was a gradual growth over the years. Let’s just say, this time last year I was maybe not at 10K followers yet. I maybe had a few thousand then. You go from like 10K, 20K to 30K, and you just kind of grow slowly. It just keeps growing gradually, so it’s like, after a certain point, you don’t really feel the growth, because it just happens so slow. It’s like when you go to the gym and you work out 30 minutes a day, you don’t really feel the progress until you look back at an old picture of yourself, and it’s like, oh my God, I used to look different. You don’t even realize it because you have been doing a little every single day, and it just adds up. So, I don’t feel… I feel totally the same. I don’t feel any different at all.

Zenger: It does have to feel good to know that so many people are invested in what you’re doing and the things you have going on and promoting.

Storme: It’s a great feeling because for me it’s like, I was so nervous for a long time. I wanted to see my music career go somewhere. Obviously, I believed in myself enough to know that it would go somewhere. But still, without that recognition, it’s a little bit hard to be taken seriously by people around you, and to be taken seriously by yourself, if anything. So, for me, starting to see the progress and starting to see people listen to my music… I remember this time last year when I was putting out music; I remember thinking, “Is the music even good?” I knew it was good, but no one was really listening. When I started seeing people listen to it, it was like, “Oh, OK, people actually really listen to it because they want to.” And that’s what made me get to the point where it was like, “OK, the music is good, it’s good.” And just started creating more and more, because without that recognition, it’s hard to really go anywhere. I feel like you just need that. I’m just grateful. Super grateful, but I try not to think about it too much.

Zenger: What you are saying is so true, because I’m sure for you, it seemed as if other people’s music was taking off overnight, although that may not have been the case. I understand feeling like people who came in around the same time as you are quickly moving, and you are in slow motion.

Storme: Oh, yeah! It’s easy to compare yourself to people on the internet, but in reality, you have no idea what they’re going through. It’s so easy to be like … someone like Lil Nas X. He blew up overnight with that song [Old Town Road], but he put out like 14 songs before that. He was sleeping on his sister’s couch; his family disowned him. The whole thing is like, you don’t really know what people are going through before they have their breakthrough. I already know that nothing on the internet is really what it seems. I know enough now about the industry to know that there are so many inside jobs. People working to make something happen for a person. I know it’s not overnight. I 100% know that now.

Zenger: I wish you continued success. Keep doing your thing, and I’m sure we will be talking again in the near future. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Storme: Thank you for taking the time out to talk to me. I appreciate it.

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick.)



The post Seeking A Place ‘Where No One Knew Me,’ Baby Storme Became A Star appeared first on Zenger News.

Pioneering Engineer Leverages Success To Boost Minority Contractors

Pioneering Engineer Leverages Success To Boost Minority Contractors

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It all started because she wanted to claim her seat at the table.

Deryl McKissack had worked hard in the construction business for years but was always told to put her head down, work harder and not ask any questions.

When her new boss wanted to demote her simply because she was a woman, McKissack said, “I quit.”

With a thousand dollars and a business plan drafted using a book purchased at Barnes & Noble, she launched McKissack & McKissack.

“I just think it was my passion that got me through, and my determination of, I’m just not going to let anybody define me,” she said. “No one can stop me from getting the work that I’m supposed to get. And whatever I get, I’m going to make sure that we do a great job.”

McKissack, president and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, is one of the nation’s foremost African American female engineers. She leads an architectural, engineering, program and construction management firm that today oversees more than $15 billion in projects nationwide.

Some of the nation’s most stunning and significant architectural projects of the 21st century were designed, managed or built by McKissack & McKissack.

McKissack & McKissack has overseen renovations at Washington, D.C., landmarks such as the Lincoln, Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials — and they are just a small fraction of the company’s national footprint.

Under McKissack’s leadership, the company has worked in the energy, education, aviation, infrastructure, culture and commercial real estate sectors on noteworthy projects such as the O’Hare International Airport Modernization Program, the DC Waters Clean River Project and Nationals Park, the home stadium of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team.

The company is an outgrowth of the oldest minority-owned architecture/engineering firm in the United States. Its roots predate the Civil War, when a slave named Moses McKissack learned the building trade. It was his grandson, Moses III (Deryl McKissack’s great-great-grandfather), who launched the first McKissack & McKissack in Nashville, Tennessee.

Moses III, along with his brother Calvin, launched the first McKissack firm in Nashville, TN. He was the grandson of Moses McKissack, a slave who learned the trade of building from his owner and began a family legacy in the industry. (Courtesy of McKissack & McKissack)

Since launching the newer McKissack & McKissack 30 years ago, Deryl McKissack has grown her company to include more than 150 employees and offices in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C.

But building the billion-dollar company in an industry dominated by white men wasn’t easy.

The Howard University alum recalls making a presentation at a university to a room full of men in one of her first attempts to gain business for the company in 1990.

When the presentation was done, the man in charge looked at McKissack and said, “Little lady, there is nothing that you can do for us.”

“I looked him in the eye, I grabbed his hand, and I was shaking it really hard, and I said, ‘Thank you so much for taking your time to listen to my presentation, and I look forward to working with you,’” McKissack said. “Then I went out on that campus for two hours and I just looked at every job I was going to be working on. I mean, I just walked through the campus and I started thanking God for the work that I was going to be doing on this campus. I believe in planting seeds.”

That seed sprang up about six months later.

The only African American man seated at the table on the fateful day of McKissack’s presentation was promoted to boss. Impressed with McKissack’s gracious response to the way she was treated, the new boss reached out to McKissack and offered her a small job worth $5,000. Within a year, McKissack had acquired $1 million worth of business with that university.

“I just never take no,” McKissack said. “I stare down the barrel of no so much, but I keep looking until I find my yes. I have won a lot of jobs at debriefings where they’re sitting there and telling me how I don’t add up, and then I get to tell them how I do.”

Even with her record of success, McKissack said she still encounters racism in the construction industry. She continues to experience “microaggressions,” which she explained as covert expressions from clients who, despite her expansive portfolio, continue to openly question her company’s ability to do the job.

“To be so successful [on previous projects] but yet get questioned over and over again on the next project — that’s what we’ve had to deal with,” McKissack said. “I’ve had to deal with it for 30 years now. … We’re achieving excellence, but at the same time you get slapped in the face every time you try to do something. There’s always resistance. There’s an undercurrent of, are you good enough? Or, can you do it? And extra questions. I’m still on calls that I’m in amazement on what I’m hearing.”

“I just hope that it gets better,” she said.

By the age of six, Deryl McKissack was drafting architectural drawings under her father’s tutelage. She later attended Howard University where she graduated with a B.S. in civil engineering. (Courtesy of McKissack & McKissack)

True to her character, McKissack is not one to just sit back and ignore these issues in the industry she loves; she’s addressing them head-on. She launched a 7-Step Plan to Confront Racism in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry.

Her plan calls for industry leaders to acknowledge that racism is a serious problem in the industry and commit to fixing it through actions such as hiring minority- and women-owned firms as prime contractors and procuring goods and services from minority- and women-owned suppliers.

Blacks are significantly underrepresented in architecture, engineering and construction.

African Americans make up 12.3 percent of the workforce but represent only 6.4 percent of construction workers and 6.1 percent of architecture and engineering professionals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By contrast, whites make up 78 percent of the total workforce but 84 percent of all architecture and engineering professionals.

McKissack said some companies have already adopted elements of her plan, but in 2021 she hopes to bring more of the industry’s major players on board.

“I’m going to be forming a group of companies that are huge companies that can really make a difference,” she said. “Because I know their CEOs really well, I’ve started small conversations with them, but we’re going to make it a little more formal in 2021.”

Keith Foxx has watched McKissack’s career over the past 20 years and believes her to be not only a visionary, but one of the industry’s foremost advocates for diversity.

As a program manager at RK&K, Foxx worked with McKissack on the D.C. Power Line Undergrounding program. When Foxx voiced his intention to start his own business, McKissack helped him secure his first government contract. Foxx is launching his engineering and construction management firm, FOXXSTEM, this month. He is grateful for McKissack’s support.

“Starting your own business, there are a lot of unknowns,” Foxx said. “She found a way to help me get my first contract. I will never forget that.”

Foxx said McKissack wields extraordinary influence in the industry.

“If she talks, everyone is listening, and she has the ears of some very important people,” Foxx said. “She’s legendary — a powerhouse and an icon — because she’s blazed a trail that I’m going to walk in.”

Beyond helping minority businesses get their foot in the door, McKissack helps them sustain success in the industry.

Christine Merdon, chief operating officer of McKissack & McKissack, said McKissack often speaks with pride about a minority contractor who was hired to work on the Washington D.C. Convention Center project managed by the firm.

“The contractor began the project with one truck, but by the time the project was over, he owned five trucks,” Merdon said. “When we bring minority- and women-owned firms on projects, it’s not only that they show up, but they are sustainable and have increased capacity.”

McKissack celebrated her company’s 30-year anniversary in 2020. That year the company received Inc. magazine’s 2020 Best in Business Award for its workforce diversity plan. Also in 2020, McKissack was elected to the National Academy of Construction. In bestowing the honor, the academy described her as “a visionary leader and entrepreneur with significant contributions in architecture, engineering, construction, and program management and a mentor to the next generation of industry leaders.”

She shows no signs of slowing down in 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a boon for McKissack’s area of the construction industry; clients have taken advantage of reduced traffic to launch school and infrastructure projects. McKissack’s company won bids for more than 40 projects, and more are expected.

She said her company is emerging from the challenges of 2020 even stronger. By slowing down, and spending less time traveling and more time interacting with employees, McKissack was able to see her business in a new light.

“I know now what we do good and what we do great,” McKissack said. “I know the people in the company, and what their strengths are, and I like to build on people’s strengths.”

Merdon said McKissack’s visionary leadership, political savvy and compassion for her employees has enabled the company to lead “mega projects” while also creating opportunities for minorities in the industry.

“Her leadership inspires people and draws really good people to the firm,” Merdon said. “Everybody has to work through tough days, but if you have a leader that believes in you, you can get it done.”

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)



The post Pioneering Engineer Leverages Success To Boost Minority Contractors appeared first on Zenger News.

VIDEO: Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders Looks To Level the Playing Field for HBCUs

VIDEO: Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders Looks To Level the Playing Field for HBCUs

Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion “Prime Time” Sanders learned the value of movement after purchasing his first “iced out” Rolex in his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons. His multi-diamond timepiece wasn’t working properly — or so he thought, until the jeweler told him to move his arm.

“The Rolex works off movement,” Sanders quipped during the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Spring Football Virtual Media Days in mid-January. “I go on movement. Whenever I’m idle, I lose energy. I’m a mover and shaker who makes things happen, and that’s how my life has always been. That’s what makes me – me!”

Sanders, who left a successful career as a football analyst at NFL Network, is now shaking up the HBCU football world as head coach at Jackson State University, one of the premier programs in the SWAC and the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

“Coach Prime” has brought energy and credibility to a proud tradition that includes two fellow Hall of Famers, Lem Barney and onetime rushing leader Walter Payton.

The Jackson State program’s tradition and success position it to level the playing field in intercollegiate athletics at HBCUs. After all, Jackson State’s three Hall of Famers are more than Ole Miss and Mississippi State have combined. Sanders thinks he can change the perception that only large schools with massive resources can offer a path to the pros.

“The playing field is horrible,” Sanders said. “If these kids had the same playing field, many more would matriculate to the next level. We lit the fire that they deserve to be called on [NFL] Draft day.”

Sanders’ first order of business has been to improve the quality of his team’s campus apparel. He has already brokered deals with athletic apparel manufacturer Under Armour to outfit his team with contemporary game day gear and fashionable sweat suits that help them stand out from other students on their “yard.” He believes players’ pride in their appearance gives them a sense of hope that will carry them to success on the field and into their professional careers.

Sanders also has wielded his considerable presence and brand in the community, developing relationships with local Golden Corral franchises so his student-athletes can eat off campus. He has added a training table where players can eat in the athletic department facilities. He is working to improve the practice fields and locker rooms as well.

“It’s like back in the day when I played: If you look good, you play good,” Sanders said.

“We don’t have the best of things, but we make the best of things. We’re trying to develop, nurture and caress them in or to help them reach their goals. Either go pro [as a football player] or professional [in fields other than sports].”

Sanders already faces challenges to recruiting. Despite producing one of the top 2021 classes in America, the school self-reported a minor rules infraction. JSU lost four weeks of recruiting after being placed on probation for a tutoring infraction that happened under the previous staff.

That’s all part of a day’s work for Sanders as he strives to comply with NCAA rules that most administrators privately feel keep HBCU programs behind the eight ball. It’s one of the many institutional challenges that Sanders has discovered since taking the job.

“The new hustle is allowing kids to opt out of their scholarships but penalizing them academically,” Sanders said. “Kids are losing credits to keep them from transferring, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sanders, who left a successful career as a football analyst at NFL Network, is now shaking up the HBCU football world as head coach at Jackson State University. (WEBN-TV/Flickr)

Sanders is having a palpable impact on Jackson State, the SWAC and HBCU sports, bringing unprecedented attention to a conference that has led its division in attendance for 42 of the last 43 years. If the spring football schedule is completed, SWAC will be the only FCS conference playing and figures to be prominently featured on ESPN. Sanders and his program will be under a bright spotlight as he lives the dream of coaching both of his sons, Shilo and Shedeur.

“I feel like I have 100 sons,” Sanders said. “I sometimes have to remind myself that my kids are on this team and this will be the first time they’ve played for a school that has a band. [We] can’t wait to see the [JSU] ‘Sonic Boom of the South.’”

On Feb. 21, America will get its first chance to see Sanders’ first edition of the Jackson State Tigers when they play the Edward Waters Tigers at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and Alex Patrick)



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