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Baltimore college students create program to provide equal access to the arts
Courtesy of Kristofer Madu

Madu (left) and Banerjee (right) with First Fridays Group participant, Amaru (middle)

While many college students spend their campus years attending parties, drinking, and sleeping in, the group of young adults who competed in a recent tech for good competition are setting the bar high.

Nearly 50 students representing 22 countries around the world recently participated in Red Bull Basement University, a four-day workshop in Toronto, Canada, comprised of lectures, keynote speakers, panels, and individual mentorship sessions with global tech leaders and inspirational entrepreneurs.


The event allowed the student teams to showcase and further develop their innovative business ideas, which were all created to help improve life on campus by driving positive change through technology.

Upworthy was able to speak with the team representing the United States, called First Fridays Group, which made it into the top 10 group of finalists. The founders, Kristofer Madu and Sindhu Banerjee, are students at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and developed an idea that promotes equal opportunity and access to the arts. The team explains how they came up with the idea for First Fridays Group, their vision for the future, and how technology will help them continue to improve the lives of others through their work.

First Friday's Group - Red Bull Basement U Submissionwww.youtube.com

Upworthy: Could you explain your idea and how you came up with it?

Kristofer Madu: We believe everyone deserves the opportunity to explore their creative passions. So we're becoming the missing link between college students and their hidden creative talents. And that looks like easy skill acquisition in technical art form. To make that more practical sounding, consider art forms like DJ, photography, videography, music production. They're expensive and they're inaccessible for many who can't afford them or even just perceive them as too hard.

Sindhu Banerjee: That's where First Fridays comes in. What we've been doing is providing specialized one-on-one training with any college students. And so we bring them into our little studio. I provide them with one-on-one training, and through three 45-minute sessions, we're able to teach them all the basics of DJ training. And then right after that, we have them perform in front of crowds of 500 people, and in the front row is their friends, all watching and recording. It's a really transformative experience in which we give them self-confidence, we teach them a new skill, and we imbue them with the talent that they can now use for paid opportunities.

Upworthy: What is your background? If you're teaching them, you obviously have DJ skills. But let's say someone wants to learn more about photography. Do you guys have all those skills between the two of you, or are you bringing in outside mentors who are volunteering their time to do this?

Banerjee: Yeah, so we started off, the three of us... Duncan is our third member who's in the United States. He has excellent photography skills. His dad has photographed for Prince. I've been deejaying for the past three years, and Kris has been rapping for the past eight. So together, we do have strong artistic abilities.

One-on-one trainings take a lot of time. And so the first step in trying to train as many people as possible, we brought on two more student DJs who have helped DJ more students. So at this point, we've trained over 40 people how to DJ.

But that's the reason why we want to go into tech is because if we want to be teaching as many people as possible, we want to be able to have a platform to make it more tangible. The first 40 minutes of what I'm teaching anybody is the exact same stuff. It's beat matching, it's filtering, and then it's putting songs together to build their set. That applies to every single training I do, and so to solve that inefficiency, we can make that standard on a digitized platform.

Madu: I want to stress that our platform is not at all limited to DJ, and we've provided opportunities for creatives in several mediums, whether it's one-on-one DJ trainings, or photography and videography workshops, or even studio recording sessions for recording artists.

So I want to tell you a story of what exactly that's looked like. Baltimore is a city with a lot of economic disparity. It's one of the top 10 most impoverished cities in the United States. As a result, there are high degrees of separation between universities and the local communities that surround them, especially in Baltimore. This is a need that exists all around the country.

I want to talk about Mandy. Mandy is a Baltimore native and she goes to a local Baltimore school. She's always had a passion for photography, but she's struggled a lot to find outlets to practice those. So every single month we organize events, and Mandy, we've brought on our team as our event photographer. But in addition, through our booking agency…we connected Mandy to two paid contracts with Johns Hopkins University to gain economic opportunities through the passion that, before, she thought something like that was impossible.

Upworthy: So are the institutions or venues where these people are showcasing their skills volunteering their space? What does that business model look like?

Madu: We are creating a sustainable business, and thus far, it has been revenue generating. So we have revenue coming in from different streams. Our events are thrown every single month and they're bringing in crowds of up to 500.

Banerjee: And just to add to that, we strive to be a least-cost provider. Companies throwing events similar to us charge $43 for a single ticket, and that would come with maybe one drink. We provide tickets at $5 to $8 each. And so we're able to bring in all people from all sorts of background.

Upworthy: You briefly mentioned how you see tech coming into play, but do you have a vision for what your platform would look like? Would you offer, say, an intro to deejaying as a video for students?

Banerjee: It's really simple. We offer a gamified process. So we want to follow a model where you're rewarded points based on your skill and consistency. With those points, you can decide how to use them. If you want to use them in order to access more higher-level features, you can go for that. If you want to be able to perform at our events, you can also do that. And then the third one is bookings, at which point you apply to get booked by the First Fridays Group booking agency, and we look at your skill levels based on the points you've garnered, and if you're good enough, then we're going to go check you out. And if we check you out and you're good enough, then you're going to come perform for us.

Madu: We are essentially not just establishing an app, but we're establishing a pipeline where someone that has no skill, no exposure, no experience, and they didn't even know they had the interest, can go from a curious creative to a confident crowd favorite, never having to spend a single dollar of their own money. Let's say they want to upgrade or do a subscription model. The cost, if you want to go out and become a DJ yourself, you're spending more than a thousand dollars to actually get good the right way. And that can be boiled down to something affordable on the college student's budget, as well as profit can be subsidized in order to make it available for those from lower income backgrounds. So that's what drives us and that's what that looks like in tech.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

All images provided by Bombas

We can all be part of the giving movement

True

We all know that small acts of kindness can turn into something big, but does that apply to something as small as a pair of socks?

Yes, it turns out. More than you might think.

A fresh pair of socks is a simple comfort easily taken for granted for most, but for individuals experiencing homelessness—they are a rare commodity. Currently, more than 500,000 people in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Being unstably housed—whether that’s couch surfing, living on the streets, or somewhere in between—often means rarely taking your shoes off, walking for most if not all of the day, and having little access to laundry facilities. And since shelters are not able to provide pre-worn socks due to hygienic reasons, that very basic need is still not met, even if some help is provided. That’s why socks are the #1 most requested clothing item in shelters.

homelessness, bombasSocks are a simple comfort not everyone has access to

When the founders of Bombas, Dave Heath and Randy Goldberg, discovered this problem, they decided to be part of the solution. Using a One Purchased = One Donated business model, Bombas helps provide not only durable, high-quality socks, but also t-shirts and underwear (the top three most requested clothing items in shelters) to those in need nationwide. These meticulously designed donation products include added features intended to offer comfort, quality, and dignity to those experiencing homelessness.

Over the years, Bombas' mission has grown into an enormous movement, with more than 75 million items donated to date and a focus on providing support and visibility to the organizations and people that empower these donations. These are the incredible individuals who are doing the hard work to support those experiencing —or at risk of—homelessness in their communities every day.

Folks like Shirley Raines, creator of Beauty 2 The Streetz. Every Saturday, Raines and her team help those experiencing homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles “feel human” with free makeovers, haircuts, food, gift bags and (thanks to Bombas) fresh socks. 500 pairs, every week.

beauty 2 the streetz, skid row laRaines is out there helping people feel their beautiful best

Or Director of Step Forward David Pinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, who offers Bombas donations to those trying to recover from addiction. Launched in 2009, the Step Forward program encourages participation in community walking/running events in order to build confidence and discipline—two major keys to successful rehabilitation. For each marathon, runners are outfitted with special shirts, shoes—and yes, socks—to help make their goals more achievable.

step forward, helping homelessness, homeless non profitsRunning helps instill a sense of confidence and discipline—two key components of successful recovery

Help even reaches the Front Street Clinic of Juneau, Alaska, where Casey Ploof, APRN, and David Norris, RN give out free healthcare to those experiencing homelessness. Because it rains nearly 200 days a year there, it can be very common for people to get trench foot—a very serious condition that, when left untreated, can require amputation. Casey and Dave can help treat trench foot, but without fresh, clean socks, the condition returns. Luckily, their supply is abundant thanks to Bombas. As Casey shared, “people will walk across town and then walk from the valley just to come here to get more socks.”

step forward clinic, step forward alaska, homelessness alaskaWelcome to wild, beautiful and wet Alaska!

The Bombas Impact Report provides details on Bombas’s mission and is full of similar inspiring stories that show how the biggest acts of kindness can come from even the smallest packages. Since its inception in 2013, the company has built a network of over 3,500 Giving Partners in all 50 states, including shelters, nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to supporting our neighbors who are experiencing- or at risk- of homelessness.

Their success has proven that, yes, a simple pair of socks can be a helping hand, an important conversation starter and a link to humanity.

You can also be a part of the solution. Learn more and find the complete Bombas Impact Report by clicking here.

via UNSW

This article originally appeared on 07.10.21


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