Learning A Lesson

Clayton Banks wants everyone to know that his company’s latest project, Realizing the Dream: Nonviolence or Nonexistence, is not your typical e-learning course. Patterned after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s six core principles of nonviolence and six steps to nonviolent social change, this online education program was developed by New York-based Ember Media for The King Center in Atlanta and sponsored by Denny’s.

Using an online curriculum, the program features online role-playing activities and volunteer opportunities for young people who are at risk of being the victim of a violent attack. Banks, Ember Media’s CEO, says the technology-based program hits close to home for the nation’s 11- to 18-year-olds, 900,000 of who were victims of violent acts in 2002.

“We wanted to engage youth through a wide array of interactive learning modules, including computer-based activities and volunteerism, which encourage them to practice nonviolence and to pursue a life of service to others,” says Banks, 43. “It goes beyond just sitting at the computer, clicking, and reading — it’s much more dynamic and interactive.”

And it’s just one of several community-oriented projects that Ember Media has undertaken since Banks founded the full-service multimedia production studio in 1998. With work experience that included stints as regional director of marketing and sales for Showtime Networks and senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Sega Channel, Banks set his sights on creating the first business-card-sized CD-ROM, known as the DigiCard. BLACK ENTERPRISE featured the introduction of the DigiCard in its August 1999 article, “A New Twist on the Business Card Shuffle.”

“I shaped the business around the fact that a business-card-shaped CD-ROM could effectively distribute rich multimedia content not readily available on the Internet due to limitations on bandwidth at the time,” says Banks, who invested $30,000 of his own funds to start the company. “We launched a technology that no one else in North America had.”

Of course, technology has come a long way since 1998, and Ember Media has changed with the times. In February 2003, for example, the firm introduced its first version of TheKey: An Interactive Guide to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The CD-ROM is distributed free of charge and sponsored by ESPN Deportes, Wachovia, and Lockheed Martin, among others.

Banks says his target audience for TheKey was the underserved, inner-city child who lacks the resources and/or support to get to college. Using technology as a delivery platform, Banks proceeded to create a comprehensive guide to walk that audience through the process. The company distributes about 300,000 CD-ROMs each year to African American and Hispanic students. This year the company will distribute a general-market edition of TheKey.

Ember Media has 10 employees and a satellite office in Tokyo. The company posted sales of more than $1 million in 2004, up 20% from 2003. Banks expects another 15% sales growth in 2005. To generate profits, the firm signs up corporations to sponsor the CD-ROMs. The companies then place non-obtrusive advertising throughout the programs. Ember Media also produces interactive media products for companies such as Pepsi,