Disrupting the way we view pop culture and politics and how it is integrated into our educational system is the foundation of the millennial-led organization “Trill or Not Trill.” One of the masterminds behind the brand, Lenny Williams, spoke with BE Modern Man about the state of education, the popularity of politics in today’s culture, and how a Southern-based hip-hop group helped them to birth a national youth movement.
Name: Lenny Williams
Profession: Professor and Entrepreneur
BLACK ENTERPRISE: What is your inspiration?
Williams: My biggest inspiration is my younger self. I remember wanting to be so successful on a large platform and not being able to fully see it. As I continue to grow, this constant thought reminds me to stay humble and also to give back to the youth before me.
BE: Describe what “Trill or Not Trill” means, how it was born, and how can one successfully apply it to their everyday life.
Williams: Trill or Not Trill was birthed in October 2015 as an idea inspired by the social media musings of MrJeffDess. After a post by our co-founder MrJeffDess, we joined forces and started a movement that goes beyond articles and blog posts. Trill or Not Trill is an educational platform made to integrate culturally relevant content with the world of student development and leadership. Trill or Not Trill brings together voices from pop culture to student affairs. Trill or Not Trill is a blog, a speakers’ bureau, a media platform, a classroom, and more. The best way to apply this to daily life is understanding that education has no boundaries. Educational lessons are found in TV, sports, current news and more; it is up to us as educators and leaders to bridge the gap.
BE: From a millennial and educator’s point of view, how has the idea of Trill” serviced you?
Williams: First, I must help the readers understand the meaning behind “Trill.” The word “trill” originated from the hip-hop group UGK, coined as a combination of the words “truth” and “real.” In education, we must be able to teach reality (real) and the truth within our academic spaces and beyond. As you can see from our site and presentations, we tend to mix popular culture with the world of education and leadership, which keeps it trill for our audience. Also, education is such a key ingredient to success. Now, when I say education, it does not necessarily mean getting many degrees or being college educated. Being a consistent student of life and the career path you are looking to enter will bring nothing but success your way.
BE: How does this platform exceed age, race, and socio-economic status while serving as a political, social, and cultural tool in this age of Obama, post-Obama and the Trump administrations?
Williams: Believe it or not, Obama and Trump have turned politics into popular culture. I am meeting young students across the country that are now taking an interest in politics, social justice, and more so it’s up to us at Trill to keep this momentum going through our work. We have articles and workshops that will teach students educational lessons from political tweets, marches, etc. Our company can find learning lessons in all genres of popular culture, which gives no limits on our audience, from age to socio-economic class. You will always have an understanding of our message.
BE: How do leaders like yourself break through the static and make an impact amongst your peers?
Williams: I always tell myself statistics and numbers can be broken. If one sat back and read statistics, watch a newscast and listen to different pessimistic individuals they will start to add invisible barriers. In my position, as an educational leader, it is my duty to make an impact to help my peers and students before me. For example, at my job, I was given the opportunity to help create a program for high school students to receive college-level credits at a discount rate; immediately, the first thing that came to mind was to offer this program to my high school alma mater. In a few months, this program was implemented and increased college readiness amongst students in my hometown. Real leaders will always find a way to remove barriers that exist on their road to success.
BE: Why is it important that BE Modern Men like you are represented in your industry?
Williams: As an educator, many times there is a shortage of African American males within those spaces. It is important for my culture to help the youth see options within their future careers. As an individual growing up in a blue-collar town, my options were very broad and created a myopic view of success. Being a professor and having the ability to create programs with other unique professions, we can disrupt traditional views of success. We are in a fast-moving society that constantly welcomes new ways of leadership and as educators, we must mold these ideas.
BE: As a man with a strong character, how do you see your impact on your community?
Williams: The more I accomplish as a man, the more people hold me accountable. As an educator, I understand my gifts and when to use them within my community. I have an article on my site called “Becoming the Luke Cage of Your Community” in which I describe how as an educator, I am equipped with super powers through my gifts of knowledge and leadership skills that are needed to help my community and beyond. My strong character traits need to play a role similar to the lead character in the hit show Luke Cage.
BE: What does a BE Modern Man mean to you?
Williams: A Be Modern Man must be humble, innovative, and compelling while completing his daily goals. This man must never forget the path it has taken to gain this status. We must also reach back to others who are counting on us to lead them to success. This man must be innovative in the sense of keeping up with the times and direction of society. As we continue to fight stereotypes and statistics. This man must continue to think creatively outside of the box. To be a winner, we must always be ahead of the curve. Oftentimes, we are the only representation of color in so many spaces. We must make our voices heard and our presence known. We are representing so many that will never have a chance to be in these same spaces.
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