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Four years ago, Dallas native Lincoln Stephens and his roommate Jeffrey Tate were sitting in their Chicago condo when they came up with an idea to change the face of one of the least integrated industries in American society.

What arose from that conversation was an idea to develop a network of Black males that were in advertising or marketing to collectively mentor the next generation.

“We thought to ourselves that we could be change agents and immediately got to work,” said Stephens.

Fast forward four years later — and not only has the idea expanded to include all ethnic minorities of both genders —but there are now 17 other men and women listed as founders of the organization. And they are all part of the advertising and media worlds — and all volunteers.

“No one receives any form of compensation from this,” said Stephens. “We are a volunteer based organization and our compensation is helping to mentor the future.”

Stephens, who started his career in advertising working on various brands such as Frito Lay and Coca-Cola, considers himself a relative newcomer to the industry. But despite being green in the industry, he did notice the one color that was missing around his office — Black.

“I started this effort because of the lack of diversity in the advertising and marketing spaces— really, media as a whole,” said Stephens. “There were too many instances where I saw those who didn’t understand marketing to an African-American demographic doing so.”

From this observation came the Marcus Graham Project, a name deriving from the character played by Eddie Murphy in the movie Boomerang. In the film, Murphy is an advertising executive who traded his life as a ladies man to become a mentor of youth in arts and media.

Stephens has followed in Murphy’s footsteps with The Marcus Graham Project’s ICR8 program, which began its third year in operation in June.

The program, a 10-week summer boot camp, brings young minority leaders from across the country together. And while the program has landed several of its graduates jobs at major companies and schools across the country, it does not guarantee job placement. But one thing his program has garnered for sure is attention. After three years of introducing kids to what life would be like in the media and advertising worlds, major companies like AT&T have begun to take notice.

Text continues after video from 2010 Boot Camp…

The major telephone company, which sponsored the program last year, is elated to be part of the program for a second year and have its participants learn and conduct a market research study for the company.

“AT&T is excited to support The Marcus Graham Project for a second year, we want to encourage and inspire more minorities to consider careers in the fields of marketing, advertising and public relations,” said Jennifer Jones, vice president of Diverse Markets, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. “We believe that providing the iCR8 boot camp participants with hands-on experience will help them better understand these industries. In addition, their research will provide us with valuable insights as we develop the next generation of telecommunications technology.”

And not only have major companies knocked on Lincoln’s doorstep but, his peers have come to acknowledge his hard work as well.

Just last month, Stephens was informed he will be awarded with the Change Agent Award at the upcoming 2011 ADCOLOR awards for his commitment to mentorship, young adult leadership development, and increasing diversity in the advertising and marketing fields.

ADCOLOR is an agency which seeks to support and inspire professionals of color and diversity champions within the advertising, marketing and media industries.

The news took Stephens by surprise.

“I feel extremely honored and humbled to have been selected for this award,” said Stephens. “When I quit the advertising industry four years ago with few resources and no money to begin the Marcus Graham Project, I had no clue it would grow so fast or affect so many lives. I only knew that I had to do my part to increase diversity in the industry. I’m thankful to be amongst those honored by ADCOLOR.”

With an internet radio show, networking events from Chicago to New York, and a summer program that is showing an industry that diversity isn’t hard to find if you look in the right places, Stephens hasn’t only proven to just be a change agent, but advertising and marketing executives from all over now know that they can no longer make excuses for why they can’t find minority talent anymore.

“There are no more excuses to be made. The talent is out here and we’re here to show people where you can find them,” said Stephens.

Click here for more info on the Marcus Graham Project