Seeing education as a means of ‘creating change in our world’

Nonprofit pioneer Lincoln Stephens launches a new career at Flatiron School

When Lincoln Stephens started his career in advertising, the first thing he noticed was how few of his peers were people of color.

“It’s pretty easy to recognize when you walk in a room and you are the only one that looks like you,” says Stephens.

He remembered that when he was about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Missouri-Columbia, one of his mentors suggested that he start a network of people of color in the industry.

Stephens decided he would do just that, and founded the Dallas-based Marcus Graham Project, a nonprofit that focuses on training and mentoring people of color in advertising, marketing, and the media.

After almost 12 years at the nonprofit, Stephens is embarking on a new journey as campus director of the new Dallas location of the coding academy Flatiron School. But he remains heavily involved with the Marcus Graham Project.

Stephens says diversity and equality were frequent topics of conversation during his childhood in Dallas. His father focused on minority development work and and his mother helped run the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education for 40 years.

It was while working at a Chicago advertising agency that Stephens sketched out his plan for what would eventually become the Marcus Graham Project. The enthusiastic response he got from friends and colleagues persuaded him to quit his job and move back to Dallas to work on the project full-time.

“What made the transition possible,” says Stephens, “was recognizing a problem and saying, ‘How can I be a part of the solution?’”

He’s seen the Marcus Graham Project grow from a volunteer-run program to a national nonprofit with a full-time staff. The organization has expanded to Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, and New York.

Stephens is especially proud of Marcus Graham’s bootcamps, which give participants the skills and connections to land jobs in communications.

“We work with hundreds of young leaders to help shape their career and advocate for the awareness of career opportunities in our field,” he says.

It was in 2018, around the 10th anniversary of the Marcus Graham Project, that Stephens began to explore other industries where he could make an impact. When he heard that Flatiron School—which helps students start software-engineering careers—was opening a second location in Texas, he knew it was a good fit.

Shannon Cobourn, regional director of Flatiron School, says his background made him a standout.

“Lincoln is passionate about building bridges and creating opportunity in Dallas,” she says. “He’s adamant about contributing to and helping to build a local community where tech jobs benefit everyone. He’s made a career of connecting people and organizations to create meaningful, flourishing ecosystems of change.”

Stephens says Flatiron School appeals to him because “it’s about access to opportunity and helping to facilitate education.”

“What would be the purpose of living life if you aren’t a part of something greater than yourself?” he says. “I think the greatest thing we can be a part of is helping to create change in our world.”

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