Former multimedia, photography and design graduate students Eric Derachio Jackson Jr. and Mylz Blake created Black Cub Productions to give underrepresented communities in Syracuse a platform to be creative.
Eric Derachio Jackson Jr. and Mylz Blake have been friends since middle school. They attended the Newhouse School as master’s students in the multimedia, photography and design program together. Now, they are co-founders of Black Cub Productions (BCP), a multimedia creative agency based in Syracuse.
Although mixing business with friendship can be tense, Jackson says working with Blake is one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“[We] can talk to each other about anything and be able to really communicate and express how we feel, listen to one another,” Jackson says. “We both know what we want, and I think that’s always something we keep at the forefront of what we do. [We understand] what we want out of this business and, more importantly, our life.”
Jackson and Blake had the idea to start BCP while they were students. After leaving Newhouse, they felt prepared to turn their idea into a reality.
“In the Newhouse grad program, they really push you to learn how to be your own multimedia storyteller, and it’s kind of similar to being an entrepreneur,” Jackson says. “[We thought,] ‘We want to tell stories. Let’s just go and tell stories.’”
They began by making documentaries for nonprofits in the Syracuse area, but found that they often saw opportunities to use their work for marketing that their clients missed, which inspired them to expand BCP into a full service agency.
“The main thing that gave us the courage to say, ‘This is something we want to do,’ was we were very, very passionate about having people who look like us, Black people, entering this space of multimedia… and most importantly, of storytelling,” Jackson says. The goal went from creating the work themselves, to enabling people from Black and other diverse communities to tell their own stories.
“We felt that if we started something as two Black men hoping to bring in more people who look like us, and just diverse people in general, we could build a space that’s for diverse creatives and that’s putting [our stories at] the forefront.”
One way BCP is doing that is by teaching future generations of creatives how to be storytellers.
The Central New York Community Foundation, a philanthropic foundation in Syracuse, created a program called the Black Equity & Excellence Fund, which supports Black-led community-based projects. Jackson and Blake became interested in the program and created Life Through My Own Lens, a 12-week storytelling program for students in grades seven to 12.
“They learn everything from storytelling to public speaking to how to interview to how to be interviewed,” Jackson says.
The inaugural program took place in April. Canon supplied cameras and the students learned how to use different lenses, how to light a shot and how to compose a story. At the end of the program, the students put together a final presentation in which they told their own stories.
“This [program] was super important to us because…I didn’t really want this to just be the Eric and Mylz show,” Jackson says. “We wanted to find a way to allow diverse creatives to not feel like they have to go to Hollywood or Atlanta or New York City to produce films. It can happen right here in Syracuse. We wanted to open the door for diverse creatives to be able to have great employment in this field, as well as just access to [storytelling].”
Jackson and Blake will host another session of the program this fall and are hoping to keep it going after that, extending it to include older storytellers as well. It’s their intention that through teaching these skills, they can help bring new business opportunities to the community.
“The Black community in Syracuse is one of the poorest in the nation,” Jackson says. “Being able to bring media to them seems to help that community to start building itself back up through this work.”
But whether it’s for money or not, Jackson says storytelling is its own reward.
“Your perspective and creativity is a gift,” he says, “and it doesn’t exist in the world until you give it.”
Adrianne Morales ’21 is an alumna of the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.