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Our City Thoughts: Transcending divides through 'the power of a story'

Ourcitythoughts miami herald

Binsen Gonzalez’s Our City Thoughts, a new digital media organization, is all about creativity, inspiration and community connection, so it is only fitting that the nonprofit will be publicly introducing itself this week, amid Miami’s biggest celebration of the arts and all things creative.

BINSEN1kTrBA_St_56OCT, the group’s digital media platform at ourcitythoughts.org, will tell the stories of Miami and its people through a video series, written narratives such as Q&As and organization spotlights, and live events. OCT will highlight the work of innovators, creators and thought leaders transforming the region, and it will welcome interactivity. “The sky’s the limit with the creativity the team has,” said Gonzalez, 25, who grew up in Miami, has experience in digital communications and was part of the City Year national marketing team. (Gonzalez is pictured here; photo by Emily Michot.)

The OCT team has been hard at work this year making two-minute videos, writing posts and taking portraits of some of the community’s most inspirational leaders. Last week, the organization learned it was awarded $75,000 in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to further its mission.

For the public launch Friday night in The LAB Miami’s new Idea Garden in Wynwood, expect an interactive multimedia experience, see the traveling “Cube” where stories can be told, and hear a panel discussion about Miami’s future. Because space is limited, tickets are required and at press time there was a wait list.

In honor of this week's launch, we asked Gonzalez some questions about creating and evolving Our City Thoughts:

Q. How did you come up with the idea of Our City Thoughts?

A. Right after graduating from Emerson College, one of my professors who is a nation branding expert invited a select group of grads to join him on a project collaboration with Iceland. After the financial crisis occurred and the volcano eruption caused enormous disruption to air travel, the island nation was not feeling the global TLC. 

So a group of really smart people came together  - both public and private groups to create the “Inspired by Iceland” movement. I saw the transformative power when communities come together under one space. The time I spent there and what I had experience a couple years back as a corps member of City Year Miami made me connect cultural and social dots that spun the initial idea.  

A couple months after I left Iceland, I returned to Boston with the global-local bug. I was fortunate to work under Gillian Smith, the national chief marketing officer of City Year and former CMO of Teach For America. During my time at City Year Headquarters, I dove into civic brand development and social conscious marketing. 

After a year - Miami was calling and I wanted to partake in the entrepreneurial and technology evolution happening. I had a difficult time finding the right fit. After knocking on a couple doors I visited a trusted mentor and he told point blank... “If you don’t see it, make it.” 

In a way, Our City Thoughts is a unification of all my professional, civic, and creative experiences. I want Miami to tell its story, through the voices of its people. In one of the video interviews with Dave Lawrence, he says Miami is the single most diverse region in the country and that if we can make “it” work in Miami it can work anywhere. I love that. I am committed to show the world that we are not only culturally diverse, but also an evolving and innovative society that can only be ignited based on the circumstances in our city.  

Q.  Why is OCT needed in our community?

A. A region is a lot like a person. As it grows, it needs to find a more authentic and mature identity. Imagine all our thoughts as personal expressions of Miami’s psyche. The way a person or region feels about themselves is the way the person confronts life and challenges. 

I deeply believe Miami is ready to have a real sense of confidence beyond its sexy looks and beautiful shores. 

I believe a great majority of the community feels this way. It is time and the need is real for us to share our city thoughts of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. That last part is especially important for growth. You can’t improve if you don’t know who you are.   

Q. What is your vision for OCT?

A. We want to capture hundreds of city thoughts and engage people from all over the world to join the discourse happening in Miami. 

We are a global city; we want every kid in the suburbs to understand what that means for Miami and for her. Through digital media we can break physical walls and barriers. Every person in Miami should know what eMerge Americas is trying to accomplish and every child in Miami should have access to the transformation in culture happening at downtown's waterfront. 

Our vision is to create a platform that transcends cultural, economic and informational divides. OCT needs to speak to everyone and anyone willing to put in time to make Miami better. And there’s no better way than through the power of a story. 

Q.  Who is your target audience for OCT?

A. Our primary target audience are Millennials connected and disconnected to Miami. But we’ve grown, even since our start: we have seen how the stories already published are transcending demographics. Everyone who has a stake in the city’s future is part of our demo. 

We plan to also produce content in Spanish; eventually, we seek to reach across the Americas. 

Q. What features of OCT should not be missed?

A. Beginning next year, we will launch the two-minute video series featuring some of the most committed and innovative people in our city. Another one of the coolest elements of our grassroots efforts is the CUBE, a fully equipped video booth that will be moved across the community to capture the thoughts of people all over Miami. Not only will it be a sight to see but the ability to share your thoughts will be empowering. And it helps us...we believe that some of the best ideas are available at street level.

BINSEN2LANDJJl21_St_56Q.  Who is on your OCT team?  

A. The OCT team is small but mighty, from the incredibly experienced and respected producer and director Michael Landsberg (pictured at right with Binsen Gonzalez); Ashley Cummings hailing from one of the top three PR firms in the world based in San Francisco; Joshua Fay, a world traveler and grassroots ethnographer; Adam Goldberg, a young and cunning writer and comedian based in LA; Alexandra Manrique, a passionate children’s court advocate; Bryan Quadros, a highly skilled accountant from Bacardi; David Gruberg, one of Greenberg Traurig’s brilliant legal minds; and our extraordinary board chair, Vanessa Kuljis from K&L Gates.We have created everything purely on sweat equity, love for Miami, and a desire to positively impact our community.

Q. How do you plan to keep OCT fresh and engaging?

A. The great thing is, we use our own model. By continually soliciting thoughts and opinions, we’ll stay fresh...because we’ll be asking new people all the time. And our team is bi-coastal...we have alliances in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston to harness the creative energy of the entire country. 

Bottom line: We must continue being forward thinking, having incredibly high standards for the quality of the content we produce, and love for what we are doing. The bread and butter of OCT is the people we feature, as long as we continue to find amazing community members we will continue being fresh and engaging. Miami is ripe with those, if it wasn’t, what is happening in the city wouldn't be. 

Q. You've said OCT's mission is to help shape the future narrative of Miami. What would you like the narrative to be? 

A. The narrative must be forward thinking - a place where creativity, work ethic and passion create solutions that will impact the nation and the world. This is absolutely necessary past the stories we tell, we must create solutions for the problems of humanity to be considered among the great cities of the world. 

Q.  Who is your role mentor and why?

A. I have many role models and mentors, many I have found through my travels - many I have found here at home. I have been challenged, inspired and supported by too many great Miami leaders to name just one. That’s the beauty of this city, if you are persistent and committed enough with a good idea - you can go far. And you never have to choose favorites. 

Q. Anything you would like to add?

A. Our City Thoughts needs and will need the support of the community to succeed. It has the potential to inspire millions. From media leaders, to financial supporters, connectors and enthusiasts, we need you! This Miami kid never would have thought it possible one day, he could possibly be doing something as cool as OCT. 

It’s been thanks to people who were willing to give me 10 minutes. 

Posted Dec. 1, 2013