Meet Do Something Awards Semi-Finalist Brandan Odums

Brandan Odums

As a New Orleans native, Brandan lived through Hurricane Katrina. He has dedicated himself to improving the lives of his underserved community, taking on issues such as teen pregnancy, high school dropouts, and unemployment. His organization 2-Cent creates webisodes and short documentaries that use humor and attitude to tackle serious issues and to empower young people. asked Brandan some questions about what inspired him to create his organization and what his plans are for the future of 2-Cent.

How did you feel when you first learned of the problem you’re addressing?

I grew up understanding these problems existed. I didn’t want to live my life the victim of statistics nor did I want to wait for someone from the outside to help. Like Ghandi said, I knew I had to “create the change I wanted to see.” I learned from my elders’ mistakes and successes about how they addressed these issues in the past.

How do you feel about it now?

I feel confident that young people are smart, bold, and courageous enough to change their statistical destiny if given the proper example. I know change is coming.

What person or experience sticks with you from when you first started your project?

2-Cent has awarded me countless memories and cherished moments. The experiences that stick mostly with me is getting the affirmation and support from some of the people I looked up to as inspirations way before I stared this project. Mos Def was always a guiding light to me, showing me through his music and his body of work that it is possible to be a conscious voice of the people and still maintain a pulse of what’s cool. After meeting him while we were covering the Jena 6 story a few years ago, he became a friend and supporter of 2-Cent. He showed his support by understanding, respecting and speaking up for the work of 2-Cent. 

Who or what is your inspiration to keep going?

The struggles that exist everyday in my community give us endless motivation. The tales of violence on the news, the 3,000 students who drop out of school everyday, the climate of ignorance that plagues the entertainment world, the people throughout history whom I idolized, my elders who gave me this will to fight, my parents who sheltered me just enough to build the curiosity to see what was out there, my teachers over the years who paid attention to my dream and helped me take steps toward it, the music created in the struggle, and my will to create. Like one of my elders says, "You can't lead the people if you don't love the people. You can't save the people if you don't serve the people."

Can you describe the moment you knew that you were actually making a difference?

The most recent validation 2-Cent has received from the community was their response to comments Tom from The Tom Joyner Morning Show made about one of our video parodies. His comments were unflattering, but it was clear he didn't have all of the information behind the video. Our supporters heard the comments and flooded his email, Facebook, Twitter, producers and co-hosts in a matter of days until the TJMS responded and allowed us to come on the show and explain our intentions in the video. This recognition and victory would have not happened if it weren't for our supporters. During those few days we realized that we reach more people than we thought. The response from the masses of people fighting and standing up for this idea that was once words on paper was now something that other people could take ownership over and defend. that was a humbling moment and will forever be treasured. 

What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start your project? When you were growing it?

Our biggest obstacle was overcoming the fear of failure. Being bold enough to step out in uncharted terrain and make a path on our own, stepping out on faith. Hurricane Katrina helped solidify our group and helped us clearly see some of the problems we spoke about were real and not just ideas. 

What’s been the biggest lesson through the process?

More than anything, we have learned to be patient. It’s been five years and we have a long way to go, but I am grateful for this journey. The time we are spending in this struggle to create change, void of big-dollar support, moving only by inspiration and hope that we are making a difference. Like we joke all the time: "We're not making any change, but we're still making change." 

What has surprised you the most about the journey that has taken you here today?

The opportunities that 2-Cent receives never stop amazing us. Being able to travel all over to spread this message and seeing the youth we’ve been able to inspire and help is rewarding on its own. We still get excited when we see people walking around in 2-Cent T-shirts. One of out biggest accomplishments is that we’re still on this journey. The word 2-Cent has shaped my identity in more ways than I could have imagined.

What advice do you have for other young leaders who are having a tough time getting their ideas off of the ground?

History was made in the present. Find inspiration from those who made a difference in history. The first step is to do it without any excuses. Then understand that the work you’re doing is needed and understand why it’s needed. And use that as motivation to make you work. 

If you could have done one thing differently based on what you know now, what would it be and why?

I would've worked harder and smarter. I look at all the time spent not working towards this issue as time that could have been used to advance our cause and our direction as a group. I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of failure, and not reaching our goals would be failure. 

What’s next for your project?

2-Cent will continue to build. Every project we do is better that the one we did before. So on that path we will continue to improve our methods and in turn improve our reach and our cause. We have a big festival coming up On May 21st called “Listen! Literacy and Arts Festival.” Using the idea of 2-Cent TV we are creating this live event allowing young people to use the arts as a tool to create change in our community. We will have an art contest, film contest, and book contest. The event will also include live performances and we'll be giving away 3,000 new books from Scholastic.

If you could have any celebrity film a PSA for you, who would it be and why?

There are so many inspirational public figures we feel would be great spokespersons for 2-Cent, but our biggest influencers who would best deliver our message would be our big brother Mos Def, Spike Lee, Barack Obama, or Will Smith!

Read more about all of the DoSomething Awards FinalistsGO