Scholar Finds His Inner Media Mogul at Morehouse College

Date Released: May 12, 2017

By D. Aileen Dodd

The way Chris Sumlin sees it, there are two kinds of people. Those who wait for life to happen to them and those who make their own opportunities. He’s the latter.

Sumlin came to Morehouse College from Columbus, Ohio, with an advanced degree and a fan following. He’s a motivational book author and a YouTube viral video-maker whose creativity landed him on the college page of USA Today.

“I was in reflection one morning and the whole idea came to me as a dream,” Sumlin said of his most successful video. “I’m really good at resume tips, and I love Beyoncé. I took five Beyoncé songs and merged them with resume tips to make a video. It got more than 5,000 views.”

On May 21, Sumlin, a first-generation college student, will graduate with a degree in Cinema, Television & Emerging Media Studies. He used his time at Morehouse College to market himself as a budding filmmaker and future talk show host. He dreams of studying under film and talk TV mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Until then, Sumlin will hone his craft. He is pursuing his Master of Science in Television degree, with a concentration in producing and management, at Boston University.

Life in the spotlight came easy for him, even as a child. Sumlin, who has three siblings, has always been ambitious. He grew up under the careful watch of parents with high expectations. He got his associate's degree in high school. He went to college early in a dual enrollment program at The Charles School at Ohio Dominican University. The classes were tough, but he rose to the challenge, graduating at 18 as the only African American male to earn an associate’s degree that year.

Sumlin then researched high-performing, historically black colleges because he wanted to go to a four-year college with other black men. He found Morehouse. “I got deferred when I first applied in the spring of 2013,” he said. But Sumlin got in the following winter. He took on federal student loans to afford the tuition price tag and got help through a $5,000 grant from the United Negro College Fund.

Morehouse is where Sumlin found his true passion. First, he was an energetic business major with a focus on marketing. He wanted to help black-owned businesses market themselves to the mainstream. Then, he took accounting.

“I got a ‘D’ and I said the ‘D’ stood for ‘Don’t stay.’”

During his sophomore year, Sumlin found a major that fit his personality, his creativity, and his high aptitude for self-promotion. He became a CTEMS major after taking Introduction to Television as an elective.

“It’s been an amazing journey ever since,” he said. Professor Adisa Iwa became his mentor. He told Sumlin that he had talent and should pursue a future in entertainment.

“I had never been a really strong student, but when I went to CTEMS I was constantly getting A’s,” Sumlin said. “My professors knew I was a star student. When I am passionate about something, it’s a wrap.”

Sumlin had a knack for making things happen. Once, he decided that he wanted to meet Kim Kardashian because she has the star power that he desires to possess in the future. He was in Los Angeles in his sophomore year on an internship at Fox Television. Sumlin was part of a team advising Fox in audience strategy and pushing the soon-to-be-hit shows “Empire” and “Rosewood” to minority viewers.

Within those 10 weeks, he met Kardashian at a book-signing. Then, the following year, he released the Beyoncé’ video that got him the internship of a lifetime.

“One of the recruiters at NBC saw that I had made this cool video and hadn’t graduated yet,” Sumlin said. “They offered me a job on the ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ in their fellowship program.”

Soon after, came Sumlin’s first book “Dealing With This Thing Called Life,” a 12-chapter, self-help book published by Columbus Press that sold 500 copies. Sumlin said it speaks to millennials of color. He wrote, for example, about his experiences as a teen growing up and trying to get into Morehouse.  He shared his feelings of inadequacy when he joined the Glee Club, but was afraid to sing aloud. He later summoned the courage and was selected to go on an East Coast tour with the world-famous singers. 

During his time at Morehouse, Sumlin also built a popular YouTube channel, a blog, a website, and an impressive brand. His fans appreciate his honesty. He shares his imperfections through life lessons. (Sumlin also wrote, filmed, and produced a short film about a young, black man seeking to affirm his masculinity at college.)

After graduation, he hopes to work in the summer internship program at the Oprah Winfrey Network.

“If I could be anything in the world, I would want to have my own network like Oprah Winfrey,” he said. “My brand is all about providing content that is entertaining and inspirational.”

Sumlin credits Morehouse College with helping him to find his calling. He takes pride in being the first in his family to receive a degree, and he is honored to be a Morehouse Man. He defines the distinction this way: “A Morehouse Man is someone who believes in his ability to change the world. That belief will guide him and lead him in his ability to do so. As a Morehouse Man, you also have the responsibility to give back to your community, to be a role model and a game-changer.”

Sumlin is on his way.

“People love the fact that I take myself so seriously, that I even have the audacity to do the kind of work that I do,” he said. “I wrote a book at 22. And I have an entire website that gives advice to people younger and older than me. A lot of older people don’t believe that anything amazing can happen to them. 

“People need what I’m doing.”

Read more about Chris: 

Name: Chris Sumlin

Major: Cinema, Television & Emerging Media Studies

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Clubs: I was in the Glee Club my freshman and sophomore years. Following that second year, I made a conscious choice not be a part of any organization or club on campus. My intent was to see if I could make a positive impact on this campus on my own terms and merit as an individual. I can say with confidence that I believe I did that. 

Name of professor(s) integral to my success: Dr. Elania Jemison-Hudson’s unwavering support, guidance, and counsel lifted me in ways that I can never describe. She's a true gem. I also have to acknowledge Professor Adisa Iwa who was the sole professor that convinced me to take my career in the TV Industry seriously. 

Plans after graduation: This summer, I plan to write another book, and then continue my studies at Boston University's Master of Science in Television program. My big life goal is to one day work with Oprah and the Oprah Winfrey Network. 

Last Modified: May 15, 2017, 11:05 AM, by: Kara Walker

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