Outside of education, yearbook creation may seem like something that comes with graduating, But it is a big industry an East Flatbush business owner is breaking into, while also looking out for the scholastic needs of small and low-income schools.
A former year employee of Jostens, a large yearbook manufacturing company, Malik Means left it a few years ago after 16 years, to run Active World Scholastic, a two-year-old East New York-based company he cofounded that provides schools with graduation packages. Currently working on the graduation needs of 40 schools in New York City and New Jersey — half in Brooklyn — he is helping the small schools that larger companies are ignoring, he says.
“They are usually geared towards larger schools with 500 students and up, but then smaller schools especially when Bloomberg was elected were being neglected — then I thought I would love to find a way to target those schools,” said Means.
In 2002, former Mayor Bloomberg launched a movement to decrease the size of some of the city’s biggest high schools, by creating smaller schools within them to increase graduation rates. In the effort, many of the smaller schools, especially those in lower income areas, were also not seen as desirable clients to school memorabilia businesses, said Means.
“Their business is geared more towards middle America, and those are the schools where families have more disposable income and their prices reflect that,” he said. “But that created an opportunity for me.”
Means’ company gives a one-stop shop for all senior graduation services, offering cap and gown, senior apparel, jewelry, photographs, and yearbooks, under different package price options, prioritizing schools with 60 – 600 students. His company minimizes the multi-company handlings most school yearbook advisors have to deal with, and boasts of motivational speaker events and hands-on services where most companies do not.
“We bring public speakers in and have a presence in schools by working with the yearbook staff,” said Means. “A large company will sell a product to the school but they won’t go in on a Tuesday and work with the yearbook staff where the graduating class is probably 80 students — the win is the school is only dealing with one person, they get a better price, and we go in there and do interactive services.”
With a four-team staff at Active World Scholastic including himself, Means and his team visit schools every six weeks to show students and their advisors the ropes of print production because he says, they get to learn vital life skills.
“We’re teaching them A to Z — and they actually go out and take candid photos for their yearbook,” he said. “Everything starts with their vision and we give them old yearbooks to look at — they’re natural leaders and all you’re doing is developing those leadership skills.”
Even as his company expands into the Tri-state region and serving bigger schools, Means says he sees his company serving schools nationwide, but the most important aspect is being there for students of color at these small and low-income schools that struggle at finding services and motivation for the students.
“More than anything is that we care and it’s important that this is our company’s work — to show we care,” he said. “The kids really need our presence in these schools — we need more of us in the industry so the kids look at you and say ‘Wow you’re an entrepreneur.’”