by Rachel James-Terry
Pop culture and African-American culture is too expansive to be whittled down and compressed into a social media hashtag, says Jackson State University graduate Frederick Burns, the founder of app development company RuniT LLC.
To be clear, the 26-year-old has no issue with hashtags, but he believes his filters offer more freedom of expression. “I felt as if African-Americans really didn’t have a way of representing ourselves outside a hashtag,” he says.
So, in 2017, he released CultureSnap – an app chock-full of features that reflect the ever-changing trend of words, attitudes and perspectives inspired by mainstream millennials.
CultureSnap allows users to take photos and videos then add popular and colorful filters containing catchy idioms like “Hair on Fleek” or “Netflix and Chill.” It also includes representations from the National Pan-Hellenic Council’s organization of black fraternities and sororities. Furthermore, it comes equipped with a full- body camera that offers photo editing, zooming options, red-eye correction, teeth whitening and meme creation among other clever selections.
Although Burns is clear that his concept represents “the culture” on a larger scale, he acknowledges that his app is intended to work congruently with social media and not in competition. “My app cannot thrive without Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I need those platforms,” he says.
After spending at least two years cultivating the app, Burns says one of his clients, Kylon Alford- Windfield, motivated him to release it. Now, Windfield assists with the creation of strategic partnerships. JSU alumnus and friend Keonte Turner, did the beta testing and, also assists with marketing and business expansion. The Jackson native credits graphic designer Cornelius “Hank” Williams for creating the logo, in-app filters, motion graphics and promotional videos. Stephen Capler, another JSU alumnus, is head of Android development. Reshonda Perryman, a JSU graduate and graphic designer, has generated over 300 of the app’s splashy and entertaining filters in addition to handling promotional graphics and customization.
“We just try to stay up on the different trends that are going on but also tackle important things associated with HBCUs and black excellence – ideas that will portray the culture in a good way,” Perryman explains.
Initially, she viewed CultureSnap as just another freelance job but could not help but to be consumed by Burns’ enthusiasm and passion for the project. She also agrees that CultureSnap is filling a gap in the social media market when it comes to providing certain demographics fun alternatives that reflect their lifestyle.
To date, CultureSnap has partnered with celebrity chef Ahki, nine Texas state fair classics, JSU and several other HBCUs. But, the RuniT founder is most ecstatic about an official partnership with Oprah Winfrey’s the OWN Network promoting the television series, “Black Love.”
“I am beyond excited,” Burn says. “The opportunities can be limitless when you have a vision, put it on paper and then turn it into something tangible.”
Some might say the engineer’s success is hard earned. After his mother and father were unable to care for him and his nine siblings, they were parceled out to various foster homes throughout Jackson. Eventually, Burns would be adopted by his aunt who was able to add some stability to his life. Despite his rough start, he would go on to become the valedictorian of Wingfield High School and then receive a degree in computer engineering in 2014. Burns now resides in Dallas and works at American Airlines as an iOS software developer. He is also the father of 6-year-old twin boys.
As a kid, Burns said he would dismantle electronics and assemble them into other items. However, he was inspired to become an engineer when his friend, Christopher Turnage, showed him how to build an app. The number of people who have motivated and mentored him would fill at least 30 pages, Burns says, expressing extreme gratitude to all who helped him on his journey.
When it comes to the future of CultureSnap, Burns says: “One year from now my vision is that CultureSnap will be the go-to platform for visual representation of the culture, the first app you open after you wake up.”