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A 'Shout' out to black women Pages of potential: Young Baltimorean defies odds to produce 'SisterSHOUT!' magazine.


Didn't anybody tell Baltimore-native Carla Ray Small that it could not be done? Was no one around to warn her this was an impossible dream? She couldn't possibly pull it off. Could she?

Well, yes. She could, and she did. Ms. Small, 27, has entered the competitive magazine market and launched "SisterSHOUT!". The magazine is geared toward African-American women, and its first cover story, written by Ms. Small, is an interview with former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown.

But Ms. Small, with her dogged persistence and unflagging optimism, would make a fitting subject.

"I was very naive," she says. "At the time, I had no idea how hard it was going to be. It's probably a good thing I didn't know."

The road to launching "SisterSHOUT!" was filled with curves and detours -- and a few potholes.

"I always loved to write," Ms. Small says from her home/office in Cockeysville. "I just didn't think I could make any money at it." And, don't get her wrong, the business is not rolling in bucks. But the magazine finally has given her a way to combine her creative side with her business side.

The Western High School alumnagraduated from Howard University in 1992 with a degree in communications. While in college, she landed internships at television stations. After graduating, she worked part-time in a production job at a cable TV shopping service and full time at a bank.

"Well, I learned that TV production was not for me. I wanted to create as opposed to produce. I didn't want to tote around cameras or do the lighting," she says.

Things began to look pretty bleak, from the standpoint of building a career. So she took the route of a lot of young people who have college degrees but are still floundering for a career. She went back to school.

She landed in a literary publications class at the University of Baltimore, where the assignment was to produce a literary magazine. Ms. Small had no problem coming up with the magazine's concept.

She wanted it to be a voice for African-American women and solicited stories, poems and essays from her friends and co-workers.

"I wanted to encourage the experiences of black women," she says. "I wanted them to voice their inner feelings, their thoughts."

Ms. Small learned computer-graphic design and came up with a striking black, green, red and white cover. And she named her literary publication "SisterSHOUT!"

That was only the beginning.

The rest of the class assignment was to approach bookstores and ask them to carry the magazine. Ms. Small was hesitant. She had become friends with her bank manager, Grace E. Sneed, and asked her to contact a few places.

"I got involved because I liked the magazine," says Mrs. Sneed, 32, who has a degree in business administration from Morgan State University.

Mrs. Sneed, who works nights, spent the days soliciting business for the magazine. Pyramid Books and Everyone's Place sold copies and requested more.

Ms. Small was delighted people were interested in her graduate school project.

But she had to sharpen her business skills, as well. "I was giving away copies of the magazine," she said. "And I was selling it for $2, but it cost $2.70 to produce. So, I said, OK. I raised the price to $3."

The next step was clear: Ms. Small and Mrs. Sneed formed Unity Publications, Inc., with Ms. Small as the chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of SisterSHOUT! and Mrs. Sneed as the magazine's chief operating officer and managing editor.

Both were in for a rude awakening when they started inquiring about the cost of mass producing a magazine.

"People said it would take a million dollars," Ms. Small says only half jokingly.

A chance introduction led to a friend of a friend with experience in the magazine publishing business. "He was the extra push that we needed to get the job done," Ms. Small says. "He put his energies and his resources into it."

Norris Hite Jr. stepped in as publisher. Having studied magazines for at least six years, Mr. Hite believes too few black-oriented magazines are on the market and that the time is right to launch "SisterSHOUT!"

Yet, are challenges are ahead.

"Building a paid subscription base for any new publication is hard. And, of course, the ad dollars and the paid subscription base go hand-in-hand," Mr. Hite says.

"SisterSHOUT!" can be found at Pyramid Books, Everyone's Place and Greetings and Readings. It is a lively mix of interviews and reviews, along with a section dedicated to "literary pursuits," which include poems, short stories and essays.

Goal: monthly publication

"This is a quarterly publication now," Mr. Hite says. "The plan is that next year it will be bi-monthly and the third year, monthly."

Ms. Small is relieved the magazine is out but is now at another crossroad in her life.

In late July, she was laid off when her bank was bought by another one. She is living on unemployment benefits, working on the magazine and looking for a new "day" job.

"God gave me a way to use my creative talents and to touch people," she says. "Something will come through."

And if something doesn't?

"Well, I may be a CEO working down the street at the Safeway."

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