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Business teacher creates, sells ethnic trivia game

The Baltimore Sun

Like many people, Daryl Penn liked to bring out games such as Scene It? or Family Feud during weekend get-togethers. But the fun started to fizzle as the 38-year-old business teacher at Old Mill High School realized that few of the questions tapped into the history or culture of African-Americans.

After one family get-together last year, Penn went shopping for a game that featured African-American trivia.

He couldn't find any on store shelves.

So Penn, an entrepreneur from a family of educators in Anne Arundel County, decided to create one.

He invested $25,000 to produce 1,000 copies of Are You Sure? Since its release April 28, he has sold more than 300 copies of the game, which costs $34.99. He figures he needs to sell about 800 copies to break even, so now that school is out, he plans to market it as aggressively as possible.

Penn, of Glen Burnie, has approached black fraternities and sororities in several states and is recommending the game as a fundraiser to a church in Pennsylvania. He plans to run commercials locally on cable. Eventually, he would like to see the game sold nationally in a large retail store.

"For me, the game is really for families, for the bonding," Penn said.

The DVD game is modeled on popular ones such as the movie trivia game Scene It?, which shows a question on a television screen and allows players to select an answer using a remote control.

Sometimes after an answer is selected, players see a clip of one of Penn's family members asking, "Are you sure?" Players then get a second chance to change their answer before the game shows them the correct one. The "Are You Sure?" clip plays regardless of whether the player selected the right answer - one of Penn's classroom techniques to challenge students to stand behind their position.

The game keeps score for two teams of players and features three rounds. Penn and his sister, Shayne Allen, came up with 200 questions. During the past school year, Penn hired 10 students to develop and research the rest of the 600 multiple-choice questions and answers. He also used students as focus groups to test the fun factor.

"They wanted it to be longer," Penn said.

His mother, Hattie Penn, who is featured in the game along with his sister and daughter, said the student collaboration gives the game a modern twist. It doesn't focus just on famous inventors or figures from early American history, but also on entertainers and politicians from the more recent past, with such questions as "Who was the first African-American Formula One driver?" (Lewis Hamilton) to "Who was the voice of Darth Vader?" (James Earl Jones).

"This is a great tool for young people," said Hattie Penn, who lives in Millersville after 32 years of teaching in Anne Arundel County schools.

Penn's father, Larry Penn, also is a former educator. He currently works as a human resources specialist for the school system. Shayne Allen is a guidance counselor at Magothy Middle School.

Penn served in the Army Reserve for four years after he graduated with a business degree from Bowie State University in 1993. He later became a mortgage broker before becoming a teacher in 1998. He earned a master's degree in curriculum and instruction online last year through the University of Phoenix.

Penn formed his own company, Jornic DVD Games. The name is an amalgam of his children's names, Jordan and Darian Nicole. Penn plans to release single-subject spinoffs of the game - entertainment and sports - over the next few years.

The county public school system has approved use of the game as a supplemental learning tool to classroom instruction, said Maneka Wade, a school system spokeswoman. An African-American studies class at Old Mill High School will be using the game during class.

The game has struck a chord with members of his target audience. Teresa Johnson, a black owner of T-Van Mortgage Solutions in Ellicott City, bought 48 copies of the game to send to customers who regularly entertain. She said her family enjoyed playing the game so much on Mother's Day and Father's Day that three relatives bought their own copies.

"I think different ethnicities love to see things geared to them," Johnson said. "This is just for us."

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