In the early 2000’s, I set out to begin a boot camp for ex-offenders and gang members to provided entrepreneurship training and was looking to do so in Newark, NJ., but the idea didn’t get much traction. A few years later Michael Bloomberg, then mayor of New York City, had announced the Young Men’s Initiative, a program devoted to providing 16-24 year old men with training for careers in education, employment, health and justice. The program didn’t want to include entrepreneurship, so I decided to set out and see if I could gain more traction with the program here, in Charlotte.
I brought City Start Up Labs in tow along with over 20 years in sales, advertising, news, and documentary film-making in Black Media. The transition from for-profit to not for profit has been challenging. The criteria for success is different. Even though the emphasis is not on the bottom line in a non-profit, I still bring the same level of skill to this task, as I would in a for-profit business.
While I’m not from a family of entrepreneurs, my family has mostly been middle-class and college-educated black folk, going back to my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother was part of the first graduating class of Spelman College while her husband, my grandfather, was at Tuskegee when it was built. On my father’s side, he and his two brothers were pilots, one of whom was a Tuskegee Airman.
At an early age it was uplifting to realize I came from dignified people, and that’s a part of what has influenced my work with City Start Up Labs. The other part is being old enough to personally remember the Civil Rights Movement and participating in cultural nationalism while coming of age during the Black Power Movement. My family history, personal experience, and work in Black media has given me a sense of direction with what I do now.
We, as a people, have always been known for wanting to contribute to pushing society in a progressive direction. We are extraordinary folk and I want the young men at City Start Up Labs to become a part of that legacy. I want them to realize who they are as young black men in this society, what that means, and how they can create a life that they imagine for themselves. My hope is that they will be able to create wealth that they can pass on to future generations.
My role, as an evangelist and advocate, is to improve their value proposition. At City Start Up Labs, we are creating a place where young men can focus and become a band of brothers, encourage one another, support each other, and create great ideas. There’s a tremendous amount of talent pent up in these young men. It’s important to unleash that talent and see what solutions these young men come up with in the areas of innovation and economic impact.