As I previously stated, it all began one hot evening during the summer of 1992. There I was sitting in one of the local (Far Rockaway, Queens) community center classrooms preparing for my entrepreneurship class. The instructor and owner of the program, Mr. K., began the class every evening with a motivational phrase that we would repeat at the beginning and at the end of the class. The energy in the class was very high even though there were few people in attendance. This was a shock to me due to the fact that many of the neighborhood residents often complained about the lack of educational resources available in the community center. Classes were two hours long and we always had some type of homework to complete before the next class. Six weeks later I received my entrepreneurship certificate after completing and submitting my very first business plan; it must have been a total of 10 pages long (double-spaced). The business concept I created included typing resumes, school papers, and creating desktop publishing materials for local businesses. For the first time I felt truly empowered to take control of my life, while embracing my new career path as an entrepreneur. Working at the local supermarket was no longer the goal, even though I managed to become one of the youngest assistant grocery managers there in less than a 2-year period.
Mr. K. hired me as one of his assistants where I handled all of his company’s computer and graphical responsibilities. Graduation from the program also bonded me with the gentleman that was passing out the flyers in front of the community center; his name was Mr. J. He worked for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and also accepted me as his mentee. His mentorship was instrumental in exposing me to the youth entrepreneurship movement within NYCHA and New York City in general.
My first experience as a presenter happened in 1993 at a city-wide youth conference sponsored by Youth Force, a youth-based organization that promoted youth empowerment in New York City. I remember being nervous, even with Mr. K. in the room with me, because of the 40 screaming and restless young adults. Our workshop was about entrepreneurship and we discussed ideas on how they could start their own businesses. The young adults were very excited and truly embraced the concept of starting their own candy store or t-shirt business. I remember feeling my confidence growing after getting that workshop under my belt, but now I had to prepare for the big arena. Within a few months I was heading down to Baltimore, Maryland to be a co-presenter at the First National Youth Entrepreneur Symposium. I was so excited with the opportunity to travel outside of New York City for my first business trip and to be a part of a growing phenomenon that was exploding all throughout the country – youth entrepreneurship.
During this same time period, New York City experienced significant changes within its inner-city communities such as new educational and technology-based programs (something other than the typical sports-based programs). This seemed to be the direct result of NYC having its first and only African-American major, the Honorable David N. Dinkins (1990-1993). Inner-city communities were growing with a buzz about youth entrepreneurship and business ownership. The concept of “grassroots” pride and empowerment was growing at a rapid rate and I had my grandmother to be thankful for she instilled in me early on in my life such values and now I had a platform on which to grow.