Teaching My Community Entrepreneurship for The First-Time

teaching inner-city kids entrepreneurship

Front to back: Me, Max, Austin raising his hand, Edwin, Jovanny, Marcus, Andy, and Elijah.

I was awake and getting ready for my day when I saw a message come through on my phone. It was my power forward Recardo, and it said, “I’m up coach. And I’m ready. I’m juss cleaning my shoes and putting my socks on.”

Right as my screen was timing out, I texted back “Cool. I was just about to text you and let you know, I’m going to pick you up earlier. Like 9am. I’ll text you when I’m on my way.”

Three dots waved on my screen to let me know he had received my text, then the message “Okay” popped up.  

I had eleven other kids on my team, but Recardo was the only kid I had to pick up on my way to class. The reason being is that my class was early in the morning and I didn’t think it was necessary for his mother to leave work early just to get him there on time.

Honestly, I was more than happy to pick him up. His house was on my way, and I knew that if anything, I could count on at least one kid showing up for my class.  

The Y.M.C.A. doors were supposed to be open by the time I arrived, yet when I lifted the handle on the front door, it was locked. I saw a moving figure behind the glass door, so I peeked in through the window to see who it was. It was Mike who I coached with from last season’s basketball team working with a girl on her fundamentals. The girl saw me and told Mike to open the door.   

When Mike approached the door, he gave me a sharp nod. I pulled the door handle, hoping he would get the idea to let me in, but nothing happened. All he gave me was a blank stare.

A hard pause followed, then he said, “What do you want?” 

“Can you let me in?” 

“The gym doesn’t open until 11:30.”

It was a cold and distant response, he spoke to me as if I was a total stranger and had never seen me before. 

“Mike will you let me in; I have my first entrepreneurship class that starts in thirty-minutes.”

After another delay, he unlocked the door and let me in.  

I couldn’t begin to make sense of what was happening. To have something like this happen in front of one of our kids was disappointing. But then again, I can’t pretend I didn’t see this coming. I had sense some tension between us in the past weeks, but I hadn’t paid it any mind.  

I should have gone to him weeks before and nipped whatever issue he had with me in the bud, except I didn’t want to waste any of my energy understanding why. I decided not to confront him because I had a hunch his problem with me was rooted in jealousy.

How does one even begin to speak truth into a grown man who is emotionally immature without making a fuss? My point exactly. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to irritate the situation.

My guess he was jealous because my reputation around the Y.M.C.A. was starting to grow. Some parents saw that I had a real passion for working with kids and shared their gratitude. Exemplifying passion helped me form a close bond with many of the parents and their kids. They liked and trusted me. I had even managed to change the minds of a few parents who didn’t care all that much for me. Eventually, they all bought into my system and looked to me as someone they wanted their kids to be around. One parent went as far as even removing her child from Mike’s team to mine. In my opinion, this is where the real trouble with Mike began.  

And it didn’t help that I had announced my entrepreneurship program, in fact, this had only heightened the situation because now he felt like I was trying to outshine him.

Regardless of cause, his anger and resentment toward me had surfaced to the point that he was making a pronounced effort to let me know he had a problem with me.

Once I got in, I was professional but firm, letting him know he had no right to talk to me through the door like I was some stranger. 

Several words were exchange between us, then I pushed my irritation aside and refocused my attention on preparing for my class.  

“Recardo?”

“Yes Coach.”

“Sharpen these pencils, while I print out the syllabus for our class lecture.”

“Yes sir.”

The first kid who showed up to class was Mahier, a quiet kid who probably earned the least amount of playing time on the team. Then, Jovanny and his cousin Andy walked in.

Neither one of these kids possessed an ounce of basketball talent, yet they turned themselves into real basketball players by working harder than any other kid on the team. I grew to have so much respect for them.

Then Max came in with his non-stop sense of humor. His heart was always in his mouth.

Marcus and Austin strolled in shortly after. Marcus was the most experienced player on the team, but his greatest assets was his willingness to correct himself once I challenged him. I say this because he wasn’t always mentally prepared to work hard in practice, but the second I would jump on him; he would push himself to go harder and faster.

Marcus was constantly at my side, at every stop, making it easy for me to coach the others. The other members of the team saw he respected me, so it made my job easier because they fell right in line behind him.

And then there was Austin, a truly brilliant kid who I wish I had more time with to help him figure out his gifts. One minute he’s zoned out playing with his fidget spinner, the next he’s breaking his silence and answering questions in class that no one knew the answers to.

The last kid to trickle in was Edwin. I never appointed anyone to lead our team, yet if I had, I would have named Edwin as the team captain. Aside from Recardo, I really stretch myself thin for Edwin, but I never played favorites. By default, Edwin’s curiosity got my attention, not to mention, I’m a sucker for a kid who’s displays relentless work ethic.

I never had to tell Edwin to work hard in practice, he was always consistent. He gave me and the team the same effort every practice. I praised Edwin, so I could motivate Marcus, because I knew Marcus would help me motivate the rest of the team. It was healthy praise and I did it with the intentions to make them all better.

Everyone had finally arrived, and it was time for me to start class. They were all sitting down together in a row. I was nervous, but I threw on a confident face and said, “Is everyone ready to start?”

They all nodded.

I sighed one last time, and said, “I want to welcome everyone to the first I.C.E. Program here at Crenshaw Family Y.M.C.A… Then I explained to them that the acronym meant Inner-City Entrepreneurship.

In my loud professor voice, I said, “When someone hears the word inner-city, they usually associate the word as an older part of the city, it’s a densely populated area usually inhabited mainly by poor people, often minorities. And the most basic example of entrepreneurship is starting a business.”

I explained the mission and purpose of my program, then I asked the students if they knew why they were taking my class.

Slightly raising his hand and speaking freely without permission Andy said, “To learn how to start a business!”

“Yes, but why are you really here?”

“Before anyone could blurt out another answer, I said “You’re here because there’s a problem within the inner-city. Among the many problems that the inner-city is facing, no one is talking about the lack of entrepreneurship being taught to our youth. Some of us are breaking through, but we’re failing because we’re learning entrepreneurship for the first-time later in life – when we have jobs and families to provide for!”  

Where that bravado came from, I don’t know. Somehow all the energy and passion that I had on the court as their coach had translated into the classroom like I was an professor at an HBCU.

“Look guys, I can talk about entrepreneurship all day, but none of this will make any difference unless you understand why entrepreneurship really matters.”

“Entrepreneurship matters because it’s an alternative path to employment. Your whole life you’ve been taught how to look for a job, told that you will have a better life if you serve your country, and herded into a basketball gym like sheepfold. But who’s teaching you how to start your own business?”

I don’t remember who said it, but someone blurted out,” I don’t need to learn how to start a business if I’m going to enter the NBA draft.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the others nodding their heads to encourage the comment. 

When I asked what his plan was if he didn’t make it to the NBA, there was the longest silence that I have ever experienced.

I purposely kept quiet afterwards. I wanted to let my question sink down into their minds because I knew they all had the same expectations.   

A few second later, I broke the silence and told them they could own the Rave Cinema across the street at the Crenshaw Plaza or the Los Angeles Lakers, like Magic Johnson.

I wanted to keep a tight grip on their attention, so proposed another question. “Does anyone know the difference between living versus surviving?”

Max raised his hand and said, “living is getting the most out of life and reaching your full potential while surviving is doing your best to stay alive.”  

“Thant’s right Max. Great answer! Guys, did you hear that? Entrepreneurship is the golden ticket to ultimate freedom. If you ever find yourself surviving, entrepreneurship is the quickest way to find yourself out of poverty.”  

“The third reason is my favorite so listen up. Entrepreneurship matters because it is a tool that can be used to rebuild and reinvest in your community.”

“I’ve got a secret that I want to tell all you.”

Suddenly the pencil tapping on the desk stopped. Everyone’s eyes were locked on mine. They were waiting for me to spit it out.  

“The world doesn’t care or respect you because you’re from the inner-city. In fact, they think all you do is beg, borrow, and steal. Have you ever asked yourself why there is so much trash on the streets of South Central versus the streets in Beverly Hills?”

“Or why are there so many liquor stores on every block in our community?”

Ask yourself why there are so many of our brothers and sisters being gunned down in the streets by cops? It’s because they don’t respect us! The only way we can demand respect is if we build our own institutions and learn to rely on each other.” 

Some of them were starting to connect the dots because I saw them nodding in agreement. 

It was time for an ice-breaker, so I decided to get personal and tell my story. I explained why I left the comforts of Corporate America to wait tables to find my purpose in life.

I told them I traveled from my home in Texas to New York, finally settling in Los Angeles because I wanted to make an impact in the world. “My back was up against the wall many times, and that I wouldn’t be where I was if it weren’t for staying positive and looking at the world through an open mind.”

I could tell by the look in their eyes that my story had softened them. I got the impression they got more out of my class than they thought they would. I ended class that day with a pop quiz and told them a special guest speaker was on the schedule for next week’s class. Ending on a high note, I had a felling they’d be coming back for more.

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