Making Entrepreneurship a Tangible Reality for Inner-City Youth

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From right to left: Me, Mahier, Max, Austin, Edwin (w/ the blue hoodie), Christian, Jovanny, Riccardo, Marcus, Andy, Elijah, and “Quintin” as our guest speaker.

Quintin and I met each other online. It all started when I was trying to teach myself how to use Adobe Illustrator. I’ve never been a huge fan of reading technical books, so I searched YouTube for a self-help video and eventually stumbled upon several beginner tutorials.

The first tutorial I clicked on covered the basics of creating a logo design, walking me through the process of using shapes and breaking them down into logos and icons. The instruction was interesting but after a while I became bored. To combat the boredom, I continued to browse YouTube and landed on a video of how to design a backpack. I was leaning in the direction of creating a backpack for my own business, so I decided to watch. I was hooked within the first few seconds – whoever was behind video knew what they were doing. They flew through Adobe Illustrator as if they were born to use it. It was like watching a hacker at a hacking competition – dragging and dropping their artwork onto a blank canvas, creating shapes with as few anchor points as possible, finally transforming the shape into a completely new backpack design. Not only did they detail the entire backpack design process from scratch, but they also pulled it off within minutes.

I was dying to see who was behind the scene, so I explored the website of Q. Designs Footwear-- a collection of shoes that embodied the mantra “casually athletic.” The About Page described Quintin Williams as the founder and designer. I admired Quintin’s skills, so I did what any right-minded fan would do--I reached out via email and paid him homage, and then inquired about a pair of shoes on his website I liked called the “Beastly Ave,” which looked a lot like the Air Yeezy “Red October.”

I didn’t think I would get a reply, but Quintin responded within a matter of minutes. First, he thanked me, then he said the “Beastly Aves” had only been a concept and had never been made. I was shocked because this looked like the type of shoe that would do well if ever it were to be made. 

I wanted to pick his brain a little, so I asked what he was currently working on. I wasn’t surprised at all when he explained he was working with a couple brands and freelancing. “One brand is out already,” he said proudly and included the link to the website.

“That’s dope,” I said. “But who’s helping you launch Q. Designs Footwear?” 

“No one, it was a one-man show.”

I asked him if he preferred to work alone or have a partner.

“I prefer to work alone,” he said, “because I’ve found in most cases people don’t have the same drive as me and it slows me down. But on the other hand, I’m learning that I can’t do everything myself, so I try to balance it.” 

I could sense modesty wasn’t Quintin’s strong suit, yet we clearly had a meeting of the minds.

A week later we met up for lunch. I didn’t know what to think of Quintin at first. He was sitting outside on the patio, wearing sunglasses, looking like he had just stepped off a Hollywood film set, and oddly enough he had already begun eating. I remember saying to myself: please don’t let him be another obnoxious wannabe celebrity. Please! But he wasn’t that way at all. When Quintin stood up, he greeted me and gave me a handshake like I was one of his boys from back home.

Despite the unsettling first appearance things were taking off smoothly. We spared no time getting better acquainted. Quintin said he was from Elko, Georgia and had been designing all his life. His love for design started around the age of five, and his passion for putting cool footwear on people’s feet is what pushed him to pursue a design career.

When the time came, I offered my story and then we conversed about the grind and the competition of our field.  Our conversation got deeper when Quintin hit me with an uneasy story about Nike and how they had flown him to their headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Nike spoiled and treated him like he was the next great high school player, but when it was time to offer him a job, they backed out. 

I could only shake my head in disappointment. “It’s okay,” Quintin said. “It’s driven me more than ever to start my own sneaker line.”

I wish we had more time to talk, but it was time to say goodbye. Before we went our separate ways, I asked Quintin if he wanted to catch up and shoot hoops to see who was better. Quintin laughed and gleefully took the challenge.    

Over the next several months, we shot hoops on a regular basis. We spent half our time playing one-on-one basketball, and the other half talking about life and our careers. We talked about all kind of things; he told me about his downfalls with friends, girls, and partnerships, as did I.

As time went on, Quintin and I did our very best to carve out time for our weekly matchups, yet our busy schedules pushed us further and further apart from the court. Eventually our overly- packed schedules at work and home prevented us from meeting all together. We both had a lot on our plates. Quintin was carefully planning for his wedding, and working to become Nike’s next competitor, while I was busy trying to figure out my next move with Mind Body Apparel.

I reached out from time to time to catch up, but things would always be the same on Quintin’s end– “I’m busy”… Seemed like the only time I heard from him was when he wanted to share some good news about his soon-to-be-launched company. This was irritating at times, but my inner voice told me to keep calm and support him because there was a greater meaning and purpose.    

The dots began to connect the moment I started to shape the curriculum for my I.C.E. program. I was hit with a serious dilemma. I had to figure out how I was going to teach entrepreneurship to a group of inner-city boys who worshipped basketball. Their whole lives revolved around playing basketball; all they did was eat, sleep, and shit basketball. I knew if I wanted to fully engage them, to push them toward entrepreneurship, I would need to hash out a set of subjects they could relate to.

That’s when I thought of bringing Quintin in as a guest speaker. He was the perfect person to help me reinforce entrepreneurship; not only did he have his own story to share, but he also designed mens’ basketball shoes which would energize and guide my boys towards entrepreneurship. 

So, I made the call. Once Quintin heard what I was doing, he gladly accepted. When he entered the classroom, we reconnected like best friends from high school. My boys didn’t have the slightest clue why Quintin was there until he opened his duffle bag and pulled out several new pairs of Q4 basketball shoes.

I introduced him: “Crenshaw family, let me get your attention,” I said. Looking down and reading from a piece of paper in my hand, I said, “Today’s guest host is Quintin Williams; he’s the co-founder and global chief designer for Q4 Sports – a shoe brand created around “Four basic elements of the game” – Team, Focus, Passion and Commitment. Before Quintin started his own shoe line, he was a big proponent for helping other companies develop their own shoe lines. Not only is he a close friend of mine, but he also has a great understanding of entrepreneurship and what it truly takes to leave corporate American to start your own business. Guys, let’s welcome Quintin by giving him a big round of applause!” An outburst of hand clapping sounded in the air.

Quintin wasted no time; he launched right into his backstory, which captivated them all. Every kid was facing forward with his eyes locked on Quintin. No one had to fight the urge to look away. Not even Austin who was ADHD and often appeared bored. Wow, this is incredible, I thought. I never get jealous, but I did for a moment because Quintin was grabbing the boys’ attention better than I had in weeks.

Quintin slam dunked his presentation when he grabbed a pen and piece of paper, and sketched a pair of his shoes right on the spot. Everyone surrounded him. He literally dissected every part of his shoes like he was a coach in a huddle calling a game-winning play.  All of their eyes glowed with delight. It was absolutely amazing.

After Quintin finished his presentation, he left the room speechless. When I asked the kids what they taught about the lesson, no words could ever express how I felt when Marcus said, “Coach, I want to own my own shoes company someday.”

My God!  In that moment I realized that to some extent the books I had been reading were true. If inner-city kids are only exposed to rap stars, athletes, and drug dealers, these are the people they will aspire to imitate. It was obvious to me that society had perpetuated a big lie. Society claims that inner-city kids show little interest in upper-class occupations, but that’s not true at all; the real truth is these kids are restricted from career exposure which leads to poor career choices.

As upset as I was about this bleak revelation, it finally dawned on me what me what Quintin and I had done. We had actually made entrepreneurship a tangible reality rather than a fantasy. It was one thing for my boys to see or hear about an entrepreneur starting a shoe company on T.V., but being in the presence of someone who had done it, made it a tangible reality in their minds. On this very day, I became a proud father of ten. The only regret I had was not having more kids in my class. I couldn’t help but wonder how many young minds we could have redirected.

Finally, just before I dismissed class, I asked them all if they had heard of LaVar Ball. Everyone said no except for Austin. “Yeah, that man is crazy,” he said.

“Why do you say that Austin – never mind hold your thought until next week. Show up next week and I’ll tell you whether you’re right or wrong.” 

When I got home that evening, I sent Quintin a text message thanking him profusely for giving back to the community, then I asked him if he noticed the “we are all kings” slogan posted behind us in our group photo. It could have been a coincidence, but I took it as a sign from the man above.

Support Mind Body Apparel!

Real talk-- I found an article online that said young people who personally know an entrepreneur showed the strongest interest in starting their own business. Most kids from the inner-city don’t have entrepreneur mentors, like an uncle, aunt, close friend or neighbor who has their own business. My mission is to make entrepreneurship accessible to the inner-city. Even if kids don’t grow up to start a business, my program instills confidence to believe in their own ideas, no matter how crazy someone might say their idea sounds! This was the support I didn’t have when I was a child.

You have the power to make a difference. There’s no red tape involved; I don’t answer to anyone except the community. If you want to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs, then this is the way to do it! I guarantee every kid who goes through my program leaves with an idea!

I can’t do it alone, so please hit the like or share button. Tell a friend about Mind Body Apparel, or head over to my store and make a purchase. Your purchase has power! Your purchase helps me train an aspiring entrepreneur from the inner-city.

Here are more photos we took on that day:

Marcus is the kid with the True Religion long sleeve shirt on. He's the kid who said he wanted to own his own shoes company someday. Look at his face!  

Look at Austin's face after he smells Quintin's shoes :)  

Ricky Harris