From age five to 17, I spent approximately four thousand days in the Chicago foster care system. I lived in over a dozen different homes -- many of them before I started high school. Although there were so many families whose kindness saved my life and whom I can never thank enough, it was still a tough decade.
When I was 17, shortly after leaving foster care, I became homeless for four months. The challenges of being a homeless teen are indescribable -- but I have a role model whose inspiration means a lot to me: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His words are a testament that even I could have a dream, and make it a reality.
Words like: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy," from Dr. King's Strength to Love collection of speeches, taught me that I could choose to grow from the challenges in my life, instead of let them drag me down.
Dr. King's emphasis on self-reliance and empowerment for low-income people made it possible for someone like me to start a small business. I took his words to heart: "We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." In my senior year of high school, I wrote a business plan for a video-recording business, because of my love for film. My company offered custom videos and songs for special events. I felt such hope when I generated my first sale! Now I was somebody. I was CEO of Forever Life Music and Video Production.
My business plan came in second in a national competition held by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Soon after, my business was profiled in the documentary film Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon. The film was shown on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and has been seen by millions of people.
My success as a young entrepreneur gave me the confidence to apply for a college. I got into Morehouse College, where I earned a degree in philosophy. Next, I applied and was accepted into Yale University for graduate school. What kept me going was my belief in a higher calling and a vision I kept in my mind's eye constantly that my life could be better.
My new dream is to build a business that will solve a problem in my community while creating jobs for people. I want to create opportunities for other young people to discover their unique gifts and competitive advantages, and use these to create their pathways to success and prosperity. I can show them by example that the belief in themselves and a sense of a higher calling is the key to their happiness. In this new mission, I am inspired by Dr. King's famous quote: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
Dr. King's courage, vision and understanding of the need for people to be empowered made it possible for me to combine the power of entrepreneurship with the energy of a dream.
His dream saved my life.