The start of a New Year has always been a time of reflection for me -- looking back on what I have done, where I came from, and who helped me along the way. The start of 2015 is no different. Recently, I have been asked to share my personal story, my road to success. As the CEO of my own company, I found it extremely humbling and reaffirming to think back and to share my experiences.
Growing up in St. Louis, I always liked numbers and math, yet starting my own business seemed to me to be an impossible dream. My mother was one of my biggest supporters, teaching me to always set goals for myself and to strive to achieve them. Yet, it was not until my experience in Junior Achievement that I began to view being an entrepreneur as an attainable concept.
Volunteers from the Junior Achievement organization would regularly come to speak at a neighborhood center. The volunteers were leaders at their companies, were successful, and were able to speak to my experience of growing up in St. Louis or areas like it. Amazingly enough, many of the volunteers were women -- I was entranced. I would go at least once a week to hear the volunteers talk about their paths to success and their tips to running a business. Through the Junior Achievement organizations influence, I was first able to envision myself as a girl from St. Louis that could lead a large organization one day.
Seeing examples of success and being able to visualize my own success were the keys to the next chapter in my life. I set a goal of starting my own business then began to take the steps to actualize that goal. By doing so I got my first job at McDonald's, joined the military in order to gain access to higher education, served as a finance officer in the military, obtained an MBA while on active duty, and in 2007 started Integrated Finance and Accounting Solutions. These steps were challenging for me, but having seen real life success stories, I knew I could do it. The theme of empowerment runs through my personal story -- I was empowered by all of the experiences and organizations that I encountered throughout my journey to entrepreneurship. But what about today's youth?
In 2007, 40 percent of children in the United States live in low-income families. Seven percent of those young women will have a child by the age 18, 29 percent of those children will not earn high school diplomas, and only one in ten of those children will go on to graduate from a four year college. These statistics alarm me and they should alarm you as well. We need more organizations that will empower the youth of our country, organizations that will give them the tools to be successful.
The organizations that have this mission already in mind are organizations such as: Black Girls Rock, Ellevate Network, and Essence Empower U Workshop. These organizations are stepping up to empower young women in business and education. Other organizations, centered in metropolitan areas around the country, like Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts in Boston, Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development in Chicago, and #YesWeCode by Dream Corps, are offering urban youths experiences and opportunities that they might ordinarily not have while also teaching them skills that will help them become more competitive candidates in the workforce. This coming year, I will be joining the movement by establishing the IFAS Next Generation Leadership Academy to mentor youth in the areas of leadership and entrepreneurship. As 2015 begins let us as a country reflect on where we are, how we got here, and how can we empower our youth to become better citizens for tomorrow.