Growing up, I came from a community that was scarred by crime, poverty, and lack of education. All of these problems made many members of my community fall into a vicious cycle. In order to make a living, they'd have to perpetuate the problems they grew up with.
It's not easy to come from the bottom, but it shapes who you become and the impact you desire to make. It was only when I could stand on my own two feet and be able to break out of a culture of self-defeat when I could feel comfortable and able to give back adequately to my community. It took awhile to get to this point.
I remember early on in my life getting caught up with the wrong people--becoming gang affiliated, underage drinking, smoking, and hustling. It was like a movie, now that I look back on it. I could have let it all ruin my life.
One time in Newark, cops surrounded my car as I was on my way to deliver marijuana to one of my high-school friend's mothers. I thought I was going to get arrested and become the failure everyone told me I would be. As a miracle, they weren't there for me--there was an unrelated grand theft auto happening in front of me, and they let me go.
I realized that was my one chance to make a conscious choice to change. That decision to channel my hustle and ambition into entrepreneurship changed the trajectory of my life forever.
Now when I look back, I'm forever grateful for the streets teaching me grit. I've always felt street smart since then. I think it's one of the key characteristics needed to succeed, rise up, and break a culture of self-defeat.
Here are the four biggest lessons I've learned about breaking that culture of self-defeat along the way:
1. Raise your awareness.
In many areas, especially those dominated by racial and ethnic minorities, there exists a culture of self-defeat. People don't aspire to something greater--not because they don't have the ability to but because they're told to settle for something less. It helps them survive and live to fight another day against a system that actively oppresses them.
It's hard for role models to come out of these types of communities. There are people with leadership potential, but society has put them into a shell. A shell that burdens them every day they go to a school that is underfunded, or a market that is under supplied.
Once you become aware of the disparities between communities, you are able to look for tactical steps to create change.
2. Share your vision of the future.
This is a call to action. If you're a person like me who hails from such a community, use your voice and ability to inspire kids in your community to dream higher, think bigger and be better. Share your vision of what you want the future to look like.
I'm not the first to say something like this, and I won't be the last. The point is that I'm saying it now because, now more than ever, we need to start fighting for the people who are overlooked and marginalized.
Now more than ever, we need to preach inclusion rather than exclusion. We need to appreciate diversity for what it can lead to: a beautiful country.
3. Support social impact-driven communities.
If you've been to an area where you saw kids running in the street, playing basketball, and working up a sweat with a smile despite not having enough to eat back home, consider donating to an organization that provides these kids a better education, and a stipend to survive.
At Fownders, the incubator I built in what was once a hood, we're working directly with people in Newark to help them build their businesses and help them give back to their communities along the way. We provide mentorship in local schools to show kids what really is possible with hard work and patience.
We host events for the community like basketball tournaments and workshops. These efforts are all social impact driven.
4. Define your purpose.
I do what I do because I see it as not only my responsibility but my purpose. I hope you will too.
At the end of the day, the smallest actions can sometimes lead to the biggest impact, especially when you're driven by a bigger purpose. What are you going to do to break the culture of self-defeat that's pervasive in so many communities across this country?