Some time ago, I decided to use my degree for something. Having studied Philosophy and Sociology, I searched and searched for ways to maximize what I’d learned. What started with a focus on the Inglewood High School football team has turned into a focus on the Black community. What started out as a thought, has become a Holdings Company. The experimental meals have turned into food trucks, fitness routines have become gym concepts. But there has to be a starting point.
To be honest, I really don’t understand the blessings I’ve been given. I was one of many kids in Inglewood with the dream of going pro. I was one of many kids who wanted to break out the cycle and create a new life. I was one of those kids who believed I could do anything that I put my mind to. This belief is what I built my life on. I knew the odds of making it pro, but I felt that I had a good hand of cards to play. 6’3 and 235 in 11th grade, student first. All I had to do was make the right choices. At almost 6’5 and 265 in college, I was confident that I would go pro. Having this confidence, my wings were clipped prior to stepping foot onto USC. I destroyed my ankle, three surgeries later, I’m lucky to have played at all.
As an athlete, I died in high school. The injury killed whatever idea I had of physical safety. It wasn’t even a football injury. So I just imagined if life could do this to me, what could football do. I felt forsaken, like Job. The one thing that I had, was almost taken away from me. I never recovered mentally. And I’m thankful. I committed to truly being a student and not focusing on leaving early for the draft. I knew that an old football player was a very young man. I knew that I needed to know something outside of football. I chose to study Philosophy and Sociology, not knowing how I’d use the knowledge. I graduated in 4 years, the first male on both sides of my family to graduate from college. A responsibility I take very seriously. Graduating in 4 years, I had a choice. Would I continue my athletic career or academic career. I chose sports. I stayed for my 5th year and earned a spot in the first round of the 2008 draft, earning a 5 year multi-million dollar contract.
Although I fulfilled my dreams, I was contractually obligated to football. I had no choice. But within that, I had a lot of free time. My third year in the league, after being traded and deciding not to retire mid contract, I decided to become a student again. I moved two blocks from a Barnes and Noble and got back on track. I’d known that once my contract was up, I would leave the game and go back into the community. This is where I felt that I could create the most value, for others. Conventional wisdom is to play as long as you can and create as much wealth and influence. But here I was, 28, degree from USC, business experience from being a commodity, multi-millionaire, distant mentee to the likes of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates…I saw that I had more to start than they did. So, I decided to take the jump.
I left. Know what? I applied to be the next football coach at Inglewood High, didn’t get the job. Wanted to work with the Pop Warner league, didn’t workout. Roadblocks abound, I didn’t give up. I saw it as an opportunity to expand my focus to all members of the community and not just athletes. So I started to pivot. I began to address problems that have been without a solution, I read and read and read. Magazine after magazine, research paper after research paper. I was reverse engineering poverty. What came of this was a unique platform, that is built on the latest business practices and theories. I figured out the things that would help address the widespread poverty issue, designed programs that implement the tools in a way where they would be received by at-risk urban youth. But I saw that I would always have to seek funding. Although I targeted the Giving Pledge, I realized I had to do my part and show that we had solutions for financing.
The solution to financing social initiatives made itself clear. I saw the civil, economic and consumer needs of the Black consumer and felt that each tier could be served if they were being addressed specifically. So what I did was reverse engineer business to create a Holdings Company, within the Holdings Company, I’ve created the wholly owned subsidiaries that together create a market ecosystem. The businesses will leverage the low price per square foot in at-risk communities and use low end and new market disruption to increase the potential for profits, all in an effort to create to the most room to give back to the community.
If it all sounds like a lot, I know. Which is why we have InglewoodRISE. Inglewood is the starting point for the business strategy. I am born and raised Inglewood, having gone to all Inglewood schools and going to USC, South Central LA’s home university. Going pro and moving back to Inglewood gives me a very unique ground to stand on. The city is on its way back with the Stadium, Casino and the Forum among other things. A blessing, here I am struggling to leave the game and when I finally do, the game comes right into my backyard. Being able to leverage the NFL and USC to create the maximum social good is my task. My task is to start where it matters most.
#InglewoodRISE is really Inglewood R.I.S.E. but that would be a sloppy hashtag. What it represents is the first lily pad in getting across the pond. It’s proof of concept, it’s the template for scaling across the country. It means Inglewood, Reimagining, Individual, Success and Excellence and it’s the creation of a new paradigm. One in which, we work together to increase the total well-being of the community, turning into a village. To anchor InglewoodRISE as a movement, is the ice cream store I created Milk and Soul. With the process closing in on construction, the store can be open in 2018.
I see Milk and Soul as a community hub that brings people together over culturally inspired ice cream flavors and desserts, while showing the role that Ice Cream has played in the Black community. It’s more than Ice Cream, it’s unilateral direct action in a push towards excellence. I, like Reverend Douglass Moore am tired of the slow pace of change. Something needs to be done. So, I shall do what’s in my power. In focusing on my hometown, I hope to inspire people of all ages on the power of dreams, visions and actions. There’s nothing more that I want than to see #InglewoodRISE and became a template for progress and Black excellence.