“Look at what we did. Came a long way from dirty ghetto kids.” Lupe Fiasco
Not many people know much about my background. Aside from a few exceptions, it’s something I’ve mostly kept private. But since the purpose of creating The WIMS Guide is to sporadically document the entrepreneurial journey I’ve been feeling compelled to share the origins of my story lately.
It’s something I’ve thought about doing for years now, but have hesitated due to a combination of self-consciousness and fear. Will people judge or look at me differently? Or perhaps they just won’t even care at all? I’ve finally realized that regardless if it changes the way people think of me or not, if it’s able to help even one person who’s had a similar experience by encouraging and motivating them to keep pursuing their dreams it will be well worth it.
My journey started out growing up in a pretty ghetto neighborhood in Harrisburg, PA (if you’re skeptical and think I’m embellishing Google Earth: 2353 Logan St.) before later making a relatively lateral move to a trailer park in Mechanicsburg. To say I come from a poor and dysfunctional family would be the understatement of the century.
While I had a very rough start, oddly enough three events that seemed like tragedies at the time ended up altering the course of my destiny and changed my life forever. First, I was sent to a boarding school called Milton Hershey School when I was five years old as my mother just couldn’t take care of me on her own (if you’ve never heard of it, it’s fascinating). Soon after that when I was six my father passed away. And then shortly after when I was seven my sister (who I was closer to more than anyone in the world) moved to California.
At the time, each of these events devastated and shook me to my core. I felt helpless, alone, and extremely confused. However, little did I know at the time that they all would be the very best things to happen to me (later to be trumped by getting married and having a baby). Going through all that at such a young age set the tone for the rest of my life by making me stronger, more independent, and extremely hungry to change my life for the better.
Even though most of my childhood was rough I often say that I was blessed to have the “Michael Jordan of Guardian Angels” by the way things turned out. MHS fed me, clothed me, and provided a wonderful well-rounded education along with opportunities I would have never experienced otherwise. Not to mention I hit the jackpot with an incredible set of “house parents” that taught me so much about life and how to be a man. Going there also allowed me to be able to visit my sister in California three times a year which opened my eyes up to an entirely different world, one with infinite possibility.
Despite greatly improved conditions compared to what they could have been, I do still vividly remember many times of going hungry when I was away from school at home. The memory of that feeling, along with that of having to live in the places we did, sticks with me to this day and creates an incredible desire to be successful and never go back to that again.
Being broke all the time made me realize that I wanted to eventually be an entrepreneur so I could have more control over my life. Ever since elementary school I started countless businesses such as selling sports cards, beanie babies, Pokemon, Pogs, and just about anything else I could profit from. Unfortunately, I had to do quite a few things I’m not proud of to get by as well.
Because of these experiences I developed a sense of ambition, drive, and commitment to doing well in school and getting good grades. Well that and the fear of my mother’s wrath if I didn’t. Understanding the importance of good grades was crucial and ended up paying off big time. After graduation, I literally became the first person in my family to attend college. On top of that, it was with a full academic scholarship to the University of Miami, half from “The U” and the rest from MHS. While there I earned my Bachelor’s Degree with a double major in Marketing and Finance and a minor in Advertising.
If my story ended there I would still feel extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish given how things began. But fortunately, I was just getting started.
To be continued…