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Camden, New Jersey teens pitch their entrepreneurial plans

May 31, 2019

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Kihirha Coleman is grateful for what her family has given her: support, love, attention.

But she also knows her family, like many in Camden, probably won’t be able to pass on much of a monetary or material legacy.

“I think about the generational thing,” the Big Picture Learning Academy senior said. “No one owns anything, so they can’t leave us anything.”

She’s hoping to change that, though, and she’s learning about ways to build wealth in the Young Moguls Club at Big Picture Learning Academy.

“I want to have a business, so I have something I can pass on to my kids,” she said.

The Young Moguls Club is the brainchild of Rashaan Hornsby, a music producer, father and entrepreneur who founded the Education Over Everything Foundation as a way to empower young people by training them in finance, entrepreneurship, business and ways to create wealth — not the kind that translates into lavish lifestyles and conspicuous consumption, but instead the kind that builds a family, a community and a city up, one generation at a time.

“I teach the kids that college is cool, but it’s not for everyone,” said Hornsby. “In a city like Camden with so many people unemployed, we need people who can create jobs.”

Students at Big Picture, Camden High School, Mastery High School, Creative Arts Morgan Village, Veterans Memorial Family School and HB Wilson Family School have joined the Young Moguls, taking a weekly class period to learn, collaborate and play games aimed at teaching them about money, how to make it, how to spend it wisely and how to save it.

“I really love and appreciate the fact that this is exposing students to opportunities they wouldn’t see otherwise,” said Tim Jenkins, principal at Big Picture, formerly MetEast High School, a Camden magnet school that emphasizes real- world learning through internships and mentoring. The school, now at Cooper B. Hatch, will eventually become one of the four learning communities housed at the new Camden High School.

“They’re learning about entrepreneurship and finances, things that aren’t taught at a lot of high schools, but especially in places like Camden,” Jenkins noted.

“It’s part of the way we teach here, preparing them so they can be global citizens.”

The students will present their business plans and pitches as part of the Young Moguls Club Pitch Competition, taking place June 15 at Lourdes Medical Center on Haddon Avenue.

The teens will compete for a cash prize, business training and support, and an incubator space for their business along Haddon Avenue’s business corridor.

Coleman’s plan is already in high gear: She is creating an nonprofit that will collect items for first-generation college students to take to school with them — laundry baskets with things like bed sheets, desk lamps, alarm clocks, shower totes and the like.

“A lot of families don’t have the resources, or kids don’t know what to take with them because no one in their family has gone away to college before,” said Coleman. She’s created fundraisers like 50-50 raffles and skating parties and solicited donations for about 10 baskets so far, but is hoping to make more.

Lawrence admitted Young Moguls brought him a focus he was lacking before.

“I got in trouble,” he said, suspended from school more than once. “But they gave me a second chance, and they didn’t even have to give me a first.”

He’s hoping to acquire real estate in Camden, then fix the properties and rent them out. Hornsby has encouraged him to go to real estate school — but also not to wait until he’s out of high school to get started on his dream.

“There are young people in high school buying real estate, starting their own companies, and he can, too,” Hornsby said. “He can buy a property for $5,000 in Camden and start fixing it up, and he can create jobs for other people in Camden.”

And that, too, is part of the plan for Hornsby, who’s active in his community not just as a businessman and father, but also as president of the Centerville Simbas youth football program and a member of the Parkside Business Association.

“Camden is a young city,” he explained. “We have to invest in our youth because they’re half the population here.”

Investing in them means imparting upon them the need to take ownership of their communities, he added.

“People get successful and they leave Camden,” said Hornsby, who was born, raised and still lives in Camden. But if they don’t see the success in front of them, it’s out of sight, out of mind.”“He’s from here, and that’s important,” Jenkins said of Hornsby. “They see themselves in him, and they can see that if he did it, they can, too.”

Hornsby encourages students to take on projects not just for themselves, but for their community, telling them to ask “Why?” instead of “What?” when deciding on a business.

Jesus Santiago’s “why?” was his love for sneakers — and the reality that expensive footwear is beyond the reach of many families in Camden. His business plan is to refurbish old, donated sneakers and resell them.

The students take lessons from all around them, even if that leads to surprising places. Hornsby, for example, knows about the gang culture that’s pervasive among Camden youth and has claimed too many of their lives and futures. But, he teaches his students, there can be lessons learned beyond what not to do.

“You look at gangs and there are good things: camaraderie, the way they look out for each other, and it takes a strong leader to get people to follow you, to do things for you,” he said. “So why can’t they take those lessons and apply them differently?”

The lessons about community seem to have had an impact: Coleman, Lawrence and Santiago all talked about growing up in Camden and their hopes for the city’s future. But they know they need to be a part of the change they want to see.

“We spend our money at the corner stores, but we don’t spend it at the businesses on Haddon Avenue,” she acknowledged. “We go to the Chinese place, but don’t eat at Corinne’s Place — we don’t support the people who look like us, who are part of our community.”

“These kids are so bright,” said Hornsby, “but we count them out before we give them a shot.”

On June 15, though, they’ll get that shot.

Online: https://bit.ly/2wwYEn8

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Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.courierpostonline.com/

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