I was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. New Haven, aka “Elm City”, is a small city consisting of around 125,000 people, with the majority of the inhabitants being African-American. I was raised in a household that was just below middle class. I had a strong support system from my parents growing up, so you can say I was loved. They made sure that my needs were taken care of. I did pretty well in school (received Academic Honors from 6th Grade until 11th Grade), and played basketball for my middle school, AAU, and high school teams.
Although I did pretty well personally, I was exposed to a lot of challenges to my personal development. The majority of my immediate family didn’t graduate from high school. All of my brothers except one sold drugs and was involved in a life of crime. I grew up as a adolescence in the Newhallville section of New Haven, where a lot of violence and crime ensued. It’s an area where most people’s top priority is just to get a good job to pay the bills. I knew I wanted more than that. My first step was to make sure I got out of New Haven. From there, I enrolled in school at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia during the summer of 2001.
My freshman year is what I like to call a “live & learn” year. I was only focused on girls, basketball, and partying. I was so excited to be on my own, I forgot the reason I was there, which was to advance academically. My second year rolls around, and I’m on academic probation. My financial aid was cut back, and I could no longer afford to go to school. So it was either go back home or dive head first into the real world. I chose the latter.
From working at Walmart to various sales positions, I jumped from job to job trying to find my passion. I knew I enjoyed sales, but I was searching for an offering that naturally connected to me. I tried starting my own business selling designer brand apparel, but it became a logistics headache. I would always surf the web, exploring what the internet had to offer; but all I would find is bogus MLM opportunities or some boring sales job. Unsuccessful in finding my passion and with rent and bills piling up, I settled with a low pay sales position as my JOB and resulted to selling marijuana to my friends on the side. (It might sound bad, but when your back is against the wall, sometimes people make decisions that they normally wouldn’t make.)
The Turning Point
In 2005, I was just “floating in the wind” with no plans. This was around the time Facebook launched at my former school, VCU. I read about Mark Zuckerburg being CEO of Facebook. He was doing pretty well and seemed to really enjoy it. Everyone I knew around town had a Facebook account. I didn’t know in the future that Facebook would lead to me finding my passion. But before that would happen, my life would be turned upside down.
In April 2006, my Dad died from the complications of Diabetes. This was a huge blow because this was the first time someone close to me passed. Then one month later, I got arrested and convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. To sum it up, I met the wrong person at the wrong time. I was sentenced to probation, but was violated for submitting a monthly report late. I was given the choice to receive 3 more years of probation or choose to spend a total of 4 months in federal prison and be totally free of the system. Once again, I chose the latter.
Lewisburg Federal Prison is where I served my time. Since I had a minor offense, I was at the Camp, where inmates weren’t in cells. We could walk outside all around campus. It had an outdoor basketball court, outdoor track, indoor/outdoor gym, and a library. These were the places where I spent most of my time. Inmates also included former stockbrokers, doctors, and corporate officers.
That period of being in the system was the most challenging time of my life. Although, now I feel it was a blessing in disguise. It taught me how to discipline myself, how to survive on low means, and how the “Game of Life” really works. I had the chance to talk to people from all kinds of backgrounds, and the most common cause of everyone’s problems stemmed from money; mostly the lack of it, which prompted them to take an illegal route to get it, just like I did.
This period also gave me a lot of time to think about what my passions and purpose in life were. I searched deep within me for the answers. I tried to think about situations when I was particularly enthusiastic about a topic.
One of those topics was the movement that Martin Luther King Jr. created. I was moved at how he formed a grassroots movement to create equal civil rights for African-Americans and all people in general. Despite the advances minorities have made concerning civil rights, there’s still a huge disparity in the economic playing field; which stems from multiple factors with education being at the forefront. I told myself I wanted to create the type of grassroots movement MLK did, but apply it to level economic self sufficiency in the world. Little did I know, my niche for solving this problem would be applying economic empowerment via social networking.
It’s funny how fast things can change in 4 months. During that time, Twitter was the rage and growing like crazy, Facebook as well. Once I was released, I was reading up on all this wealth being made in new media. I started thinking back to what topics naturally attracted me, and I ended up with the Internet, creative marketing, and helping others find the best within themselves. Once I understood what made me tick, I put ALL of my time and energy into learning all I could about them. I spent hours upon hours in bookstores reading all the material I could (Barnes and Nobles Education), subscribing to all the relevant blogs, analyzing trends, and creating a few websites myself. I also became the Director of Sales & Marketing at a local mobile advertising startup in Richmond. So basically, I took the self-education route.
Still, I kept digging into information about the causes of the problems we have in the world, and I started to see they kept pointing to the current economic system we have in place, Capitalism; which values short term profit over people and the environment. It also thrives off of scarcity. I also became aware of social entrepreneurship (thanks to Muhummad Yunnus), worker cooperatives, how money is created by the Federal Reserve, and local currencies.
The Economic Evolution
After an intensive search into the cause of the majority of the problems in the world, I had an epiphany. I realized that the popular economic model in the world, Capitalism, is like a game that thrives off scarcity and concentrates power and wealth in the hands of the few; thus exploiting everything for short-term profit. It also allows for the creation of money to be monopolized by central banks. These centralized institutions get to dictate how much money goes into the economy and how much is taken out. With money being the medium for which people use to obtain their needs, this essentially leads to these central authorities indirectly controlling society’s livelihood. Furthermore, I realized how conventional money creates barriers for people to fully reach their potential by having financial gatekeepers to dictate what’s valuable and what’s not.
This lead to me asking myself the following questions: What if people no longer needed a third party to create their money? What if this manipulated scarcity no longer existed? What if people self-organized to get themselves out of the current economic turmoil? What if everyone had the opportunity to self-actualize? This led to the creation of an idea called Producism on Labor Day 2010.
Producism is an economic model that creates people-powered stimulus packages and sustainable local communities. Think of it as a decentralized social capitalism that is focused on localism, creative sustainability, and collective economic empowerment. Mutual Credit, Social Entrepreneurship, Cooperatives, Social Networking, and Gamification is the foundation of this evolutionary idea. Producism is all about making the change you want to see by sustainably producing and consuming with local digital currency.
My hypothesis is that Producism will:
- End poverty, unemployment, and money-related crime
- Create a sustainable world
- Bring enterprise back to its original purpose: serving the public good
- Empower humanity to reach their full potential
- Infuse diversity
- Make everyone a passionate social entrepreneur
- Weave communities back together
- Bring the economic power back to the hands of the people
The Producism Principles
- Everyone should experience ownership and self-sufficiency; especially in a form of work that a person has a passion for.
- Profit should not hold more importance than people and the environment.
- Enterprise should provide exceptional value to its customers and teammates/shareholders while making substantial investments in making the world a better place.
- Mutual Credit will fill the gaps left by national currencies.
- Society should replicate the same principles as nature’s economy for its money system so it is sustainable.
- Human happiness cannot be achieved either by spiritual uplift alone or material advancement alone, both of these aspects have to be equally developed to acquire happiness.
Fears and Obstacles
I kept questioning why I was attracted to all of this information to formulate the idea of Producism. I have no formal training or prestigious credentials in the field of Economics. So at first, I was hesitant to share this idea with others. I told some of my friends about it, but they quickly dismissed it as a pipe dream. But I remembered I read about how Albert Einstein, Malcom X, Bill Gates, and many others were self-taught in their field. If they could do it, why couldn’t I. We all have the same potential within us, we just have to become aware of it and ACT on it. We’re all like seeds. If we get what we need for our growth, we’ll evolve into what we were meant to be.
So brushing my fears aside, I decided to create some websites to get my ideas out there. I started reaching out to college students at Virginia Commonwealth University to become a part of the cause because I noticed that all major change that ever happened in this world started at the collegiate level. I put a team together, but I didn’t have any capital or connections to really make a strong impact. However, I did have a few things: an old Dell Inspirion 1300 laptop, Internet access, a pocket video camera, passion, dedication, and an open mind. After becoming aware of the Lean Startup Movement, I learned that you have to start with the resources you have and ACT NOW, and if the idea is good enough, you’ll attract whatever else you need.
The Dream Journey
In order to raise awareness about our cause, I decided I had to take a risk that most people won’t. For a full year, I would couch-surf, give away 90% of my belongings to the homeless and have no guaranteed income from no source other than my own entrepreneurial efforts. My goals with this challenge were to show people how you can start with nothing and still reach your dreams, and help people become aware of Producism.
I started this challenge on Oct. 20th, 2010, and it ended this past October. It has been one hell of a ride! I noticed once I fully let go of control of my life and put it in the hands of the Universe, the resources I needed attracted to me.
On this journey, my main goal was to GIVE; give supporters my expertise on how to utilize the Internet to pursue their passions, and connect them into our growing grassroots-based network of growth-minded individuals. My team and I met and helped a lot of great people in our local area and abroad. It was more of an experiment than anything else, but a fun one indeed. On June 27th 2011, we formed The Illuminated Ventures Project LLC, and officially became an idea incubator cooperative focused on creating projects for social change. Our first project is Producia, which is a localized and member-owned social network that gamifies the economic model of Producism. The goal is for members to team up with others in their local area to create projects they have a passion for that serves a market-based need and solves a social and/or environmental problem in their community using a monetary model called Mutual Credit. It's a social network, bank, marketplace, and startup incubator all-in-one, that uses gamification to fully engage our members' interests and a cause (Producism) to give them meaning for participating.
So In closing, I understand some people may judge me based on my past, but I don’t regret it one bit. It made me into the person I am today and it taught me so much. I personally experienced college life, the corporate world, and the challenges that disadvantaged youth face. This gives me an unique perspective, and the ability to connect with “both sides of the fence.” So if you are more interested in where I am going, instead of where I came from, let's change the world together. If not, I’ll see you down the line.