My Story and Purpose: How Producism Was Created
Me as a Toddler
I was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. New Haven, a.k.a. “Elm City,” is a small area consisting of around 129,000+ people. I was raised in a household that was just below middle class. I had a strong support system from my parents growing up, ensuring my needs were met and that I felt loved.
The West Rock Warriors – My Middle School Team
My Friends and I Graduating Middle School
My 10th Grade Honors History Class
I did pretty well in school. I received Academic Honors from 6th Grade until 11th Grade, stayed active in basketball throughout middle school and high school, which included AAU.
Although I did pretty well academically and athletically, I was exposed to many challenges when it came to personal development. The majority of my immediate family hadn’t graduated from high school. All of my brothers, except one, sold drugs and was involved in a life of crime. I grew up as an adolescence in the Newhallville section of New Haven, where a lot of violence and crime ensued. It’s an area where the top priority of most people was to simply get a good job to pay bills. I knew I wanted more than that. My first step was getting out of New Haven. I applied to only two colleges, Norfolk State and Virginia Commonwealth University. I always liked the name “Virginia” and it being in the middle of the East Coast was also a plus. Finally, I decided during the summer of 2001 to enroll at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.
My Friends and I in College During New Years
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 rolled around and I was on academic probation. My financial aid was cut back and I could no longer afford to go to school. From there, 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 multi-level-marketing 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 resorted to selling marijuana to my friends on the side. Though this may sound bad and completely out of character, when your back is against the wall, you sometimes make decisions you normally would never choose.
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 the CEO of Facebook, how he was doing pretty well and seemed to really enjoy it. Sooner than later, everyone I knew around town had a Facebook account. I didn’t know in the future that Facebook would lead me to finding my passion. But before that would happen, my life would be turned completely upside down.
Me, My Nephew, and My Dad
In April 2006, my dad died due to the complications of having Diabetes. This was a huge blow to me since it was the first time someone close to me passed. Only a month later, I was 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 administrative circumstances led to me violating those terms. I was given the choice to receive 3 more years of probation or spend a total of 4 months at a federal prison camp and be totally free of the system.
Once again, I chose the latter.
Lewisburg Federal Prison is where I served my time. Once again, since I had a minor offense, I was at the camp where inmates weren’t in cells. Because of this, we could walk outside around campus. There was also a wide variety of people there. In addition to drug dealers, inmates also included former stockbrokers, doctors, and corporate executives. As far as recreational activities, there was an outdoor basketball court, outdoor track, indoor/outdoor gym and a library. These were the places where I spent most of my time. Instead of looking at this environment as a prison, I imagined I was there to participate in a boot camp for my mind, body, and spirit. Most of my activities consisted of reading, working out, meditating, and planning.
That period of being in the system was the most challenging time of my life, though I now 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 worked. During my time there, I noticed three things that sparked my interest in economics:
- A majority of the inmates’ charges were related to money in some way, most often, the lack of it, which prompted them to take an illegal route to get it, just like I did.
- The prison paid inmates around 30 cents an hour to do strenuous manual labor, such as breaking down large televisions for recycling, and resold the parts for a nice profit.
- Inmates used postage stamps and fish packs as currencies to trade various goods and services amongst themselves.
This period also gave me a lot of time to think about what my passions in life were. I searched deep within myself for the answers. I tried to think about situations in which I were 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 is 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 he did, but apply it to help level economic self-sufficiency in local communities around the globe. I told myself once I was released from the system, I was going to put my all into realizing my dream, no matter what obstacles came in my way.
On June 2009, I was finally free from the legal system. It’s funny how fast things can change in 4 months. During that time, Twitter and Facebook were all the rage and growing like crazy. I immediately began reading up on all the wealth being made on the web. I also started thinking back to what topics naturally attracted me. Not too long after, I ended up with the Internet, creative marketing, and helping others bring out 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, subscribing to a ton of relevant blogs, analyzing trends, and creating a few websites myself. I also became the Director of Sales & Marketing at a local mobile advertising start-up in Richmond. Basically, I took the self-education route.
I kept digging into information about the causes of problems we have in the world, which over time kept pointing to the current economic system we have in place. But what really opened my eyes to the problems of today’s economic system was a documentary called Zeitgeist. This was how I became aware of how the dollar was created and monopolized by The Federal Reserve. I learned that those who control money, control everything because almost everything in society is linked to it. Learning about this information made me feel powerless. I seriously considered throwing in the towel about pursuing my goals. Fortunately, that was the exact time when alternative economics came into my reality. Concepts such as social entrepreneurship, worker cooperatives, and people-created currencies provided a lot of hope and triggered something I never had up until then, purpose.
The Economic Evolution
After investigating alternative economics more deeply, I came across an economic model called Distributism, which is the localizing of enterprise and democratizing the means of production. I was interested in promoting this model to the public. However, the word “distribute” made me think about the negative connotation a lot of people have surrounding redistributing wealth. For that reason, I started to think of another word. I asked myself, “What is the main goal for people operating in an economy?” The answer that came to me was people producing value for each other. The word “produce” stood out to me. I did a Google search for the word “Producism” and saw no one was currently using it. After that, I was thinking of a logo to use and I finally decided on the barcode. The barcode represents trade and I wanted to create an economic model that represented the evolution of that term.
I then asked myself the following questions:
What if a massive amount of people realized the rigged game we were playing?
What if people had a convenient way to self-organize a new economy to get themselves out of the current economic turmoil?
What would the world look like if everyone had the opportunity to self-actualize?
This inquiry led to the creation of Producism on Labor Day 2010.
Fears and Obstacles
I kept questioning my attraction to alternative economics, which eventually led me to formulating the idea of Producism. I have no formal training or prestigious credentials in the field of Economics. 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 reading how Albert Einstein, Malcom X, Bill Gates, and many others were self-taught in their fields. 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’s needed for growth, we’ll evolve into what we were meant to be. But many people are used to living in environments that are like infertile soil. Maybe, I thought, it’s time to add a new, fertile layer?
Brushing my fears aside, I decided to create a few websites to get my ideas out there. I started reaching out to college students at VCU to become a part of the cause because I noticed that most profound changes started at the collegiate level. I put a team together, though lacking 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. If the idea is good enough, you’ll attract whatever else you need.
The Dream Journey
In order to raise awareness about our cause and to put myself in a situation where I was forced to get out of my comfort zone, I decided I had to take a risk that most people would not. I would begin by giving away 90% of my belongings to the homeless, and for a full year, I would couch-surf and have no guaranteed income from any source other than my own entrepreneurial efforts. My goals with this challenge were to show people how they can start with nothing and still build their dreams, and how living an alternative lifestyle can be possible.
What really inspired me to take this journey was a book called Siddhartha. For those who don’t know, it’s about the life of Buddha and how he gave up his worldly possessions and went into the wilderness in order to find enlightenment. I wanted to live out a modern version of that story. Furthermore, many of us want to wait until everything is in place before beginning the process of pursuing our dreams. I thought if I inspired just one person to begin working on their dreams immediately, no matter what obstacles were in their way, maybe that would spark a positive ripple effect.
I started this challenge on Oct. 20th, 2010, and it is still continuing. It has been one hell of a ride so far! I noticed once I fully surrendered to the Universe, while taking consistent action towards my purpose, the resources I needed attracted to me.
Initially during this journey, my main goal was to give. I wanted to 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 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 officially formed “The Illuminated Ventures Project LLC”, and became an idea incubator cooperative focused on fusing technology and social good to create startup companies. Our first major project is Producia, which is part online marketplace, part startup incubator for the new economy. I believe with all of my heart that if Producia is supported in the same way a lot of other popular tech companies are, it will create a new paradigm and empower so many people to take their economic destinies into their own hands, in an interdependent way.
I’m currently writing this passage with $2.45 in my account. I gave up almost everything to develop this dream I have. On the days that seem to challenge me the most, I think to myself “What the hell are you doing? Who do you think you are to believe you can change anything?” Then, I remind myself about other change makers that started out with nothing as well, and eventually made a strong impact on the world. I also think about all of the youth who are trapped in a socio-economic status due to no fault of their own, and realizing no matter what society may say about them reaching “The American Dream,” it’s mathematically proven that many of them won’t .
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 many disadvantaged youth face. This gives me a unique perspective and the ability to connect with the so-called “haves” and “have-nots.” 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.