Speed of LITE: Changing the visibility of minority entrepreneurs

“Urban areas and ghettoes make more followers than leaders,” said James Brown, a high school entrepreneur. "I want to change that."
James Brown Jr.’s day is much like that of other advanced high school students.
 
A senior at Whitehaven High School, Brown stays busy with his studies that include AP classes in calculus and English. A soccer player, he has his sights set on a future at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where he plans to major in accounting.
 
Oh, and he’s an entrepreneur.

Brown has launched Entrepreneurs Unified with assistance of Let's Innovation Through Education, a six-month entrepreneurial program for inner-city students to launch ideas and programs that could improve their communities.
 
Entrepreneurs Unified is more of an initiative. Brown has directed a series of interviews with Memphis-based minority entrepreneurs to share digitally and inspire the next generation of small business owners. 
 
Ranging from the medical profession to the fitness industry, the videos explore what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, hardships faced on the journey and any general advice that might help a young person get through whatever challenge he or she might face.
 
With his video series, Brown wants to change the public’s perception of what makes an entrepreneur. While African-Americans make up a large percentage of the Memphis population, they own a small fraction of the city’s businesses.
 
“My solution is people don’t know about entrepreneurship and the specific things it takes to become an entrepreneur,” Brown said. “I’m interviewing minorities because there aren’t enough of us.”
 
Brown’s desired audience is urban youth.
 
“Urban areas and ghettoes make more followers than leaders,” he said. “I want to change that. Young people are attracted to social media. It’s a process, but it’s going well.”
 
Between school, focusing on his future and establishing a new business, his days are busy. But Brown said he handles it because of his unique approach.
 
“You make it a challenge yourself; it’s a mental thing,” he said. “Every day with AP calculus, AP English, but I’m not challenged because I don’t let myself be challenged. I do what’s asked of me and do a little more. Education is second nature.”
 
Brown called high school a mental game.

Brown didn’t shy from the challenges he’s faced in what he called an urban life. He lives with his grandparents where he prefers to spend his time inside studying. That’s in part to prepare for his future, but he also said it’s not safe outside in his neighborhood. He doesn’t socialize much, he admits.
 
Brown’s mother died in 2012 from a brain aneurism. He was 13.
 
After her death, Brown lived with his father and younger sister for a couple of years until he decided to move in with his grandparents. He felt it was a better environment.
 
“Being a black kid, you have to grow up quick or you’ll get swallowed up. I had to open my eyes a bit earlier than I was supposed to do.”
 
Brown has four siblings, including an older brother who was shot and killed in 2008 shortly after leaving service in the U.S. Navy.
 
Those life experiences have shaped Brown’s entrepreneurial focus on helping other young people find inspiration. His story possibly is inspiration in itself.
 
Brown said he likes to challenge authority in certain ways. He is a thinker and a doer.
 
“I try to make people think harder and smarter,” he said. “I want things to flow better.”
 
He credits LITE for helping him focus his organizational skills into entrepreneurial thinking. LITE helped Brown give structure to what began as a broad idea.
 
As far as what the future holds, well, Brown is hopeful the business remains a focus while he concentrates on his studies next year in Knoxville.
 
“It has a lot of potential to be a big thing,” he said, hinting at how social media can spread a message like a wildfire. He has the opportunity to keep that momentum going at LITE Memphis' pitch night on December 9. Brown will be one of 25 high school entrepreneurs competing for two $500 grants.
 
“With social media you don’t have to be the brightest person to be famous. My business has a lot of potential to get huge over time. … I’m hoping everyone sees it and I hope it changes someone’s life, whether a young person living in Memphis or in Milwaukee.”
 
It’s safe to say it will be because of his brains, not in spite of. At any rate, Brown keeps focused on what seems to be a bright future. He often reflects on a favorite quote to keep him pointed there.
 
“Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift,” he said. “You have to make it worthwhile. It’s just me making it worth my while and not doing silly things in the streets.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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