As an African-American male from Brooklyn, N.Y., it was easy to feel that I was expected to fail. I grew up under the care of my grandmother. We relied on monthly government assistance programs. Because we couldn’t afford lights or hot water year round, we sat in the dark on many nights and we boiled water to wash on many days.
My life could have predictably remained a part of the cruel cycle of poverty and senseless crime, but that changed last January when a homicide occurred on my street. The murder — another statistic pointing toward my possible fate — definitively confirmed that Brooklyn was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I knew I had to put myself and my grandmother in a better situation. Through that experience and others, I’ve developed a burning desire to make a successful career for myself by becoming a certified public accountant and an entrepreneur.
Rider has presented me with many life-changing opportunities that have put me on a path to achieve these goals. However, a trip to the Inc. 5000 Conference in San Antonio, Texas, this past October gave me my greatest eye-opening opportunity to break free of my inner-city origins. The conference is normally open exclusively to successful entrepreneurs. But this year, Norm Brodsky ’64 leveraged his longtime connection to the magazine to open the door to a handful of select Rider students.
I was chosen to attend by faculty based on an essay I wrote. I was excited but unsure how I was going to relate to extremely successful entrepreneurs. As if I had the acumen to talk about building million-dollar businesses! Not knowing what to expect, say or do, I followed the lead of Norm and his wife, Elaine, who paid for all of our expenses and eased our tension by assuring us our main job was to soak up as much knowledge and experience as possible.
With my nerves eased, I sat in VIP seating each morning and wrote down every piece of striking advice that the main stage speakers shared. Author Gretchen Rubin challenged me to be happier in my life. Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich spoke to me when he discussed financial consciousness. Researcher Brené Brown dared me to lead and painter Scott Jacobs shifted my entire perspective on finding my life’s purpose.
After I graduate in May, I will start at KPMG on Wall Street — one of the Big 4 accounting firms — specializing in audit financial services. However, my ultimate goal is to own my own business. I want to serve as a role model for inner-city youth through my business success and entrepreneurship.
The Inc. 5000 Conference ended with my first-ever black-tie gala, where I sat in the first row watching companies and individuals being honored for their accomplishments. Norm received an award for his lifetime achievements. As I watched him, I felt incredible gratitude toward him and Elaine for making the entire trip possible and changing my life by sponsoring this amazing, unreal experience. Afterward, as I reflected on it, I told myself that in the future I wanted to be there attending not as a guest but as a successful business owner.