This bright group of teens entered the program with a strong desire to equip themselves with whatever it took to see their communities improved. These students are passionate about economic justice and aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves to do the work. They're learning to leverage their creativity, collective experiences and unique perspectives to develop businesses they can create now for longstanding impact on their community's narratives. Stay tuned to see what magic they create!
Dejashana Boyd is a freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign studying Sociology & Psychology and is from East Garfield Park. Ever since she was young, she knew she wanted to work with people - youth especially. Deja says she has lived in enough low-income neighborhoods to know that the status and the quality of life for Black people can be improved. She is determined to reach back to Black communities like hers and help her fellow roses from concrete blossom into the beautifully, Black, successful beings they are. Deja believes that with the right about of effort and collaboration, a lot inequities within Black neighborhoods can be improved. She wishes to create more opportunities for youth to receive mentorship, realize their potential and harvest their talents. “We are capable of amazing things and it is about time that we ensure that every young Black boy and girl that they truly can grow up to achieve greatness. SAY IT LOUD!”
Jarrius Carroll is a sophomore at Walter Payton High School. Jarrius is very involved at school, taking Jazz and Hip Hop dance classes, AP Human Geography and he plays the Alto Saxophone and Flute! Jarrius says he joined The Gray Matter Experience because he wishes to see more Black owned businesses and more Black people promoting Black people. Jarrius lives in the Austin community and loves helping people. He hopes to use his experience in the program to find more ways to support his community. Jarrius’ ultimate goal is affect change in low income communities. Fun Fact: Jarrius visited Shanghai and Taiwan last year to teach others about his experience attending an Expeditionary Learning school!
McKayla Carruthers is a freshman at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign studying Finance. McKayla says she joined The Gray Matter Experience because she needed the exposure. Her parents are both entrepreneurs and strongly encouraged her to pursue the same path. McKayla started her entrepreneurial pursuits by selling handmade bracelets and keychains in elementary school. In high school, she ran a natural hair shop from her living room for a brief period of time and is looking forward to launching her next venture. McKayla says she just wants to start a business that will help her community while doing something she loves, at the same time.
Maya Cooks is a freshman at the University of Chicago studying entrepreneurship and currently lives in the Ashburn neighborhood.. Her interests range from creative writing, researching philosophical theories to fashion, theatre, and music. Maya believes that her childhood has played a major role in the way she views the world. It has allowed her to reflect on the lessons learned from her community. The art form of make believe has given her the ability to view and analyze a situation in a different perspective and have a more open-minded and sensitive outlook on the lives of others. Her childhood toys were the tools she used to express what confused, angered, and left her feeling less than what she was. As an entrepreneur, she wants to create a doll brand that represents a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, and languages to show young girls, as well as young boys, that one’s appearance, religion, gender, etc. - shouldn’t dictate how you treat someone. Maya hopes to teach generations youth to be inspired and empowered by the qualities that make them unique.
Lameka Hayes is a freshman at DePaul University studying Business Management & Entrepreneurship and is a resident of the Chatham community. Lameka is also a Co-Founder of Chi Chic Boutique - a company providing discounted formal wear to underserved students. Lameka says Business and Computer Science are her two burning passions. She currently works at Rush University Medical Center as an IT Information Services intern. Lameka plans to use her internship and programs like The Gray Matter Experience as a stepping stone to launch her own ideas. “I see just how much our communities lack the resources for kids to do anything, but the right thing.” Lameka wants to use her knowledge, passion, and vision to find ways to create businesses that will highlight Black excellence. She believes Black owned businesses are the key to strengthening our communities and wants to be a leader in this movement – “a leader that unlocks the full potential of my African American peers using the butterfly effect. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Yasmine Haynes is a junior at Walter Payton College Prep. She’s from the Humbolt Park neighborhood, but recently moved to South Shore. Yasmine loves to create visual art, specifically drawings and sculptures, and loves to sing. She’s a member of Perfection Girls’ Acapella Group. Yasmine comes from a diverse cultural background, as her mother was born in Panama and my father is of African American and Guyanese heritage. She aspires to have a career that relates to social activism and plans on helping make positive changes to the way that Black people live and connect to each other. Yasmine is interested in entrepreneurship because she believes that in order to help the Black community, one of the first things we have to change is where we put our money. By creating and locating black owned business in black neighborhoods, we can advocate for cultural empowerment, economic advancement and the improvement of our community.
Jaleea Henderson is a recent graduate of UIC College Prep and was raised in the North Lawndale community. Her goal is to become a successful entrepreneur and inspire teens to pursue their future at an early age. Jaleea says although there are no programs in her community where teens can pursue their careers at an early age, the community has started an apprenticeship where teens can sign up for classes like knitting, poetry, music, etc. Through this opportunity, Jaleea became interested in working for herself and joined The Gray Matter Experience to help learn how to use her passions to make an impact.
Jordan Lewis is a young emerging entrepreneur from the South Shore neighborhood. Jordan is a freshman @ Trinity College studying Public Policy & Law. Lewis also placed 2nd in our 2nd Annual Pitch Black Competition and is the Founder of Kids Going Out (KGO), LLC. KGO is a teen-run event company that provides a safe space and events for teens to convene and network. As one of Urban Prep Academies (his alma mater) top ranking seniors academically, he has proven and demonstrated leadership skills needed in our communities today. Growing up in the South Shore neighborhood, Jordan has seen the highs and lows of his community. Because of this exposure, his career goal is to become an Urban Planner and help make communities like his better. Jordan, known as ‘Big Lew’ by his peers, is a rising DJ who has become a well-known name amongst teenagers in Chicago. He is the creator of KGOFest, Chicago’s largest teen party that boasts attendance of over 1,000. KGOFest also displays young music artist from Chicago and allows for young fashion designers to display their work as well. Amongst several accolades and achievements, Jordan takes pride in being a Posse Scholar who is headed to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in the fall of 2018. He plans to major in Urban Studies. From there, he plans to begin his Urban Planning career. Jordan is hoping to use the skills and resources from The Gray Matter Experience to grow and expand his business and find more ways to improve communities like his. For ‘Big Lew’s’ DJ services visit his website www.djbiglew.net for booking information.
Jovoney Morton is a freshman at Howard University studying Supply Chain Management. As a teen growing up on the South side of Chicago dealing with gun violence in many capacities -including having family friends struck down by it, family members incarcerated by it, and being at events where it has erupted, she wants to combat that problem. Another problem she would like to tackle is expanding resources for Chicago teens to explore the various options available to them both school and career-wise. Jovoney wants to provide a safe environment for Chicago youth to enjoy themselves, showcase their talents, and obtain mentorship without fearing for their safety. She hopes to provide a one-stop shop for Chicago teens to reach their goals and become greater than their environment. "With the right resources and opportunities, anyone - despite their background, neighborhood, education, and race, can pave their own way." Jovoney hopes to gain those resources and opportunities through The Gray Matter Experience.
Melvin Olive is a senior at Lindblom Math & Science Academy. Over the years he accomplished many great things which include 1st place selections for various science projects and class competitions. Melvin is considered a strategic, competitive and passionate thinker. His plans for the future include establishing an investment firm that invest in minority owned businesses. He also has plans to establish a brain to computer interface company and possibly an interior/architecture design firm. Melvin has leveraged his education at Lindblom Math and Science Academy to study Mandarin and elevate his science and math foundation. He believes that a strong connection to technology will enable the world to become a better place overall. What pushes Melvin to meet his goals the most? The concept of utilizing technology to elevate human living.
Jordan Quinn is a recent graduate from Lindblom MSA. Jordan is taking a gap year as he works on his business, Manza - a Black business directory with a social mission. Jordan hopes to create a more efficient way to buy and sell Black with his business, Manza. Jordan identifies himself as a student/actor/gamer/technologist/ entrepreneur and Black activist from the Southside of Chicago. Jordan says he’s been interested in technology since he was a child and in entrepreneurship since his mom started her own business. He was able to watch the business and his mom grow through the process, to the point that it became a sustainable form of income for a family of two. Jordan believes that generational wealth is the key to development in the Black community and it’s one of his personal life goals to achieve. He believes that although there are many ways to go about achieving generational wealth, entrepreneurship is not only the best, but most needed solution in the Black community because it allows an avenue for Black people to support their own communities, which is self-beneficial and establishes a positive cycle for continued prosperity. His goal is to build a better future for everyone and hopes to do everything he can to achieve that.
Lloyd Rice is a junior at St. Ignatius College Prep and a resident of the Morgan Park/Beverly area. Lloyd says he is pursuing entrepreneurship because he would like to attain enough resources to not have to worry about money anymore. He believes that entrepreneurship can help he and others bring more economic stability to the Black community which is greatly needed. He says "we have people that can change things for the better our community, all we need is to provide them opportunities." When not pursuing his entrepreneurial endeavors, Lloyd likes to play soccer and run track. His other interests include beekeeping, designing sneakers and apparel items, dabbling in stocks, cooking/baking, and creating various forms of art, such as music and drawings.
Rakeem Seaton is a junior at UIC College Prep and lives in the West Garfield Park community. At UIC College Prep, Rakeem plays the Alto Saxophonist in the school concert band and in the school Jazz band – he’s been playing for six years! Rakeem says his community is a part of who he is. He says he’s witnessed too many people not see the beauty that is within their own community. Rakeem likes to practice what he preaches by remaining active in his community. He’s done over 100 community service hours, has been a part of the Chicago Police Explorers program, and has participated in marches and protests to convince people to put the guns down. Rakeem says he wants the world to know that Black people are special and can do anything they put their mind to. He aims to showcase the talent that we each possess within. Rakeem loves working with people and working in teams. He’s a member of Rugby, Football, Lacrosse and Basketball teams and is also in the Marine Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at his school. Rakeem joined The Gray Matter Experience to help equip himself with the tools needed to further impact his community.
Ezekiel Stevens is a freshman at Morehouse College studying Business Finance. Growing up in a broken home of six, his family struggled financially – forcing them to move six times and him to attend five different grammar schools. Moving from the Eastside of Chicago to Beverly was a culture shock Zeke experienced, that molded his mindset to strive for greater. He believes God allowed him to endure his struggles so his later years would be a gradual incline of positivity and greatness. This experience helped to create a mindset that loves failures - using them as motivation and staring fear in the face and knocking it down. Zeke is currently working on a social hydration bag called “Cactus Pac” through his high school. He also customizes and restores shoes and runs a successful apparel business which he sets up outside of the Chicago Cubs and Bulls games. Through Gray Matter, he hopes to network and gain more knowledge to ensure success which will allow him to touch lives and give back.
Jakaija Truitt is a freshman @ DePaul University studying Biology Pre Med & Nursing. Jakaija is also a co-founder of Chi Chic Boutique - a company providing discounted formal wear to underserved students and currently resides in the Chatham neighborhood. Jakaija has a strong passion for Medicine and has dreams of becoming a trauma surgeon for United States Military. She’s also passionate about the advancement of Black people, the preservation of Black culture, and improving the socioeconomic standings of Black people at all levels. Growing up, she was raised in the suburbs and attended predominantly white institution where she was often isolated, racially profiled and deemed a threat without any negative action. Through it all, she was able to find her worth and use her experience to facilitate change, be the change that she wants to see, and create her own path to help children so that they would not have to experience what she did. Jakaija wants to create change to show young Black girls and boys that they are beautiful, possess greatness and can achieve anything they set their minds to.
Shaniya Washington is a senior at Whiting High School in Whiting, Indiana. She spends most of her time in the South Shore and is interested in graphic design and editing. Shaniya currently runs a graphic design business, Niya Chris Prints, where she creates personal logos, cartoons, posters, t-shirt designs and more, that she’s run since late 2016. She has given back to her community by creating posters and t-shirt designs for South Shore High School Reunion picnic and has done work for her school making snapchat filters for football, basketball games, and special events. Shaniya is hopeful that the Gray Matter Experience will provide her with the knowledge needed to be a successful entrepreneur.
Dartonya Wright is a recent graduate of Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep Academy and resides in Chicago, Illinois. Dartonya is a creative individual whose main goal is to improve the neighborhood that she grew up in - Englewood. She made an impact in her community by joining an organization called TRACE. There she solves many community issues by reimagining art, community, and environment. She brings dedication, collaboration, and creativity into any project she’s involved with, which makes helps her to create impressive pieces of work. One of her hidden talents is her analytical skills which she showcased in the Stock Market Game by Econ Illinois, and was honored as the first-place winner of the 2015 edition. In the Stock Market game, she was able to get an almost 14% financial gain within a few months. This further highlights her skills for analyzing data, taking risks, and making good decisions when it comes to finance. In her spare time, she likes to write poetry, connect the dots to conspiracy theories and brainstorm new business ideas.