This dynamic cohort joined the program eager to be connected to the people, places and things that would help them turn their passions into impact. These #gmechangers are strong-willed and determined to put in the work it takes to be successful. They're collaborative, curious, creative, and empowered and we can't wait to equip them with the right resources to make an impact within and outside the city of Chicago. Keep watch for this group, you'll surely hear more about their successes.
Joel Barrows is a freshman at Eastern Illinois University majoring in Business Management. Joel says his football and educational performance has been one of the hardest duos to master. But despite the countless challenges he’s faced, he’s devoted most of his life to learning the ins and outs of being equally developed in both skill sets. Joel has played football since the third grade. He knew he loved football and making money, but was unsure of how he could use that passion once football ended. After taking a few business seminars, being around multiple successful entrepreneurs, and a microeconomics courses in high school, he decided to enter college majoring in business with a minor in sports management.
Joel enjoys exploring other cultures and learning more about the world. He has taken French for four consecutive years and in the spring of 2017, went on a foreign exchange to France and toured over 6 different countries. Joel is a part of the principal student advisory council, where he serves as a mediator between students and the administration, solving different school issues, and making the school environment more enjoyable and productive. Joel is a four-sport athlete with 13 division one full-ride scholarship offers. Joel says he is determined to become successful.
Charles Byers IV
Charles Byers IV is a 15-year-old sophomore at Urban Prep West. He’s a sound engineer, producer, rapper, songwriter, and composer. He goes by the stage name “FTG KT” and has made multiple records and connections with worldwide artists. He’s relentless, accountable, exceptional, respectful, intelligent and resilient. He’s interested in entrepreneurship and plans on creating his own record label and production company for young, up-and-coming artists.
Music has been his life, as well as basketball and karate. He did martial arts from preschool to the eighth grade and competed in multiple regional and international championships. He played basketball in eighth grade for Vanderpoel and freshman year for Urban Prep West. He helped his team win the Saint Sabina Peace League during his eighth grade year at John H. Vanderpoel Humanities Academy. He’s now the number one freshman at Urban Prep West attaining a 4.3 GPA his first semester.
Lillyth Douglas is a junior at Lincoln Park High School. She is a recent transplant from the East Coast, having arrived in Chicago from MD in 2018 to live with her father. Back in MD, she was her school’s biggest advocate for strengthening gun laws: writing and presenting a speech on gun violence, organizing and leading a school walk-out, and planning and executing a bus trip to Washington D.C. to attend the “March for Our Lives” event. She is also an aspiring entrepreneur following in her father's footsteps who founded Yolobe, a digital start-up out of 1871 within Chicago with a mission to connect young adults everywhere with the jobs, opportunities, and resources they need to succeed in today’s ever-changing world.
She has been an instrumental part of Yolobe’s early successes. She’s participated in events for unemployed and underemployed people at job fairs and presented at Microsoft headquarters in Chicago. Currently, she is preparing to launch her student-run employment agency at Lincoln Park High School. Lillyth is adamant that despite what trials life might throw at you, it is best not to play the victim but rather remain optimistic and continuously strive to improve oneself and the world. She wants to contribute to real and meaningful change in the world in which we live and will stop at nothing to achieve this.
Caleb Dunson is CEO of Youth Entrepreneurship League (YEL), a lifestyle brand for young entrepreneurs. Additionally, Caleb is currently a senior and honor roll student at Whitney Young High School. Caleb has a passion for social entrepreneurship and believes business can be used to solve many of the world’s most pressing issues. He launched the Youth Entrepreneurship League (YEL), which curates relevant business content for young entrepreneurs, leveraging an innovative website, blogs from successful entrepreneurs, networking events with plans to build a teen co-working space and launch a podcast series. Caleb’s leadership experience includes being Junior Class President, where he worked to increase civic engagement, create equity, and build community through several initiatives.
Perhaps his biggest accomplishment in this role, Caleb organized a debate for the 2019 mayoral election, the first student-organized mayoral debate in school history. Caleb also has a passion for service and remains civically engaged. He regularly volunteers at “The Bridge,” a program that supports returning citizens. He is currently a part of a fellowship that aims to launch a national social media campaign about equity in civic education. Caleb has been offered admission to several colleges, including Yale University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. He plans to major in Computer Science or Economics and continue his commitment to social entrepreneurship.
Ayana Fairley is a senior at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and currently lives in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Ever since she was born she loved reading, writing, children and animals. Ayana not only wants to better low-income neighborhoods but third world countries to have more opportunities that better their country and give them better opportunities. She wants education to be more accessible to children in third-world countries who don’t have much money.
Ayana believes children in third-world countries shouldn’t have to pay for education and should have it for free. She believes that there should be more accessible opportunities for youth regarding their careers so they have more exposure to careers they may want to pursue. Ayana believes that everyone can be an entrepreneur as long as they are willing to put in the work and dedication that’s needed to be an entrepreneur. Erin Philyaw, Ayana’s English teacher, used to say, “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the man to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”
Ayema Fairley is a current senior at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She likes to read, draw and study. Her main interest is writing. Writing has been her divine passion since the 7th grade, ever since she wrote her first poem. Writing has been her way to escape and find freedom. She writes based on her mood, emotions, thoughts and feelings. She believes that writing is an essential way for her to connect to the world and help others understand how she works and how she processes her thoughts.
She loves the free use of language that comes along with writing because there’s no right or wrong answer in free writing and no one can openly take away this escape from her. She wants to continue writing as long as she has a passion for it. Lastly, writing consists of words that can mean so much and words are hard to say, so this is her way of communicating openly to others. She believes that words are powerful enough to give life and take life from people, and she wants to use this power to better impact her community.
Jace Guy is a senior at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and a co-founder of Kangaroo, an on-demand delivery service for hair stylists. Jace is known amongst her peers as a go-getter - always on the move striving for success, she makes an effort to achieve goals big or small. She successfully manages being a teacher's assistant, working, school, community programming, and dance. While there are obstacles she faces every step of the way, that doesn’t deter her from achieving what she knows is her best.
Jace believes that if you want something bad enough, nothing can stop you. With a high spirit and drive she identified that entrepreneurship would feed her desire to be innovative and put her ideas to use. As she enters her senior year, she keeps in mind that for her to lead she has to learn, listen, and be observant. Pulling from a quote from John F. Kennedy, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
Janniya Hodge is a recent graduate of Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep where she served as the 2019 class treasurer. Janniya is also a co-founder of Kangaroo, an on-demand delivery service for hair stylists. Janniya believes that entrepreneurship is her calling. Throughout her time at Brooks, she was a prestigious member of the volleyball, basketball, and track and field teams. As a result of being sidelined from sports in June of 2018 due to an injury requiring mandatory surgery, Janniya explored the academic clubs at her school and identifies as a member of the NHS and NSBE.
Janniya also styles hair as a hobby, but decided to take it seriously after being rejected from employment opportunities in her neighborhood because of her “physical disability”. The day that Janniya was finally cleared to stand again, she was back doing hair, as her own boss. The momentum and development of her resilience have landed her an invitation to showcase her talents at the Annual “Girlpreneurship” (Girl Entrepreneurship) Exposition in Chicago and multiple booth offers.
John Ivy is a senior at Plainfield Central High School. John grew up on Chicago’s south side and recently moved to Plainfield, Illinois. He participates in the Chicago debate league, where he judges middle school debates and was a member of his school's debate team his freshman and sophomore years, where he served as president until he started the DP program - a highly selective course where students have the option of taking college courses their last two years of high school. Aside from his education, John is also the captain of his Volleyball team and his Model UN team as well as a student ambassador for his school, where he was recently voted President. John also plays the violin and has participated in competitions for his school’s orchestra.
John feels that his interest in entrepreneurship isn't about money and having large amounts of it (“it’s a nice amenity though”-John), but how you acquire it - being able to put a physical value on the work you completed and the fact that money is a universal tool that can be used any way you want it to. John feels that through marketing a set of ideals to youth and adults through activities and programs that pique their interest, his community can grow. Not just as individuals, but as a society bettering itself to allow the expansion of the community they wish to see.
Asia Jordan is a freshman at Governors State University where she is currently an upcoming Resident Assistant and a member of the Black Student Union which she joined to promote change and create activities for the black students. Asia is majoring in Business with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and in September 2020 will be dropping her clothing line. Asia joined the Gray Matter Experience to gain experience and insight into what it means to be an entrepreneur and what steps she needs to take to be successful. She also wants to see many more Black-owned businesses and she believes that she is certainly up next.
Asia is extremely motivated and has an extreme amount of confidence. She believes that she will be an extremely successful entrepreneur and has no doubts about that. Asia has wanted to be an entrepreneur since she was young and knows that this is her purpose in life. Asia is determined and wants to inspire others to believe in themselves and take a leap of faith when it comes to their goals. Asia is hard working, creative, intelligent and humble. Asia has worked hard for everything that she has and that has molded her into being the strong independent young lady she is today.
Aaron Mitchell is a senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep High School. He has many hobbies/talents that he enjoys doing in his spare time such as singing, rapping, producing and writing music. Aaron was seeking a program that would help him make a business out of his passions while also helping the injustices that are prevalent in the city as well. He wants to be able to mesh a good community atmosphere for youth and his passions to make the business beneficial for everyone a part of it. Seeing people in his community that have turned out for the worse - whether being in jail or killed, gave him a passion to try to help the community as best as he could.
He applied to The Gray Matter Experience in hopes of them being able to seriously help his dream of making the community better and blending passions within the business world. He spends every day thinking and hoping his dreams get fulfilled, and hopefully with the help of Gray Matter, he can make strides in the right direction.
Isaiah Reed is a senior at Wendell Phillips Academy High School. He’s originally from the West side of Chicago and recently moved to the Bronzeville neighborhood. Isaiah has a deep passion for photography, creating visual art, poetry and many other things involving health and wellness. He is very active in the African American community and wants to become a leader within his community. He has concluded that the best way to do this is to become a entrepreneur to provide services that will impact people in a meaningful way. Isaiah says “ My biggest goal as an entrepreneur is doing things such as creating more opportunities in the African American -South and West side communities to overall bring more hope to the hearts and minds of our people and then giving them the tools and knowledge needed to become conscious creators.”
Joseph Rey is a senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep where he currently serves as the Class President. He resides in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood of Chicago. Joseph maintains a 4.2 GPA while working a part-time job,. Aside from school and work, Joseph enjoys playing chess and basketball, as well as having long talks with friends and family. Although, at times it may not seem like it, Joseph is a very charismatic human being who builds his relationships off of respect, loyalty and trust. Joseph’s strong set of morals has driven him to not only help out those around him but also make him want to one day change the narrative of the Black community across the city of Chicago. The Gray Matter Experience will give Joseph exposure to the tools he needs to break the cycle of hardships that minorities face in the world today.
Dynasty Robinson is a sophomore at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. She is very determined, and open-minded and works well in a team. Ever since she was a child, she liked the thought of creating a product and becoming an entrepreneur. She soon started writing plans for the business which included ways to keep students safe on their way to school. Dynasty wants the world to be a better place and wants to do her part by starting more Black-owned businesses. Dynasty is constantly seeing daily problems in the world and wants to be able to solve them.
Shiann Singleton is a recent graduate of King College Prep High School and currently lives in the Lawndale neighborhood. Shiann joined the Gray Matter Experience to further her understanding of entrepreneurship as well as create her own business. Shiann is an artist. Three of her portraits were featured in the Black Creativity Exhibit at the Museum of the Science and Industry for Black History Month. Shiann believes she will be an extremely successful entrepreneur once her business gets off the ground. She believes that the Gray Matter Experience will help her get the connections to build her business and be successful. In the future, she hopes to see more Black and brown people create successful businesses.
Judai Smith is a sophomore at Kenwood Academy, where she enrolled after attending the highly selective Academic Center. Judai is also co-founder of Strength Together, an app supporting teens struggling with mental illness. She plans to build a career that uses architecture to rehabilitate and support communities. Judai is a creative soul, she's a painter, guitarist, photographer, and designer. Judai is committed to making a change which is why she is into entrepreneurship. Along with that, she is an honor student and very active in community service. She joined The Gray Matter Experience for exposure to entrepreneurs and to learn how to overcome barriers to follow her dreams. She lives every day with pride and thankfulness and believes that success comes through the suffrage of failure and pushing forward.
Brea Steward is a freshman at Howard University and is from the West Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. Growing up she watched her father succeed in teaching Entrepreneurship in the Chicago Public School system and then leave his day job to become an entrepreneur. At the age of 4, her father helped her jump-start her own t-shirt business in which she sold shirts she designed at an event at DePaul University. In Brea’s spare time, she enjoys listening to music, watching movies and reading mystery novels. She is currently the head basketball manager of her school’s boys basketball team which has helped her learn the management side of business.
In the Summer of 2018, Brea worked at Chicago Transit Authority’s Headquarters as an intern in the Law Department. Even though it wasn’t the field she wanted to pursue, it still gave her the experience of working at a desk and having to report to a higher authority would feel like. Upon graduation in June, she plans to attend Howard University as an Economics major. She wants to use her degree to help build up her community and better the people and businesses in it. The Gray Matter Experience is one step in Brea’s long process of helping to change the stigma on African-American teenagers in the inner city.
Yahriel Walton is a freshman at Fisk University and a former resident of the South Shore neighborhood. He is an undefeated (3 years) member of the chess club and president of student government, where he organizes school dances, and community service opportunities and voices the opinion of the student body. Outside of school, he enjoys spending time with friends, networking through LinkedIn, and spending time with family. His entrepreneurial spirit is influenced by his uncle, who has a national best-selling book, There Are No Children Here. He is a member of We Invest Black, a non-profit organization that helps youth raise capital to launch their own business.
Yahriel has been recognized by the Male Mogul Initiative as the first-place winner of its 3rd annual business pitch competition. He has his own clothing brand, Mobeni LLC., which has seen a steady increase in sales since its start in November 2018 and is planning to launch a line of men’s grooming products. Accepted to 16 different colleges and Universities, Yahriel chose Fisk University as his university of choice. His ultimate goal is to stimulate the underserved communities of Chicago.
Immanuel Taylor is a freshman at Iowa State University majoring in Animal Science. He has a ton of experience with working in different programs and organizations - from hosting radio shows to working for the JB Pritzker for Governor campaign. Coming from a large family of 10 siblings and playing football his whole life, he’s developed exceptional leadership skills and learned how to succeed both individually and within a team. Growing up on the southside of Chicago he’s faced gang and gun violence even at a young age, but has not let that shape who he is or what he will become. He’s proven a lot of people who doubted him wrong, even at this point and plans to continue.
He’s an aspiring veterinarian with the goal of one day providing a more convenient and affordable way for pet owners to care for their pets. He also plans to change the social perspective of young Black men in Chicago by continuing on his journey to success and not allowing outside factors to distract him from reaching his goals. He joined The Gray Matter Experience to learn and develop skills that will translate into his everyday life and to better understand how to succeed in the future. An exemplary student with ties to his family and community who will change the world!
Emmanuel Thompson is a go-getter. As a senior at Glenbard East High School, he opens closed doors and brings others on his way. Emmanuel is the founder of Strength Together, an app supporting teens struggling with mental illness. Not only has he begun teaching himself agile, he also built The Future Founders Club, to teach it to his peers. When he realized he was interested in technology, he built a few computers and then began to teach himself code. In doing so, he merged his passions in business, helping others and technology, and began developing an app to improve student's mental health. Friends of Emmanuel will vouch for his empathy, his strong drive and leadership skills and tell you how Emmanuel has helped decrease the number of suicides at his school and helped kids deal with their bullies. Emmanuel is passionate about entrepreneurship because he relishes the challenge, the next opportunity to put his skills to the test and come out on top, and then turn around to help others do the same.