Cohort 4 came in with an unmatched energy. A group of teens ready to change the world - little did they know, they’d actually have the chance to do so. The COVID-19 pandemic de-railed our programming, so we had to innovate quickly - shifting to a virtual cohort. These #gmechangers were more than ready for the challenge. They learned to collaborate virtually, become more flexible and agile in their approach and consider how they could use the unfortunate circumstances to build solutions for the changing environment. They’re committed to leveraging their smarts, talents and access to creating global solutions for the world’s most vulnerable communities and people. Without a doubt, this group will go on to do amazing things in this world. Follow along to keep up with their journeys.
Kamari Bates is a Junior at Chicago Tech Academy. Born and raised in the Austin community on Chicago’s West side, Kamari is the youngest of three children and has a big personality and many talents and interests — cosmetology, interior design, and fashion, to name a few. She also has an extreme love for people, and specifically feels called to inspire young girls of color nationally and internationally. As a youth, Kamari struggled with low self-esteem, and had a hard time finding her voice and knowing her worth. She has fought to find her superpower in being a young Black woman — backed by years of tradition and legacy and the love of her family — and plans to host workshops & open schools and beauty bars to help girls of color love themselves and build their confidence from within. Kamari will be part of the first generation in her family to attend college, and plans to earn degrees in business management, leadership, and fashion.
Samantha Brizuela is a Junior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep and a resident of the Southeast side of Chicago. Since her freshman year, she has been the captain of her school’s soccer team and maintained a 3.7 GPA while participating in her neighborhood YMCA and running 5k’s to raise money for charities. Empowering others makes Samantha feel accomplished; she uses her social media platforms to encourage her peers to plan for their futures and be vocal about their dreams, happiness and goals. Samantha plans to study Marketing and Business in college, and use her education to start a business after she graduates. She hopes that Gray Matter will deepen her understanding on how to take products from conception to market, and plans to pass her knowledge on to other seeking to better their lives.
Diego Chavez is a Senior at John F Kennedy High School, and currently resides on the Southeast side of Chicago. By his own initiative, Diego made connections through his school’s college and career center which allowed him to take the Dual Credit City Colleges Business and Marketing classes. These classes fueled his desire to someday own his own business. It was also through this connection that he was introduced to Genesys Works, the program that allowed him to get CISCO certified in the summer of 2019. Diego grew up being adversely affected by violence and a lack of resources within his community, but is determined to take control of his future and make the best out of every situation. He chose entrepreneurship because he wants to be his own boss and be in charge of his own financial destiny. Diego sees The Gray Matter Experience as an opportunity to network and make valuable connections needed to be successful in business, and wants to use that success to give others opportunities that he never had.
Tania Garcia is a Mexican-American student currently in her junior year of high school at John Hancock College Prep, planning to major in Business Administration in college. Although she was born and raised in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago, she now calls West Elsdon home. In addition to many rigorous AP classes, Tania also participates in the National Honors Society, Working on Womanhood (W.O.W), After School Matters, and the Academy Group, an organization that has been teaching her how to reach her full potential. She was given the opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador as part of a two-week service trip with the Academy Group. During this trip, Tania collaborated with students from across Chicago in multiple projects to help the residents of Riobamba, Ecuador. Now, with the Gray Matter Experience, Tania hopes to dig deeper into business and what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. To Tania, entrepreneurship is a tough job; it requires a lot of risk, self-dependence, and decision-making. However, it’s the process of starting something from scratch that excites her. It’s the ability to see everything go from a dream, to an idea, and into reality. With her hard-work and dedication, Tania hopes that Gray Matter will give her more insight and experience, and prepare her for her next project.
Miles Johnson is a freshman at Urban Prep and a resident of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. A true sports enthusiast, Miles is a track runner and a former swimmer, and plans to own a multi-billion dollar sports business. Miles grew up on the Northside of Chicago and ever since he was young he always wanted to create a business. He wants to be an entrepreneur because he wants to see more Black billionaires and millionaires, and wants to be counted in that number himself. Miles also wants to break through barriers and prove that African Americans can accumulate wealth. He hopes that the businesses he creates, and the ones that are inspired by his story, will break the stereotype that African Americans cannot own successful businesses, and drastically increase the number of Black owned & operated businesses in Chicago. He has always helped his community by doing service projects for groups like Jack and Jill and his stockbroking company the Good Sense Club. He wants to set an example for underprivileged kids and adults alike by showing that anyone can be great if they just put the time and effort into it.
Dania Jones is a senior at Gwendolyn Brooks. She is very adventurous and loves learning new things, not only about herself, but about the world. Aside from wanting to be an entrepreneur, Dania has a huge interest in medicine. At age 17 she was CNA certified, and her next step is becoming a RN. Dania decided to join the U.S. Navy after graduation, following in the footsteps of her military family. She is looking forward to the unique experience of being able to travel the world while getting an education on a ship. Dania knew being an entrepreneur was the most suitable lifestyle for her based on her sense of independence and simply wanting to do things on her own time. With receiving an unusually high allowance from her parents, Dania gained skills in money management at a very young age. For the summer of her sophomore year she babysat 2-5 kids and made a profit of a bit over $1,000. Dania also has experience investing, owning a portfolio of stocks and being an active trader in the foreign exchange market. She plans on owning a network of convenience stores and beauty shops all over the US. She is very hardworking and plans on using her knowledge from Gray Matter to get it done.
Steven Li s a Senior at Walter Payton College Prep, attending Stanford University as the Class of 2024. Steven was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with parents who emigrated from China. Much of Steven’s story is inspired by his immigrant parents’ dreams and motivation, where they moved to a new country with no education or prior English experience. His parents’ sacrifice to provide him a better opportunity in the United States has fueled his passion for entrepreneurship, an opportunity to express his individual ideas and projects into the real world. Steven began his entrepreneurial journey in the Economic Awareness Council for On the Money Magazine, where he manages interns to publish magazines educating youth about financial literacy and teen entrepreneurial experiences across Chicago Public Schools. Steven is also heavily involved in the environmentalism movement, leading him to found Unconventional Environmentalism, an initiative aimed at bringing awareness to environmental issues through unconventional means. This year’s project involves leading a group of students to launch a Kickstarter featuring a rapid-intense card game that integrates environmental commentary. In addition to entrepreneurship, Steven has brought his environmental passions in other non-business-related mediums. He has competed in individual research competitions, winning Illinois-wide awards for his environmental innovation. He has also interned at Lincoln Park Zoo, After School Matters, and studied abroad in Berlin, Germany with CIEE — all of which has helped him combine his passions of entrepreneurship, environmentalism, and youth impact.
Gerardo Padilla is a current senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. Gerardo has many hobbies and passions, such as reading, playing basketball, and hitting the gym. Gerardo also maintains a 3.8 GPA while working a part-time job. He enjoys having long talks with friends and family about politics and economics, and how to make the most money from what they have. Growing up on the South side of Chicago where shootouts and living check-to-check were routine for his immigrant family, he hopes that the knowledge and lifetime skills from Gray Matter will help him advise and mentor younger kids who live in smaller communities and have vast amounts of untapped potential. He believes that for his community, learning simple economic skills like the difference between an asset and a liability can be the difference between becoming a wealthy and not. He spends every day thinking of how to bring his small community more opportunities in the form of financial knowledge, and hopes to one day scale his efforts into third-world countries. Gerardo is passionate about being successful, and his next step is majoring in Business Management and Administration.
Julien Sims s a Junior at The University of Chicago Woodlawn Charter High School. Julien is actively involved within the school, where he serves as the Student Body President while maintaining a 4.01 GPA. In addition to excelling in academics, Julien is a three-sport athlete, participating in football, basketball, and track & field, where qualified for the IHSA Boys State Track and Field meet in two events. He currently resides in the Bronzeville neighborhood with active plans to continue developing the community. He is the owner of his own start-up, JuJu’s Cookies, and the co-owner of BLIG - Black Legacy Investment Group, a teen-led initiative that aims to recreate the Black Wall Street. BLIG’s mission is to provide the blueprint for African Americans to create generational wealth for themselves. Julien plans on owning several lifestyle and scalable businesses as he continues to learn, while generating wealth for not only him and his family, but for others in his community. He’s chosen the route of entrepreneurship because it’s given him the opportunity to create something for himself, and the chance to invest his time into something that is meaningful to him and have fun while doing it. All the while, he gets to make a change and be a positive light in people’s lives.
Lindsey Williams is a Junior at Kenwood Academy High School in Hyde Park. A resident of Avalon Park, her interests include hanging out with her friends, designing clothes, traveling and shopping. In the future, Lindsey plans to attend a four-year university to earn a degree in Psychology with a minor in Business and Entrepreneurship. She would like to continue her education through a doctorate in Psychology, and use her education to work in underserved communities, jails and prisons to break cycles of mental illness and mass incarceration in the Black community. A big dream of Lindsey’s is to build and run community centers in her hometown of Chicago and throughout the country. In the near future, she hopes to be a teen entrepreneur by creating and running a girls club called #Thegirlsproject, to help Chicago girls ages 14-19 build community and spur development. Lindsey would like to pursue entrepreneurship in her future because she believes that she should take an active role in stopping the cycle of oppression her community faces. Her best chance of doing that successfully, she says, is by creating programs to aid in their development.