On March 26, 2014, I spoke to nearly 200 Detroit high school students at the Detroit Public Library. I spoke about my own entrepreneurship journey, and I challenged the students to use entrepreneurship to solve problems in their community. Each of the students was asked to identify a problem that they experienced or witnessed in the community, and to describe the problem and the approach they might take to solve it. I indicated that the student who provided the clearest description of an important problem would receive an Apple Mac Mini computer, which my daughter, Nike executive Stacy Tarver, had been kind enough to donate.
Needless to say, nearly every student presented a problem, and together those problems provided a glimpse into the students’ view of their community. The winner of the Mac Mini was Lailah Reed of Renaissance High School. The problem that Lailah described was the potholes that plague nearly every road in the city.
Last Wednesday, May 7, I drove to Renaissance High to present the award to Lailah. On the way, traveling down Greenfield Road, I experienced some of the worst pothole conditions I had ever witnessed in my life! I smiled to myself as I thought of Lailah putting the pothole problem in an entrepreneurial framework, and then I thought about something else. In 2011, my son Aaron and I traveled to Ghana for a sightseeing trip. On our way to Kakum National Park, our driver had to dodge many potholes, but occasionally we saw a kid standing at the roadside pointing to the road and then to his mouth. Our driver explained that the kids had taken it upon themselves to fill the potholes, and that they were asking each car that passed a now-filled pothole for a donation. Those kids were entrepreneurs, in the purest sense. All the same, I hope it doesn’t come to that in Detroit.
When I arrived at the beautiful Renaissance High, I was escorted first to the office, and then to Lailah’s classroom. I was surprised that both of her parents were there to witness the award — that was extra special. Lailah’s teacher, Charlene Highsaw, was proud; her classmates were supportive; her parents were, deservedly, especially proud.
Upon departing, I made a mental note. These kids are ready for entrepreneurship. We must do more of this.