As the students of Mercy Street’s Leadership Intensive filed into the classroom, the air began filling with an electric vibe of anticipation. Forty-five students, six mentors, two dynamic young women business owners and one excited summer intern – The Budd Center’s 2017 Entrepreneurship Workshop was ready to kick off.
The Budd Center first partnered with Mercy Street to integrate entrepreneurship elements into its Leadership Intensive program in 2016, as part of the Center’s entrepreneurship task force efforts. Collaborating with partners in The School Zone (TSZ), The Budd Center implements programming that encourages innovative thinking and fosters an entrepreneurial mindset within TSZ communities. The goal of this task force is to provide resources and environmental exposure that will nurture creativity and provide on-ramps and mentorship for TSZ students. And the Entrepreneurship Workshop for the Leadership Intensive students has become the annual capstone event for these efforts.
Leadership Intensive is a 10-week summer program where Mercy Street invites high school students from West Dallas to participate in unique business and experiential programming to help them develop their leadership skills. We invited the 2016 Leadership Intensive students to an all-day entrepreneurship workshop at SMU, featuring numerous speakers and activities designed to empower students to think big, network effectively, discover their strengths and develop their personal brands.
This year we made the programming more fluid and focused, so the students had time to get to know the speakers and participate in an extended session of community problem-solving. The Leadership Intensive students put their innovative thinking caps on and dove into some community issues facing West Dallas: the ongoing HMK eviction situation and summer activities for youth in the community. They worked in groups to discuss and propose solutions to problems such as: how to identify and address the needs of families who would be impacted by the evictions; how to aid in those relocation efforts; and how to support these families post-move. The students also talked about how they could motivate kids to spend their summers participating in meaningful activities that help serve other residents and how they, as high school students, could work with the younger kids in the community to create and sustain these kinds of efforts. Each group came up with thoughtful responses and solutions and presented their ideas to the others. Mercy Street has committed to working with interested students to help them put these ideas into action. Click here to see one student sharing out her group’s solutions: https://vimeo.com/230803961
Since most of the Leadership Institute students are young women, we approached two local women of color who have each built unique and flourishing enterprises, Brit Rettig and Yasmeen Tadia, to speak to the group.
As a former captain of the Cornell University Women’s NCAA Division I basketball team, Brit always focused on developing her physical fitness and mental grit. She founded GRIT Fitness in January 2015. Her full-body boutique fitness concept is based on her belief that mental grit or “passion and perseverance for long-term goals” is the key to both fitness success and to living our best lives. A true force of nature, Brit launched the workshop with a blood-pumping cardio yoga session, getting everyone charged up with some intense reps over a Beyonce-infused soundtrack. After everyone caught their breath, Brit shared her story. Her anecdotes were inspiring and charismatic, and the students visibly connected with her positive energy. Brit emphasized the importance of pursuing higher education and described how she learned critical life lessons during her college experience.
Our second speaker was SMU’s own Cox Business School alum Yasmeen Tadia. After spending 10 years in corporate HR, Yasmeen decided to break into the confectionary industry with a revolutionary idea. She developed an artisanal, organic cotton candy to satisfy her young son’s sweet tooth in a healthier way. This cotton candy was the genesis of a line of four brands under the “Make Your Life Sweeter” umbrella. Her clients include Neiman Marcus, the Food Network and Facebook. She also runs a nonprofit called Random Acts of Sweetness, through which she initiates various philanthropic efforts around the world.
As Yasmeen shared her story with the Leadership Intensive students, she stressed values like empathy, emotional intelligence and compassion for others. She emphasized how practicing kindness in all walks of life is the karma that creates lasting happiness, not the mounds of money that you can make off a novel product or idea. A proud mom-preneur, Yasmeen introduced her 8-year old son Zain to everyone, as he attends many of her work functions and meetings and has been helping out mom with her business since he was 3 – stuffing popcorn bags, unscrewing lids and other things that little hands could do. Yasmeen also candidly opened up about what it was like, and what she still experiences, as a Muslim woman of color running her own business.
She ended her session by administering a curiosity quiz – a tool designed to gauge an individual’s level of curiosity about the world around them, and a great barometer for entrepreneurial spirit. During a lively Q&A session, Yasmeen and her team distributed pints of her organic cotton candy to everyone who asked a question.
The third star of the show during this year’s workshop was Akilah Wilson, our summer intern who we came to know through Mercy Street’s Leadership Intensive program. Over the course of a month, Akilah helped orchestrate the workshop and practiced tirelessly for her MC duties that day. And she pulled it off beautifully. Akilah commented, “One of the most impactful experiences I’ve had at The Budd Center was planning for the 2018 Entrepreneurship Workshop… The feelings I have after this experience are pride in myself and being grateful that everything ran smoothly. My time spent working on this event showed me how determined I can be when I’m willing to put in the work.”
A great day all around, and The Budd Center plans to continue this annual summer partnership with Mercy Street. #ThinkBigDoBold