"Hustle" isn't new to communities like mine
Wisdom Amouzou is a 2017 Camelback Fellow and founder of The HadaNõu Collective, an innovative group of schools
The Hole In His Pants
With blistered feet, he sat down and stared blankly at the hole in his pants. A gap about four to five inches in diameter burned straight through the middle of his pants from the 5 KM walk to school every day. Worst of all, he was on his last pair.
This was my father when he was 18 and a senior in high school living alone in the heart of Lomé -- the capital of Togo. In that moment he did what all entrepreneurs naturally do. Hustle.
GoFundMe didn’t exist then and definitely not in the middle of West Africa. So, he wrote a letter describing his circumstances and advocating for the financial resources to not only buy pants but attend university. He sent that letter to nearly everyone he knew, knocked on doors, and tapped into his personal network. None of it worked. Not until he found a slight connection between the Governor of the Golf region, Lomé, and his father. Turns out they were from the same region. At best, it was hope on a tightrope but it was the best option possible. Despite a failed first attempt at a meeting and a stubborn secretary, my father managed to get a meeting, told his story, and the Governor agreed to not only pay for new pants but sponsor his education.
That’s hustle. And I’ve realized it’s a family affair.
Hustle, the family business
Before I was born, my father graduated from University with an IT degree and saw that training programs in the country were far too expensive and inaccessible to his community. He took a loan and created an IT school, Informatique Pour Tous au Togo (IPTT), that graduated about 1500 students in ten years at costs 20 times cheaper than his competitors. It forced the industry to decrease cost and increase access to education. That was hustle.*
Graduation of one of the early classes of IPTT
When I was 6 in primary school, our best friend taught us how to make RC cars from styrofoam, a simple motor and wires. My brother and I immediately tried to start selling these during lunch. Hustle.
When I was 9, my parents packed and immigrated our family of six 3,000 miles across the Atlantic from Lomé, Togo to Sioux City, Iowa. Sounds like hustle to me.
When I was 14 in high school, my parents started to sell West African kabobs and jollof rice in the heart of downtown Denver. Guess what - more hustle.
When I was 21 during my first year of teaching, I ran a crowdfunding campaign to buy music supplies and start a bucket drumming enrichment for my middle school.
When I was 22 I started this online blog called Street Knowledge with the vision to share the stories of those who are erased in education spaces. The vision of that blog has evolved into one of our centers now at HNC.
When I was 23, I started an online boutique with my mother selling West African goods. At 25, I re-started it with my brothers with a new business plan. Still hustling.
Now, at 25, I’m building The HadaNõu Collective, an innovative approach to transforming the school system, with incredible folk like Nathan, Olivia, Jesse, Brian and Robb. A team of founders that live and breathe hustle.
I share these stories because it's been humbling to remember that while the unspoken rules of entrepreneurship at this level are new to me, the heart and spirit aren't. I've been practicing it my whole life. In fact, most of us who come from communities exploited by inequitable systems have always been hustling. The beauty of living in communities like the ones I grew up in is to simply survive, your family had to scrape together any and all resources -- a central tenet of entrepreneurship.
In this light, it's my belief that underrepresented entrepreneurship is not just an “extra” inclusion, a 2.0 update for diversity on a tired out and played out operating system.
No. We are most apt to create change precisely because we are the roses that grew in concrete. We aren’t extra. We are vital in the fight to break the concrete and build new life-sustaining systems. We are poised to create the next wave of radical change because we bring something that can't be bought or developed. Centuries of generational trauma and wisdom imprinted onto the DNA of lived experiences.
And the man with the hole in the pants?
At the ripe age of 54, my father is returning back to West Africa to start an organization focused on improving elementary education and modernizing education in the developing world. That's hustle.
*Data shows that immigrants to American start ventures and businesses at a much higher rate than their American-born counterparts. For more on immigrant entrepreneurs, see our recent lagniappe post featuring a few (including a Camelback alum).