When I was 13, I was hired by “Uncle Cleve,” a local entrepreneur who lived in my Mississippi Delta hometown of Glen Allan, to work with him at his Ice House. I had to wait on customers, cut the ice into multiple sizes, make change and be quick about it. I had to learn to speak up and to be polite even when I didn’t feel it was required. Even though I was only 13, I was involved in man’s work.
I found myself surrounded by a mindset of “I can and I will” …the thesis of my recent book, "Who Owns the Ice House?” The environment was so powerful that it gave me a new way of thinking. I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing.
I learned that my response to others mattered. I had to be at work on time. Uncle Cleve was not one to give multiple chances. He had rules and I had to learn them. Eventually, being at work on time became important to me. Looking back, I realize that was what he wanted. He wanted being timely to be my choice as well. He helped me to understand that my disposition and my work represented him and the company. It was not all about me.
I graduated from high school! Trust me that was big—just as important then as it is today. My personal behavior reflected what I was learning from this man.
I found it relatively easy to choose the right friends. In that “entrepreneurial environment” personal resiliency was being nurtured—my ability to make good choices and to embrace a positive self-esteem which is still critical for our youth today.
Many of our youth today are facing a myriad of challenges oftentimes without the wherewithal to make the right choice. Their mental models are not providing them the conversation they need to walk away from a potentially negative set of circumstances. Shifting this paradigm of thinking and behavior continues to be a top priority within our schools—developing programs to promote resiliency in our youth. It’s about giving them a new set of lens through which to view their world. Changing one’s perspective leads to thinking and acting differently. The entrepreneur mindset becomes a powerful tool to employ in this process.
My “Ice House” entrepreneur experience provided me-the opportunity to see myself differently, to see a future and to recognize the unique gifts Uncle Cleve was bringing into my life as we worked together day-in and day-out. This type of vision is what we want for all our youth, no matter the circumstances surrounding their lives.
In September, I will formally introduce “Uncle Cleve” and his entrepreneur mindset to several Baltimore High Schools who are part of Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development High Schools and who will be participants in the Kauffman Foundation sponsored on-line “Ice House Entrepreneur Program.” These youth will become involved in a semester-long program to not only spark innovation and new business ideas, but to foster resiliency and quality decision-making skills. We want them to recognize that they have choices as they connect with the possibilities they may have thought to be beyond their reach.
Just as I embraced the timeless entrepreneurial lessons from the Ice House generations earlier, they too will experience a shift in perspective, a shift in thinking and a shift in behavior as well as a greater sense of self-determination which can lead to positive growth in their social and academic life.
Clifton Taulbert will be leading a hot topic discussion on resiliency at the 18th National Forum on Character Education along with Principal Cathy Areman and Guidance Counselor Kimberly Fitzpatrick of Catena Middle School, a 2011 National School of Character.