March 9, 2018
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A Memphis nonprofit is opening doors for young entrepreneurs of color

Renewal Awards finalist Let’s Innovate Through Education empowers minority high school and college students to create their own wealth

Let’s Innovate through Education is helping to build its Memphis community through its young people. Photo courtesy of LITE

EDITOR'S NOTE

Meet the finalists for The Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $150,000 in grant money. Ten winners will be announced March 27 at The Renewal Summit in New Orleans, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

A common complaint among high school and college students is that they aren’t being taught the skills necessary to actually survive and thrive in the real world. Let’s Innovate through Education, or LITE, aims to bridge those knowledge gaps, especially for budding entrepreneurs of color, who may face more institutional barriers.

Hardy Farrow, LITE’s executive director, has a finger on the pulse of student needs thanks to his time as a teacher at Teach For America. In 2017, he was named on Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Education. We spoke to the ambitious 27-year-old about LITE’s highly-focused work in Memphis, and the ways in which the city inspired his work. The following is an edited and condensed version of that conversation. Learn more about LITE on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter at @LITEMemphis.

Tell us about the work LITE is doing in its community.

We help high school entrepreneurs of color launch businesses in their communities, and we help college students get matched with paid internships.

Our program follows students through an eight-year pipeline to create wealth by preparing them to launch businesses and get access to influential networks and capital.

Tell us about the community you’ve been trying to serve.

LITE works with African-American and Latinx youth, ranging from age 16 to age 25 in Memphis, Tennessee. Seventy percent of our participants are female.

When did you start your community work?

I started LITE as a teacher at Teach for America. I heard from my students that they wanted a program that taught them real-world skills and provided them with connections that would enable them to make money in Memphis. I built the program around the concerns of my students and embarked on an entrepreneurial journey alongside them. Since then, we’ve grown from a classroom of just 100 students; now, over 2,000 students a year go through our workshops.

What inspired you to start doing this kind of work?

My experience at Teach for America and the lack of progress in Memphis on ending inequity. I refuse to accept the notion that a child will graduate from high school with fundamentally different chances at success in life.

I love the hope that Memphis has for itself. People want to make Memphis better. Memphis allows people to dream the impossible.

Every child deserves the opportunity to choose their own path in life. I believe access to wealth is essential to solving that, and I believe small business growth in communities of color is an important part of building wealth.

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

There are several ways! LITE is expanding access to capital and providing real-world experiences for youth. We provide connections to internships and partners in the community for students. We’re also Pushing Memphis and other cities to think deeply about why inequity is worse than it was 20 years ago. This conversation leads to stronger strategies and more purposeful interventions.

What do you love about your community?

“The impossible is only possible when you are crazy enough to dream it.” I believe that Memphis personifies this idea. The city allows people to dream the impossible.

I love the hope that Memphis has for itself. People want to make Memphis better. And memphis has so much character—it exhibits soul through its people, food, and music.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

Anything is possible in Memphis. I moved here five years ago without knowing a single person and now I run a nonprofit that has been featured in Forbes and The Atlantic. Memphis is a city of limitless potential and I love being part of that.

What leader or leaders inspire you?

I am inspired by Wendy Kopp from Teach for America, Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, and the Kemmons Wilson family.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor to The Renewal Project.