This entrepreneur gave control of her business to the youth

In Baltimore, the benches are branded with the words ‘The Greatest City in America’. Designer, organiser and entrepreneur, Cadeatra Harvey is pushing the city’s young people to get off those benches and to see the world – and in turn to show the world what Baltimore City is truly made of.

Harvey founded Baltimore’s Gifted to promote young Black artists in the city and last year decided to pass control of the business over to the young people themselves. Whilst Baltimore’s Gifted launches a new product line, Harvey is launching new career goals with a Red Bull internship and other magical opportunities in Salzburg, Austria.

What is Baltimore’s Gifted?

On a base level it is an e-commerce based art and fashion initiative for African American youth in Baltimore ages 13-22. If you want to go a bit deeper it’s a real world, real-time learning tool. I really don’t believe in a classroom setting where you have someone giving you instructions but you don’t actually do it with your hands, so literally, right now the youth have their own logins so that they can actually log in and begin to learn how to operate e-commerce platforms hands-on. They can do this without me just giving them tutorials, books, and lectures. They are actually doing it.

Most people call the issues that young innovators of color are addressing ’social problems,’ but we call them ‘life’. What is Baltimore’s Gifted doing to help facilitate a more amazing life for the young people involved?

I don’t believe in going outside of what I know, so I try to replicate my life, my opportunities, and my experiences for them. Baltimore has never embraced me but because of e-commerce, I’ve been able to spread to Japan, UK, and LA which has kept me alive and going. So for them, I am trying to give them a life outside of Baltimore where they can choose if they want to stay or if not that they don’t feel scared or intimidated to go beyond what they know. I am really trying to turn them onto things that don’t exist in Baltimore, things around the world, and again with e-commerce, you can reach the whole world with your story and with your products. It’s OK to love Baltimore but it’s really important to go beyond to see what else is out there.

Cadeatra Harvey at the Amaphiko Academy in Baltimore 2017

You are working with high school age youth, are you receiving pushback when you talk to them about going outside of their neighborhoods?

Not so much pushback. They all follow me and I stay in touch with them, we have a very intimate relationship, so their eyes light up when they see me doing stuff. They are intimidated but that’s not specific to them being youth. Most adults I know in Baltimore are intimidated to do something beyond Baltimore, so it’s not really push back it’s more of an apprehension because they just don’t know and they haven’t been exposed to it.

You took part in the Amaphiko Academy. How has your project grown since?

I can’t say that it has grown since Amaphiko because it was already what it was before Amaphiko. I would say that it is getting more eyes and attention, but I wouldn’t say it’s grown. This year, the youth are actually tasked with becoming the leaders and taking it to the next level so I’m not so much focused on growth. I am focused on getting the youth to a place where they can grow it … I am trying to instill discipline in them. Sometimes they think that they can just post on social media and that’s all they have to do, or they want to take part in the fun stuff like the photoshoots but not the nitty-gritty hands-on stuff. It’s in a place where I have to be tougher and I am saying, “You guys have the skills. You just need the discipline now.” So we are just transitioning now.

Will you continue to provide a platform for Baltimore’s Gifted or is it just all on them? If it tanks are you just going to let it tank with them or are you going to help them out?

Well that’s the cool thing, I structured it in a way so that it kind of can’t tank. I am also not leaving them high and dry. I built a seasoned advisory team around them so even when I am in Austria and not present they still have a group of professionals they can lean on and even though I am going to transition out I will still be the chief advisor, so I will still be there I just won’t be as integral and I won’t be as hands-on. Again, this is not something I built for myself. I already have my own career. I built this as a tool for them to take over so it’s time for them to take over. But they will never be left high and dry. Even if someone wants to quit the program they will still have access to me. I would just hope that they understand the opportunity that the platform can provide for them.

So what are you doing that’s magical, as Cadeatra Harvey, out there in the world?

Back in 2010 I launched Generation of Dreamers, a streetwear apparel company. I had a hardship and I had to take some time off but now I am getting back up on my feet. So, one of the things I will be doing during my internship with Red Bull is actually product development and product line management for AlphaTauri a high-end contemporary apparel brand. I am hyper focused, not just on fashion, but on global consumer product development. I also have a few side projects that I don’t talk much about. It’s just about me getting back into my flow. I try to make it very clear that I am not a social entrepreneur, I am an enterprising entrepreneur that loves to help. It’s very important that people make that distinction because I have millionaire ambitions and social entrepreneurs are broke and that doesn’t really work for me.

Why do you love to help?

There is something in me. I have to help people. Even if I don’t feel like it I still have to help. At the same time I don’t believe you should hurt yourself to help people. I am really anxious to get back into the things I love and then once I am in a good place I can always help but I have to be well first.

Writer Michelle Antoinette Nelson aka LOVE The Poet runs social enterprise Brown + Healthy.