Name: T.J. Breeden
Profession: Founder and Executive Director of Emerging Entrepreneurs, Inc.
One Word That Describes You: Fearless
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
Being recognized by Black Enterprise as one of its 100 Men of Distinction is a tremendous honor. As is the case with most community organizers, I often find myself fixated on the simple task of identifying ways to make an impact. It is not until moments like these that I am made aware of the broader social impression that making a difference can have.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
Prior to launching my non-profit organization in 2012, I was unemployed. In 2011, I moved back in with my parents to save money, and in the midst of my frustration, I sat and watched President Obama delivered a speech at Fort Bragg to welcome back the Special Operations Forces and 82nd Airborne. Perhaps not verbatim, but what he said was, “For all that our veterans have sacrificed for us, it is now our turn, as civilians, to serve them.” His call to action changed the trajectory of my professional life forever! A moment later, one of my best friends, who is an active duty Air Force service officer, called me on my cell phone. We talked for hours about his experiences, his hardships, and his personal challenges. It was at this moment that I decided to dedicate my professional life to serving those who had served in our nation’s military.
The following year, I launched our organization’s website and two months later we had over 100 local veterans connect with us through our online platform. In May of 2012, just five months after launching, I was invited to the White House to receive the President’s Champions of Change Award for our non-profits commitment to serving the economic interests of transitioning veterans. In less than a year, what was once a struggle to find purpose had evolved into a successful call to action.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
I find myself drawn to those who have a deep sense of purpose; meaning that someone has a well-defined sense of what drives and motivates them. I am in love with the idea of connecting with people who know their truth, and embrace it as a calling to promote the best version of themselves.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
Currently, our organization is engaged in two major projects; one is a youth mentorship academy and social incubator called The Urban Leadership Lab. This program caters to local youth ages nine to 17 and combines entrepreneurship, robotics, and coding to create an environment where young people feel inspired to explore the breadth of their intellectual and leadership capabilities. To date, we’ve reached over 300 young people, and the interest (particularly in our LEGO Robotics platform) has grown beyond our capacity. The other, a career development program we launched with the help of Wells Fargo called Service to Success, provides area veterans and military spouses with access to free small business, workforce, and social development services.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Last year, I found myself emotionally drained. My father, a pastor, took me to dinner, reached over, placed his hand my shoulder, and provided me with a bit of spiritual perspective. He said, “Son, God doesn’t always call the equipped, sometimes he equips the called. Disregard for a moment what you see in front of you. Instead, have the courage to stand in the wind and trust that it’ll all work out. He didn’t lead you here to fail!” The point was to keep going, because God’s grace is greater than the challenge. Wise words from a phenomenal man.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Start now! Don’t let the fear of uncertainty nor the anxiety of being inadequate prevent you from living out your purpose. You can start small, and you might even struggle. Write it down, make a plan, share it, believe it, start it, and don’t turn back.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I start with a prayer and almost always end with music. I have a strange mix that has become my favorite playlist, with songs ranging from Jimmy Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child,” to Jay Z’s “Coming of Age,” to Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green.” It helps to keep my emotions balanced before important moments.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
I’d consider myself a spontaneous traveler. Plus, I’m a huge boxing fan, so one of my more memorable vacations was a last-minute trip to Las Vegas for fight weekend. I’m a bit of a foodie and I love the fine dining options that Las Vegas offers. We were given VIP access all weekend, topped off with great seats at the Mayweather fight. It was definitely a great time.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Over the past few years, I’ve become a bit of a Frank Sinatra fan, and one of my favorite songs is “The Girl from Ipanema.” So, I’ve always had this dream of visiting Rio and standing on the beach while I listen to that song.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Perhaps the greatest benefit to being selected for BE’s 100 Men of Distinction is learning about the efforts of those who, like me, are passionate about making an imprint on society. So, I welcome the opportunity of exploring ways that we can work together to solve the disparities that exist in our society. This is an invitation. As was said by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And so, to my fellow 100, I look forward to working, leading, and collaborating with each of you! Visit www.tjbreeden.com to learn more about our charitable efforts.
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