BALTIMORE — Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), with a number of community partners, have been providing support over the last several months to help local young men — who regularly squeegee car windows near the College — launch a business selling water bottles with artistically designed labels.
The business, Korner Boyz Enterprises, will begin selling bottles wholesale and retail this week with labels designed by award-winning graphic artist and former MICA fellow Jerome Harris.
Korner Boyz Enterprises, which officially launches on Nov. 1, is a business model that takes skills these young entrepreneurs already have from their time squeegeeing, and applies them to a new revenue-generating practice. Over the last few months, this project received widening support, involving a number of organizations and individuals to make the launch possible.
This initiative began when MICA’s community liaison for the Office of Strategic Initiatives, Kai Singleton-Crosby, began regularly engaging with young men squeegeeing at the corner of Mount Royal and North avenues.
“KBZ is an intervention into child poverty, and that the owners aim to influence their community speaks to the compassion of each individual,” Singleton-Crosby said. “Following their leadership has been key to planning Korner Boyz Enterprises.”
COMMITMENT FROM COMMUNITY
Those casual conversations led to the boys’ involvement in MICA’s annual Baltimore Thinkathon, an intensive one-day think-and-do event held on April 18 of which the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance is a major partner. It was there that MICA President Samuel Hoi, Adrian Harpool, the principal of Harpool Associates, and Michael Scott, of Equity Matters, joined the conversation.
“Too often we treat children as cases, and these kids have been particularly dehumanized and vilified,” Sheri Parks, vice president of strategic initiatives at MICA and a key person involved in the project, said. “We listened to them and they have learned that they mattered — that they had good ideas. These young me are very smart, very creative and really funny.”
“A key element of MICA’s mission is ‘THRIVE with Baltimore,’” MICA President Samuel Hoi added. “This project with KBZ is a wonderfully organic example of that promise and community exchange.”
KBZ NOW A REALITY
The young men and their mentors met weekly at MICA to explore, and then develop, alternative entrepreneurial strategies. From there, the group of supporters continued to grow. Newer boys, and mentors including Scot Spencer, of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and artist and MICA faculty member Unique Robinson, have become part of the initiative.
The boys already trusted each other, speaking often of loyalty and empathy. Some have been friends since elementary school.
These young men, who identify as businessmen, typically squeegee and occasionally sell water to help make a living. They informed their MICA and community mentors and supporters how best to work with them, with mutual learning and inter-generational exchange being key principles of the collaboration.
“I am thankful because I will be more than I would have been,” Keyon, a 16-year-old who is involved in KBZ, said. “They care about us, and we will be able to run a business and help other people."
In their time squeegeeing, these boys had created a code of conduct, one which has since been written down and signed as their formal business launches. Previously, they handled money in a cooperative fashion. Now they have received help from the law clinic attorneys at the University of Maryland, which has drawn up a co-operative agreement, and will serve as legal counsel.
KBZ Enterprises is now a reality. The initiative has received a $5,000 startup award from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, and MICA has provided additional programming and financial support.
The young KBZ entrepreneurs are taking orders for cases, half-pallets and pallets, and an increasing list of KBZ products will become available on the upcoming website, www.kbzenterprises.com, which launches Friday evening.