Passion into a paycheck: East St. Louis youth learn about business ownership

News-DemocratJuly 11, 2014 

Twelve-year-old Ramiah Brinson proudly displayed a white tank top she decorated with waterproof paint as part of her business plan presentation Friday afternoon at East St. Louis Senior High School.

Ramiah, of East St. Louis, presented her mock business -- Miah's Mad Skills -- to a group of community members and parents.

"I take clothes and make them how you want them to look," she said.

Ramiah explained she would take previously owned clothing and decorate the items with paint, jewels and glitter. "It helps the environment while making people look better," she said.

Ramiah said her customers would be people who can't afford high fashion but still want to look their best.

Ramiah, a seventh-grader at Mason-Clark Middle School, and five other middle school students learned about business this week during a CEO in Training workshop presented by the nonprofit organization Youth in Biz in partnership with East St. Louis District 189 Career and Technical Education program.

"This is an opportunity for them to be exposed to a different career option," said Stephanie Mohr, director of the CTE program.

Youth in Biz Founder and Director Devon Moody-Graham, a 2001 graduate of East St. Louis Senior High School, hopes to inspire and encourage young people to start their own businesses.

Moody-Graham, an entrepreneur herself, said she likes to share what she's learned. She opened her first business -- a candy store -- at just 10 years old.

Last summer, Youth in Biz had a month-long workshop at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville for 16 to 21 year olds. This year, Moody-Graham said she wanted to do the workshop in East St. Louis and reach middle schoolers.

"I want to try to get the middle school students exposed to things earlier," Moody-Graham said.

The business plans Ramiah and the other students developed were all based on things they enjoy. "Every business is based on things they already like," Moody-Graham said.

Eighth-grader Lundy Blue, 13, of St. Louis presented a plan to open a gym -- The Way the Gym Worx -- in East St. Louis.

"It's a community gym," he explained, which would also offer hourly sports lessons for children ages 5 to 13. The slogan for his business: "We aren't happy until you are."

Student Keveon Lewis would like to open The Game King, a business that sells pre-owned video games, accessories and game systems. "The Game King has the right games at the right price," Keveon said.

The students in the workshop developed businesses they could start tomorrow if they wanted, Mohr said.

Blue, a former Lincoln Middle School student, said he enjoyed the CEO in Training workshop. "I learned a lot about entrepreneurship and how to build a successful business," he said.

Moody-Graham said it's important to give students the knowledge to turn their passion into a paycheck.

Mohr and Moody-Graham hope to have another CEO in Training workshop next summer. "We hope to do it again next year with three times as many students," Mohr said.

For more information about Youth in Biz, visit http://www.youthinbiz.org.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BND_JForsythe.

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