I’m grateful my lens grants a panoramic narrative of African-American men, young and old.
For the past month, I’ve focused on the Raleigh police-involved shooting death of 24-year-old Akiel Denkins. It’s a familiar story, rooted both in the realities of poverty, crime and violence and the stereotypical negative perceptions of young African-American men.
For a bit longer, though, I’ve focused on Trevor Nelson.
Nelson, 18, is a close friend of my daughter. Next month, he will graduate from Wake Early College with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. In August, he’ll head off as a college junior to study accounting and economics with his sights set on a career on Wall Street.
Meanwhile, Nelson is building a marketing team of his peers that already implodes negative perceptions of young African-American men and replaces them with a positive narrative of entrepreneurial aspirations and community building.
“I want to be a role model,” Nelson said. “I want to be that person who’s making the news, changing the way people see us and their expectation of us.”
While he and his friends prepare for high school graduation and college, Nelson is leading himself and them into the business of LegalShield, which sells legal services through direct sales and marketing.
Not only is it a chance to gain and offer equal access to a legal system laden with signs of injustice and inequality for people like them, it’s also a tool of personal development inherent with lessons in self-motivation, communications, networking, organization and public speaking.
“Some things are not going to be taught in the classroom,” Nelson said. “There’s nothing like starting your own business, whether it’s ultimately successful or not. What you’ll learn going out into the trenches is second to none.”
Nelson said his drive for entrepreneurship is fueled by the example set for his brother and him by his father, Cedric Nelson.
“I’ve been thinking about how to engage my sons for a while in way that would not have them have to settle to go to work in corporate America – something feasible to expedite the process of them learning business and all aspects of running a business,” Cedric Nelson said.
He has been a LegalShield member since 2003, but a presentation last year hit home.
“Because of the climate we’re in with the police and young African-American males, specifically, it made sense to me,” he said. “This was a way a positive light can be shined in terms of the law: Instead of being in trouble with the law, they can promote the law and earn a substantial income while doing so.
“It’s an opportunity to rebalance the scales of justice.”
In December, father and son joined LegalShield together. So far, Trevor Nelson has built a team of seven, including Rodney Clack.
After an injury derailed his dreams of a professional baseball career, Clack was looking for something team-oriented he could be as passionate about.
“It’s powerful for young African-Americans to have something like this,” said Clack, 19, a 2014 graduate of Millbrook High School. “Not only are you protected, but we’re finding out ways we can not only build an organization, but also build a community of like-minded people, and help people our age at risk of getting into trouble.”
Matt Jarvis, 18, embraces the impact the team can have on the state of youth “and how we’re targeted by law enforcement” by ensuring young people have otherwise rare access to legal aid, regardless of race, age or finances.
“It’s empowering to be with a group of people who are in the same class as all young African-American men, but who are not fitting into the same stereotype the world has for us,” said Jarvis, Nelson’s classmate at Wake Early College.
“We’re jumping these hurdles to build a better future, not only for ourselves but for people who are watching us to show them, no matter your situation or the world’s view of you, you can get past that and succeed.”