How did you get involved with charity work?
I got involved with charity work when I was 5 and my aunt took my cousins and I out to feed the homeless in Downtown Chicago. That was my first time seeing people living on the streets. It was Winter in Chicago, so it was cold, dark and dirty. I was very confused about why they were out there. Seeing this sparked my call to action to help improve their conditions
How did you start your company, Project I AM?
Because of my experience with my aunt, I went home and asked my parents, if we could buy them all houses? Since we obviously couldn’t do that, I kept insisting over the following years that we aid the homeless. In February of 2016, my parents and grandmother assisted me put together a packing party where I invited my friends and family to make what I call blessing bags, which contains socks, oral care, deodorant and hand sanitizer. Everyone thought this would be a one-time thing but I wanted to do more and in June of 2016 my parents and I launched Project I Am.
How did you come up with the concept of the “Blessing Bags”?
When I was discussing how I can help with my family, we researched and found that socks are the number one item requested by the homeless. I then decided that I wanted to do toiletries instead of food because many people donate food.
What impact has the blessing bags done for your community and all over the U.S?
While the blessing bags do not get people off of the streets, I feel the blessing bags demonstrate kindness, and that people care about them. I also hope blessing bags motivate and inspire society to give back but also illuminate that anyone can make a positive impact.
Do you plan on expanding your outreach program of “Blessing Bags” globally? If so, where?
I already have expanded into areas outside of the US. I’ve aided orphans and natural disaster victims in Africa and Guatemala and I’ve worked with youth in London and India. I have also inspired blessing bag distribution by youth in Hong Kong and in Switzerland and I hope the expansion of helping others continues..
What advice would you give to young people who are looking to get involved like you and want to make a difference?
I would suggest starting small and to do something that you are really passionate about. Volunteering with different organizations can also help with finding something that you love too.
We saw that you partnered with major corporations like Nike, Discover Card, Crate And Barrel, The Official Giving Tuesday? How did a young talent like yourself land such amazing deals and opportunities?
I hosted my 5th virtual packing party by recruiting over 230 kids from over 50 cities to create and distribute 5,000 blessing bags! The kid volunteers are from places like Chicago, LA, New York, Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix and more. Discover, Nike, State Farm and True Star were the sponsors of the event. I have also been fortunate to be a part of the first group of Kid Activists honored by Crate & Barrel Kids. These corporations actually reached out to me to congratulate and celebrate my community initiative and I am happy to be able to collaborate with them.
Your charity work got noticed by big celebrities like Steve Harvey and former President Barack Obama…can you tell us how that came to be and how you were even honored by President Obama? Were you nervous when you met him?
The Obama Foundation chose me to feature for my organization and President Obama decided to name me one of 2017’s most influential people, which resulted in a new level of awareness of my initiative. It all happened so fast but was very exciting. Months later, President Obama tweeted about me and I received a meeting request. I had no clue it was going to happen. My mom and I thought that we were at an event put together by the Obama Foundation to honor some community leaders but about an hour into it, a spokesperson announced to our small group that President Obama would like to meet us. I don’t usually show emotions, but I was so excited! I was determined to be the first up to meet him! He even knew my name and had a conversation with me! I was nervous and excited at the same time.
What is next for Project I Am? What are your future plans in making a bigger impact and expanding your business?
I hope to play a major part in getting people off of the streets. I have been researching Tiny Homes for a long time and would love to help build some in Chicago. I also hope to reach 100,000 blessing bags distributed within the next 2 years. Since starting, I have been working with other youth who are already making change in their communities or who need help with being an agent of change. Over the past 2 years, I have worked with hundreds of youth across the country. I have also started teaching social entrepreneurship classes to middle school students, which is a part of my organization I aim to expand.
You are also a basketball player, when did you start playing basketball?
I started playing organized basketball when I was 4.
Do you play professional basketball? If so, for which team(s)?
Not yet but I do play Junior Varsity for my school team and hope to become an NBA Hall of Famer! I also plan to be a team owner in the future.
We also know you act as well, how did you get involved with acting?
I got involved with acting after taking some headshot photos. My mom shared them with a couple of talent agencies and I eventually signed with an agency who set me up with auditions. I also began taking improv classes at The Second City and studied with Ms. Jossie with WAY Kids Acting Academy.
What has been your favorite role you’ve played to date? And why?
Theo on Chicago PD is my favorite so far because the character took me out of my comfort zone. I was also able to have fun bringing my personality to the role.
What is next for you on the acting and sport side of your career?
Right now, I am auditioning for roles and I hope to have a strong 1st season of high school basketball.
Where can our readers find out more about you?
You can learn more about me and how to help my philanthropy efforts by visiting: officialprojectiam.com.