Why are you here and nowhere else?

By Conner Chapman

image1I felt like I was in a Dr. Seuss book walking the hallways of Google’s Chicago office last summer. The sleek, white modern architecture contrasted the vibrantly-colored bean bag chairs, producing a creative and inviting environment.  I visited Google Chicago with the LEAD business program at the University of Illinois. My peers and I prepared presentations for a team competition to determine who could most effectively sell Google to an educational institution.

The LEAD Experience brought me “here.” It awakened my drive to enter the world of business. I guess you might say that I’ve always been a businessman, using my naturally expert negotiating skills in getting a ride home from friends or dividing three slices pizza left for two people. At LEAD, I met executives, managers, and entry-level employees in large companies; however, the experience also made me curious about small startup businesses. I hope to explore the multi-faceted roles of entrepreneurs by creating my own startup.

There was another place surging through my consciousness when I was at LEAD that helps to complete my sense of “here.”  It is where I learned how to fry chicken, cook collard greens, and set tables: the Bridge Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The teachers were my grandmother’s friends at the curch. Since middle school, I have been part of a community of volunteers at the soup kitchen operated by Bridge Street. I cook, serve, wash dishes, and mop floors. Often, I am the youngest volunteer and the only teenager. In fact, most of the fellow workers are beyond 60. Sometimes we serve peers my age. When I was younger, we talked about toys. Now we discuss sports, Hip-Hop and video games. The elders love to bestow lessons on the lone teenager like: “We are all God’s Children.” Though I am not as religious as the elders, I politely nod as if I have never questioned the existence of God.

How could I create a national organization pooling the talents of people I met at Bridge Street with the goal of ending hunger in a way that could be profitable for an organization? I am “here” to pose that question in the process of pursuing my academic interests in finance and management. In other words, how do I combine the missions ingrained in two of the most meaningful experiences in my life–LEAD and the Bridge Street Soup Kitchen? I am here to discover solutions to world hunger on a much larger scale than I ever could at Bridge Street.

I hope to start a business that will possess its own unique blend of creativity, compassion and profits as I am “here” to build a future that combines my capitalist drive with a commitment to ending poverty.

Conner Chapman, a graduate of Long Island’s St Anthony’s High School, is a freshman at the University of Chicago.

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