"What if….what if we introduced some of our thug friends who were former gang bangers, former drug dealers, and former criminals, to successful CEOs so they could see their common ground…and work together? Someone needs to provide a Bridge To The Other Side…"
In the Summer of 2011, Tracey Smith (BG’s manager) introduced me to her new partner, Lana Fuchs. Lana is a unique and amazing woman, who has a passion that I share: pulling guys off the streets and showing them a better, and legal, way to make money. I shared with her a story an inmate once told me: he was serving time in California with the junk bond kingpin, Michael Milken. As Mr Milken was sharing stock market knowledge with some of the incarcerated drug dealers, he noticed that they had similar sets of skills, aligned business needs and wants, and experiences in common. Wall Streeters were just like dope boys, but with different backgrounds and different opportunities in life, and of course different access. The irony of Michael Milken having a lot in common with d boys wasn’t lost on me; I also saw similarities and had been remarking on that fact most of my adult life.
Although I make my living in the music industry and even run a not-for-profit artist advocacy organization, one of my personal missions is to help inmates, especially guys who are coming home and need to re-adapt to society. So when I met Lana and she spoke about wanting to introduce former street thugs to CEOs and Presidents of companies, I was elated! Since I have so many friends and acquaintances who are well respected OGs, ex-felons, and former gang leaders, Lana enlisted my help putting together an event that introduced 10 icons to the presidents and CEOs of companies in Las Vegas, NV through a membership organization called YPO.
Lana shared with me her dream of introducing gang leaders to CEOs. I knew I had the relationships and experience to pull that off, if she could get the CEOs in a room. So Lana, Tracey, and I conjured up “Bridge To The Other Side” and on October 16th, 2012 at the Las Vegas country club that was home to Tiger Woods’ first PGA win, we combined a room of about a hundred CEOs with ten former drug dealers, bank robbers, and burglars—all of whom are icons in their respective communities.
The first step, after securing a date for the event and securing funding (through her husband’s company, Helix Electric), was to decide whom to invite to speak on the panel. Lana wanted former gang bangers, but I wanted to expand the speakers to include folks who had 1) some entrepreneurial ability and drive so as to find areas of similarity/common ground between our panelists and the attendees, 2) success, either financially (street millionaires) or as icons in their communities (famous Thugs), and 3) a sensibility of giving back to their community through mentoring the youth coming up under them. I wanted to strike a chord and show both sides that they are more similar than different—they’ve just experienced different backgrounds, paths, choices, and opportunities.
For over a year, I thought about which guys would interact well together on a panel. I wanted them similar enough to be comfortable, yet different enough to not allow egos to intervene. I wanted some famous guys and some unknown guys. Finally the time was approaching for the YPO regional event in Las Vegas. YPO is an organization consisting of a membership of CEOs and business owners who are 45 years old and younger, employ a certain minimum number of staff, and have an income threshold to attain for their corporations. In the room were builders, developers, dentists, retailers, electrical contractors, and even the guys who own the pawn shop in the reality TV show “Pawn Stars.” YPO’s mission is to offer educational opportunities, mentor programs, and networking to help build strong CEOs. This was the perfect environment to pull off an event of this magnitude. I chose 10 street millionaires for our panel. As I began inviting the guys, Tracey asked me to invite 4 guys from the music industry that she knew came from impoverished backgrounds. I was hesitant to do so at first because I didn’t want the street icons to become uncomfortable sharing the stage with “squares.” It didn’t align itself with the mission of inviting the more illustrious and notorious street OGs. I finally invited two at her request that I knew were well known and well respected: Tony Neal and Blue Williams. They were perfect for the panel.
My first invited guests were Freeway Ricky Ross, Chaz Williams, and Calvin Klein Bacote. I knew they had the DVD/TV/street fame that would intrigue the CEO attendees. All three have books and movies in the works, all three have had TV shows or DVDs made about their lives, and all three google exceptionally well with long lists of experiences and references. One of the key elements of a successful panel is to choose speakers who get along and don’t have issues with each other. A panel of guys from the streets requires that sentiment even more so. After pitching the event to Calvin’s and Ricky’s probation officers, I had to wait for their approval (Calvin’s approval came the day before the event, and Freeway Ricky’s rejection from his P.O.’s supervisor came two days prior to the event). I was sad Ricky wouldn’t be attending because he’s perfect for a panel of this type. Calvin was a robber and a drug dealer in the 1980s and 90s who used his money to start the career of Jay Z, and Chaz was a bank robber in the 1970s and 80s, who after serving a long prison term, started a record label that signed a young 50 Cent and eventually Foxy Brown. Chaz was featured on the BET TV show, American Gangster that has been broadcast around the world on the Bio channel.
Additionally for our panel, I secured Jerome “Mugs” Taylor (an Inglewood Blood OG who’d met Michael Milken during Mugs’ 10 year incarceration), Tony Guidry (a Louisiana native who joined the Marines to escape the streets only to distribute large amounts of cocaine in small towns throughout the South in the 80s and 90s), rapper J-Diggs (former partner of Mac Dre and owner of Thizz Nation out of the Bay Area—and the youngest and last Gangsta to be covered on an episode of BET’s American Gangster), and of course Tony Neal (founder of The Core DJs) and Blue Williams (manager of Outkast, CeeLo Green, Big Shawn, Nick Cannon, and many others at Primary Violator). At the last minute, I added my good friend Hassan, who is better known as MVP from the World Wrestling Federation. MVP learned to wrestle after serving a 10 year bid for burglary and kidnapping, joining WWE and winning the world Smack Down title in 2007 and the tag team title that same year along with Matt Hardy.
My illustrious panel was set up and ready to go. The plan was for me to introduce them individually, let them speak for 5 minutes about their history and their goals, talk about their redemption and what they were doing to help the next generation coming up under them, let the YPOers ask questions of the panel, and then offer a sit down dinner where each panelist would sit at one of the dinner tables along with ten YPO members. Street millionaires interacting with corporate millionaires! And it was a huge success. I’ve never been so nervous in my life because I wanted this event to go well. My expectations were far exceeded!
The guys spoke about their lives open and candidly to a room of about 100 strangers. The audience listened intently without judgment or fear. After the panel, we lost no attendees—everyone stayed for the dinner. I was amazed at the level of interest, the great questions, and the excitement to interact with people so different from each other. We bridged the gap in a few hours. It was the most exciting and rewarding panel I’ve ever coordinated or moderated. The benefit of sharing information, diversity, and life stories can’t be measured.
Diversity: the desire to include everyone, even those who are different from us.
We are most comfortable around people who have shared experiences and similar backgrounds as us. But true success comes when we are able to break free of our comfort zones and think and interact outside of that box. Our commitment as human beings to embrace diversity comes from our natural inclination to be inclusive and fair for all. This acknowledges that not everybody starts out on an even scale. Not everybody starts out with same benefits, or the same access, or the same ability to achieve. And so we do something about this in a country where we want everybody to have an equal shot–an equal chance to achieve. Inclusivity means everyone–all included.
The ten panelists were young men who were born and raised in the poorest Inner City areas across America, and have survived the odds against them as they’ve built careers, lives, and opportunities for themselves and their families. For our first event, we chose these guys because of what they’ve built, their ability to seize and maximize opportunities, and because of the influence they garner amongst their peers and the youth in their respective areas. All of them mentor the younger generation coming up under them and all of them are open to seeking advice, counsel, and networking opportunities with YPO.
Being born and raised in the ghettos of America for a young Black male, can often mean that the obvious role models are criminals, pimps, drug dealers, etc. These are often the most glaring examples of adulthood that a young child sees of how to make money and live a glamorous lifestyle–a lifestyle they may want to emulate. The recent generation has had rappers, entertainers, and athletes to look up to, as well. But these jobs and lifestyles aren’t realistic for all, and the criminal paths almost always lead to death or jail. A child has a better chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning than he does becoming a famous rapper or a successful ball player. We are seeking to change the role models that young people emulate.
This historic event was created and designed to share with YPO, a culture and mindset of a community that exists practically in our own backyards, yet so far away, that most of us will go through life without ever really seeing it or interacting with anyone from this community. In the customary YPO style and mindset, education and the exchange of experiences with people from all around the world makes us all better leaders. We travel to different countries
and far and exotic lands to get a taste of a different people and culture, yet the one that is so close to us often times remains unexplored.
We embarked on a journey into a culture where dreams die at an early age, where one can get killed for wearing the wrong color on the wrong street and where many don’t expect to live past 25. How does this community manage to sustain itself? Why don’t people leave and build a home elsewhere? Why do so many children from this community not attend college? What is the hip hop culture and why is it so big? Urban America is big business, so why are many businesses so intimidated that they tend to give up this very lucrative stream of revenue?
We brought together for the first time ever, some of the most infamous, notorious and powerful former thugs and gang leaders who shared with us their history, experiences and business skills. We learned how they managed to not only live past the age of 25, but to rise to the top in a world where so many don’t make it.
The attendees got a glimpse into a world where most would never dare to enter.
What Is YPO?
YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) connects young chief executives in a global network unlike any other. Founded in 1950 in New York City by a young president named Ray Hickok, the organization unites approximately 20,000 business leaders in more than 120 countries around a shared mission: Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™. The combined members employ more than 16 million people and generate more than US$6 trillion in annual revenues.
All YPO members are under the age of 45 and the chief operator (CEO, managing director, president, chairman or equivalent) of a company that fulfills minimum size and revenue requirements. Upon turning 50, members transition from YPO into WPO (World Presidents’ Organization), which allows them to continue reaping the benefits of the YPO experience while also recognizing that their priorities may have shifted over time.
Members say that YPO has a profound, often life-changing, effect on their lives.
A great deal has changed since YPO’s founding in 1950, but certain things have remained the same: the value of a peer network and trusted mentors, the importance of ongoing education, and the need for a “safe haven” where issues can be aired in an environment of confidentiality. The Membership consists of 37% Entrepreneurs, 36% Family Businesses, and 27% Professionals. Half of the businesses are international, 35% are national, and 15% are local businesses. The demographics: 33% are service oriented businesses, 31% are sales based, 23% are manufacturing, 9% are financial services, and 4% are agencies.
Over the past six decades, YPO has maintained its core commitment to these ideals while embracing change with each successive generation of young business leaders. In aggregate, the companies run by YPO and WPO members employ more than 16 million people and generate more than US$6 trillion in annual revenues.
"We are all CEOs in our regular lives. We are all leaders and have people who look up to us. But when you come to YPO as a leader among peers, you become far more innovative and creative. You also become a better human being.” –Toby Malhoutra
Member since 1995
“I joined YPO in the midst of a company crisis. Having a network of peers allowed me to share the decision-making process with neutral and dynamic leaders.” –Monica de Oriol
Member since 2004
Chaz Williams (Jamaica, Queens, NY): Chaz’s compelling story has been featured on BET’s American Gangster and currently plays via the Biography channel and rotates on networks in foreign territories. It’s a story of redemption and demonstrates the tenacity and determination necessary for change. It’s an inspirational lesson which connects deeply and powerfully with people from all walks of life. Chaz Williams is said to have robbed over 60 banks during the 1970’s before he was eventually caught and sentenced to a 95 year prison sentence. After appeals, his sentence was reduced to 15 years. Born in Harlem and raised in Queens, NY, going to school and following rules weren’t producing the results he wanted to get ahead. So instead, he turned to robbery at the age of 12, when he robbed a local drug store. He was immediately arrested but the arrest had little affect on Williams, who continued to buck the system. After being incarcerated in Michigan for bank robbery, he joined a pilot program that allowed inmates to attend college outside of the prison, but instead of attending classes, he robbed banks. As law enforcement officials tried to solve the crimes, when they looked in the computer system to find Chaz Williams, he was listed as already incarcerated. They weren’t left scratching their heads for too long, however, he was eventually caught. Upon release, Williams founded Black Hand Entertainment, whose roster includes 50 cent, Foxy Brown and Prinz. Additionally, because of the Gang Truce he negotiated in Patterson, NJ, he was recruited by the New York City department of health, in partnership with a non-profit organization, to supervise a Ceasefire program in South Jamaica Queens, NY. The program is linked with the Ceasefire program in Chicago which is a new model that deals with violence as a public health issue. They went to the OGs who are still Street Generals to curb the killings and shootings. The program is called Cure Violence and it uses credible messengers to convince the kids to stand down.
J-Diggs (Vallejo, CA and Las Vegas, NV): In the 1990s, J-Diggs was the leader of the Romper Room Gang out of Vallejo, CA (just north of Oakland). Growing up in the ironically named Country Club Crest, J Diggs was subject to the crime and poverty that comes with living in a low-income area that had been destroyed by crack cocaine. His inventive lyrics and ability to articulate life in the Crest gave him instant credibility with his underground audience. The Romper Room Gang, named after a children’s TV series, consisted of 80+ members, all criminals. J-Diggs crime of choice was bank robbery. The crew would use the bank money to fund their record company, eventually landing Diggs and rapper Mac Dre in prison for a decade. Upon his release from prison, J Diggs and Mac Dre, along with their friend Kilo, started Thizz Nation, inarguably the most successful independent label in the Bay Area. After Mac Dre’s murder in 2004, Diggs was left to carry on Mac Dre’s legacy and continue his own career as a rapper. J Diggs was the youngest subject ever covered by the BET-TV series American Gangster. He remains a successful independent rapper and now lives in Las Vegas.
Calvin Klein Bacote (New York, NY): Hailing from Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, Calvin began his illustrious criminal career robbing and stealing. As his career grew so did his bravado enhance. Calvin became known for robbing all of the passengers of entire subway cars as they moved through the tunnel between Brooklyn and New York–without slowing down the train. During a summer music festival in Brooklyn, he and 2 accomplices blocked all exits and moved through the crowd robbing all attendees. He graduated to the sale of narcotics (cocaine and heroin) and used his money to help build the career of some famous rappers, most notably Jay Z. Calvin served upwards of 14 years in the system—in and out of prison since he was 13 years old. Calvin has a book and a film releasing about his life story in 2013.
Tony Guidry (Crowley, LA and Atlanta, GA): After joining the Marines to try to escape the criminal path he had been headed down from a young age, Tony found himself in cities such as Washington, DC and Los Angeles where the burgeoning crack trade of the 80s proved to be too much for him to resist. The 80s were the era that ushered in crack sales which were extremely popular and incredibly lucrative financially. He soon realized that the smaller cities in the south were newly developing markets and using the maneuvers of the military, he devised routes that allowed him to move substantial amounts of cocaine to supply the ever-growing demand. Focusing solely on the south, where it was more lucrative and less organized, Tony soon became a top level distributor. After serving 17 years in a federal penitentiary for his first offense, he came out of prison dedicated to stop other young Black men from taking his path. Upon his release, he partnered with several guys headed down the wrong path to mentor and instruct them on the many legal ways they could apply their talents. Having started two concert promotion companies in southwest Louisiana, and a small music consulting service to help independent rap artists, Tony now resides in Atlanta where he has started a prison outreach program while continuing to mentor at risk youth, most of whom are the progeny of his peers from his days as a drug dealer.
Jerome "Mugs" Taylor (Inglewood, CA): Born into the crime infested streets of Inglewood, CA, Mugs joined a set of the Bloods at a very early age. He sold drugs in Los Angeles until a ten year sentence curtailed his drug dealing lifestyle. While incarcerated, he met superstar financier, Michael Milken who educated him and many of his incarcerated peers on business and finance. Today, Mugs is head of security for super touring rap act TechN9ne, and manages the careers of rappers E-40 and Glasses Malone.
Michael "Blue" Williams (New York and Los Angeles): Blue has managed the careers of some of hip-hop and R&B’s most prolific artists, and his stable of artists have sold over 50 million combined albums, while also cultivating lucrative portfolios and establishing unique business opportunities. Currently steering the illustrious career of Cee-Lo Green, as well as that of Big Sean and Cody Simpson, Blue has previously been instrumental in managing the careers of singers Monica, Case, Jagged Edge, Macy Gray, hip-hop supergroup Outkast, one man entertainment arsenal Nick Cannon and rapper turned television and movie star Xzibit, who captured the interest of car enthusiasts with the top-rated MTV show “Pimp My Ride”. Blue started his career at Flavor Unit Management, working with Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere, and that company’s stable of artists. He then branched off on his own to launch Family Tree Entertainment and to manage the career of Outkast, which began a business relationship that has materialized to include over 20 million records sold, a Grammy Album of the Year win, and the numerous endorsements and partnership deals that have come to define Outkast’s successful reign in hip-hop. In January 2010 Blue’s Family Tree Entertainment entered into a management deal with Primary Wave Music and in September 2011 Blue was at the wheel of another lucrative collaboration with the merging of Primary Wave Music and Violator Records to create Primary/Violator, a new full-service management, publishing and marketing firm within the Primary Wave umbrella, additionally managing the careers of 50 Cent, P Diddy, Mariah Carey, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, and Soulja Boy.
Hassan "MVP" Assad (Opa-Locka, FL and Houston, TX): Hassan grew up in Opa-locka, Florida, where his father was a police officer. He joined a gang when he was 12, describing it as "a graffiti gang", which later turned into a street gang. He spent six months in a juvenile detention center after a robbery. He later completed 9½ years of an 18½ year prison sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping which he started at the age of sixteen. Hassan, better known by his ring name Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP), is an American professional wrestler best known for his tenure with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). MVP was trained by former professional wrestlers Soulman Alex G and Norman Smiley and signed with WWE in 2005 with the SmackDown brand. Making his WWE wrestling debut in October 2006, he captured the WWE United States Championship in 2007, making it his first title reign with the company. His reign was the longest since WWE came into possession of the championship in 2001 and the third longest in the title’s entire history. That same year, MVP captured the WWE Tag Team Championship alongside Matt Hardy. He won the United States Championship for the second time on March 17, 2009 before leaving WWE to sign to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), where he is the inaugural IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
Tony Neal (Milwaukee, WI and Miami, FL): Tony Neal is a passionate DJ, but most importantly a passionate man who cares about the craft and the mainstay of the DJ in music. He started his career in Milwaukee, WI and saw a need to unify DJs. Creating the Core DJs in the early 2000s, Neal’s purpose for doing so was to create a coalition (family of DJs) that support each other as well as act as a union on issues which directly affect professional DJs. Tony has worn many hats in the urban music industry, and has recently bought the radio station where he got his own start in radio, WNOV in Milwaukee.
This panel was moderated and coordinated by Wendy Day from Rap Coalition but was the brainchild of Lana Fuchs, CEO of Billionaire Mafia Clothing & Records. This event was made possible financially through the kindness of Billionaire Mafia, YPO, and Helix Electric, Inc. Additionally, Tracey Smith at Billionaire Mafia Records played a huge role in the success of this event: providing access to potential panelists and creating a video to illustrate street life to the YPO attendees, just to name a few things.
Huge shout out to Freeway Ricky Ross who was supposed to join the panel (and was perfect for it) but was unable to do so at the whim of the US Probation Department who deemed either the event, or his continuing road to redemption, not important enough to give him permission to attend.
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