The first night of auditions, the first person to arrive stepped into the TV studio, soaking wet.
I thought, it is raining out why would you walk to the studio, why not drive? It turns out, the man had just gotten out of prison ten days ago. He had no money, no car, 5 children, and was $50K behind on child support. He had been looking for employment for 10 days and could not find anyone willing to give an ex-drug dealer a second chance. I’m wondered how he even heard about the auditions.
We were in the TV studio auditioning potential contestants for a new reality show; the Business Starter. This was in 2010 while the country was still in economic turmoil because of the real estate collapse. The show would consist of 10 contestants that found themselves out of work because of the downturn. The contestants were mainly college graduates or MBA types wanting to open new companies in the financial sector. Each week we would send the weakest business idea home selecting a winner at the end.
As we are interviewing the second contestant, we asked, “what is the single thing that everyone kept telling you couldn’t do, but you got it done anyway?”
“What?”, we ask. He responds again, “live to age 25.” He had just gotten out of prison and was now looking for employment or to open a business. He needed something, anything to pay the bills, or buy some food. Sixty percent of ex-felons return to prison within the first 3 years after release during periods of unemployment.
The first night of the show and I was surrounded by seven men, all ex-drug dealers and ex-felons, and three females who were ex-felons or girls having gotten pregnant in high school. I was reviewing the basic rules of the show and the first man who auditioned stopped me dead in my tracks. He tells me we need to change the rule of sending someone home each week. Instead, we need to see if we can figure out some way of getting everyone’s business started.
All ten contestants banded together and looked at me with these big wide eyes. They kept saying this was their only hope. It was a live broadcast, and we changed the rules on the spot. We ended up getting seven of the businesses open with only $50 each. Five are still running today.
Six months later, I received a call from one of the contestants on Business Starter. He says he is trying to open a little league football and cheer teams in an economically depressed area of Tampa. I had attended a seminar at UACDC (a non-profit which helped juvenile delinquents) and was told a story by a police officer of kids 12 and 13 who sold weapons and drugs on street corners.
I suggested that he contact the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation and get them to help. He said he already tried that route and for years people have been trying to get teams open but it is very difficult to raise funding and the suburb teams are highly reluctant to bring their kids to the area to play games.
The next 10 months, with the help of a very kind gentleman at Tampa Parks and Rec., along with the regional manager of USA Football, we got two teems up and running.
I grew up with four younger sisters and in high school; I kept busy watching over them battling the boys off at every turn it seemed. After high school, my daughter was offered a full presidential scholarship in math to Prairie View, a satellite campus of Texas A&M.
She graduated in 2015, got married, I have a granddaughter called Captain, and they just purchased their first home in Dallas, but as a father, I always worried about the route that could have happened. After seeing the at risk kids in Tampa, I decided to have a “Break the Teen Pregnancy Cycle” summer camp called “Cinderella Slipper: Live Your Dreams”.
The first day of the camp, it was pouring rain. We are standing under an oak tree and I tell my story of my little dream growing up as a kid. I pass out index cards and ask each girl to write their name and their dream. When I got the cards back, the cards ranged from pediatrician, firefighter, the Navy, and high school teacher. However, twelve of the cards come back completely blank and I wondered why.
I thought maybe it was the 4 year old girls that cannot really write too well yet or maybe it is the cheap pens I bought at Dollar General for a buck and they just don’t work. When I asked the girls why twelve of the cards were left blank, the captain of the varsity cheer squad got up and said her team did not respond. I asked her why and she walked in front of all the girls and put her face uncomfortably close to mine, with her hands on her hips.
Those words launched the next endeavor, Hit Records Worldwide, a record label built on compassion. We work with teen girls growing up in the foster care system, homeless shelters, government projects, daughters of ex-felons, single parent kids, and teen girls in trouble with the police. Hit Records is a story of one Saturday telling five girls in the practice studio, “everyone thinks we are just trying to get a hit song, but really I’m just trying to fix each of you.” Then Shayla says, “No Rob, we’re supposed to fix you.” I wondered, how do you open a record label with absolutely no knowledge, experience, or expertise in the music industry to help all these inner-city, highly at-risk teen girls that have been beaten down time and time again by life, family and everything else?
GettinOut™ will continue the work started in 2011 by HRW Music Group, LLC to help inner-city, troubled teen girls in the areas of; Artist Development, Personal Development, Community Support / Building Engaged Fan Bases. Girls demonstrating significant desire, drive, talent, coach-ability that have worked hard building a significant engaged fan base will be moved from GettinOut™ Records to HRW Music Group, LLC once reaching the age of 18 (if they so desire) and be provided promotion and marketing support to further their singing careers.
I decided we could not just “almost” do something leaving their dreams to “almost” come true. Four of the contestants on the reality TV show now help with Hit Records Worldwide under HRW Music Group. One member is a VP, one handles makeup, one works on image, and the other is the mom to one of the girls.