Not everyone starts an incorporated business at 13.
But AJ Carr, a now-14-year-old living in Fitchburg thought that would be the best way to face challenges he and his peers struggle with head on.
More specifically, he decided to establish a business dedicated to spurring other middle school students to pursue business ideas of their own.
Building Bosses, which Carr started this past summer, looks to create productive members of the community. The business is currently morphing into a nonprofit with a focus on connecting kids with opportunities. Carr said Building Bosses’ mentorship program, specifically, will connect minority and low-income students with members from the professional entrepreneurship community.
Through the program, which is slated to start sometime in January, Carr said he wants to target 10 to 15 students from various middle schools across the greater Madison area to pair with mentors. Carr said he wants to target students who have potential, but aren’t necessarily getting the attention from their teachers they need to succeed.
“I have friends who are struggling in school and ones that don’t care about it at all, and one of them just told me that they don’t feel supported in the classroom, period,” Carr said. “They don’t feel like the teachers care about them so why should they care about what they are going to do with school?”
Carr said he believes a big component of these students feeling held back in the classroom comes down to race. Because these students attend predominantly white schools, a tension dynamic develops when the black students see that they’re not being treated the same a their white counterparts.
If the students don’t feel valued in the classroom, Carr said, how can they be expected to learn?
Creating a sense of self-worth is a large part of what Carr said he hopes Building Bosses will give to these youth.
“I think that self-worth is very important,” Carr said. “How do you know what you’re going to do or how are you going to execute it if nobody teaches you that you are important or nobody teaches you what you can do?”
It’s also integral to combating the negative stereotypes and low expectations society can sometimes set for these lower income or minority students, Carr said.
For these students, Carr said dealing with those negative stereotypes is a part of their daily life, not just something they might see on TV.
“This stuff doesn’t just start when you’re older, this stuff starts immediately,” Carr said, “When we come into this world, people will make their assumptions. That kid isn’t going anywhere, because look at his background, look at his family’s background.”
To build up to the launch of the mentorship program, Carr said he is focusing on hosting community events, where everyone can participate in Building Bosses’ mission: to encourage people to be more productive members of their own communities.
In September, Carr hosted a community field day at Warner Park where residents competed in relay races with police and firefighters to build trust between the two groups.
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In October, Building Bosses hosted a safe alternative to trick-or-treating with Community Halloween Event at Winnequah Park Shelter, with all proceeds benefiting Tiny Houses.
Once the mentorship program begins, the kids will be organizing community events and taking on initiatives that interest them, just like Carr is doing now.
“I think a lot of people overlook the youth when it comes to different issues, but really we have to be the people that change this stuff because we’re going to be the people who have to grow older and live with this,” Carr said.