They were making a living on the streets cleaning windshields. Some had also been recruited into the drug business but they resisted it and chose the squeegee instead. All Black boys, Taetae, Leroy, Khalil, Keyon and Deauntae were taken off the street by a mentor.
Kai Crosby-Singleton, a community liaison for the Maryland Institute College of Art’s (MICA) Office of Strategic Initiatives, ran across the boys some two years ago. From a distance, he observed how the boys were being verbally abused with racial epithets as they tried to make a few dollars, according to the Baltimore Sun.
He built a relationship with them while exploring ways to get them a decent job. In April 2019, he invited them to the annual Baltimore Thinkathon, a day of brainstorming by some of the city’s most creative women and men.
Five of the boys met Sheri Parks, the Vice President of MICA, who helped to establish the Thinkathon. They also met Adrian Harpool, a communications specialist and campaign strategist, and Michael Scott, who runs the non-profit Equity Matters among others.
Following the discussions, the boys decided to venture into bottled water as some of them had already sold water on the streets and knew how the industry works. They were connected to Jerome Harris, a MICA teaching fellow who designed their logo.
They were also connected to Scot Spencer, the associate director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who donated $5,000 to the boy’s business. The boys further got Dorcas Gilmore, a professor at the University of Maryland School of law, to draft up a business agreement that encapsulated their already established “code of conduct.”
“The young men said they were businessmen, that squeegee and the occasional sale of water were their hustles. They agreed to teach us how to work with them in exchange for our time. They already trusted each other in a way that would have been difficult to construct [and] they spoke often of loyalty and empathy. We started applying their skills, strategies and patterns of work to another type of hustle,” Parks told Baltimore Sun.
They established Korner Boyz Enterprises, a bottled water company. In 2019, they announced that there could be other products like flavored waters and sparkling water.
“By us doing this we might help other [squeegee] kids,” Keyon said.