Sam @CUSP Conference 2015

Friday, June 13, 2014

Why I know this is exactly what I was meant to do

The summer of my seventh birthday, my parents had a a bible study group in our basement every Tuesday. At that same time, I was receiving $5 from my dad every two weeks as an allowance. Now, that might seem like a lot of money for a seven year old. But, it wasn't enough for me. I needed enough money to buy my own snacks and toys each month and $5 just wouldn't do.

I loved when my dad would buy us treats and toys. But it always made me feel good to do for myself -- even younger than seven, probably about three years old, I can remember learning to recite my own address without my mom's help was revolutionary for me. My innate desire for self-sufficiency, coupled with my knowledge that after the hour-long bible studies, the folks in the basement would probably be hungry for a snack, inspired me to begin my first entrepreneurial endeavor.

I took the $5 I made every two weeks and I bought as much candy, pop (or soda for you non-Detroiters) and chips as I could. I organized my room like a convenience store (even though it was more of a pink bedroom with candy on the dresser, chips on the vanity and pop on the chest) and I tripled the price of all the items I purchased and used my Lisa Frank notebook paper to mark the prices for my hungry bible students. I didn't know the word "profit" but I knew how to make one.

The first week of what we would probably now call a pop-up shop, I sold out of all my items and made about $20. I pocketed $15 and used the other $5 to purchase more goodies for the following week. My instinct was right.

The bible students would rather come up from the basement to my room on the second floor and purchase my pop, chips and candy than leave right away and go to the store or gas station. They could stick around, enjoy their snacks from my room and fellowship instead. I offered them treats, but the convenience of it all made it worth my ridiculous prices -- Seventy-five cents for a bag of chips I purchased for only 25 cents. I always shake my head and laugh when I think about it now. I can't believe I did that.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was a monopoly. And a very successful one. Needless to say, it was a great summer for me and by the end of it, I had a lot my toys and had enjoyed a lot of snacks.

I closed the business at the beginning of the new school year and became a fashion designer the following summer at eight years old.

I have always been an entrepreneur or possessed a spirit of leadership and wanting to fill a void and anticipate people's needs. In fact, there has never been a time in my life that I haven't been creating or working on something that I felt could enrich my life and at the same time enrich the lives of others, even if it was as temporary as a snack to fill their empty bellies.

Speaking of enriching someone's life, when I was eight years old, my mom gave me one of the best gifts anyone has ever given me -- the gift of exposure to the arts. She took me to my first musical, "A Chorus Line" at the Fisher Theatre in downtown Detroit and she gave me The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. And it's been a love story between the three of us ever since.

Hi, my name is Sam White and I am a theater and Shakespeare geek.

I still have that same burning passion to fill a void in the marketplace and enrich my life and others'. Just as I knew those bible students would be hungry for snacks, I knew this town was hungry for a Shakespeare company.

While there were Shakespeare offerings around town, there was not a company that was fully catered to Shakespeare all year round. There was not a Shakespeare company dedicated to working with actors from diverse backgrounds, races and other rich experiences that could be fused together to make something really beautiful in one of the city's historical parks, venues or sites. There was not a Shakespeare company that offered free full-fledged performances that would allow people who may not have disposable income to come and enjoy a high-quality theatrical experience with those who do. And there certainly was not an artistic director who feels as passionately about enhancing the city's landscape through the arts, specifically Shakespeare, than I do. This is the landscape in which I grew up -- where I rode my bike as a kid and skinned my knee, where I played in the water hose outside with my little brother across from Peterson Park, where I went to high school (Mumford to be exact), and where I graduated from college (Go Warriors, go!).

I was born for Shakespeare in Detroit. It is not just a theater company. It fulfills my life by allowing me to enrich the lives of others by presenting art that inspires, evokes hope, employs local artists, unifies with color-blind casting, attracts new audiences, entertains, educates, brings tourism and engages people who may not otherwise have an opportunity to do so with theater or literature.

I still have that same desire for self-sufficiency as I did when I was seven years old. But this time around, it isn't so that I can buy my own treats or toys. It's so that I can see the kind of Shakespeare performances or theater that people sometimes leave town to experience. It's so that I can be a part of the kind of theater I have always dreamed of being a part of. It's so that I can see my community -- the one I grew up in, live in and want to raise my future children in -- be better.

Shakespeare in Detroit has a long way to go. And we're so excited that people have supported us the way that they have -- with the same excitement as that group of bible students who bought the goodies because it meant more than just a simple snack, it meant an opportunity to engage with their brothers.

I know that this is exactly what I was meant to do. And tonight, when I looked around and saw the beautiful faces of the members of our "Romeo and Juliet" cast, my heart was filled with the fact that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do.

The entrepreneurial journey that began in my room with over-priced candy, pop and chips were the seeds in my spirit's purpose.

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