I’d like you to meet John Paul Taylor, founder of Real Life Poets. Real Life Poets is a nonprofit that leverages the creative process of poetry and spoken word as a means to empower youth, that otherwise might find themselves in prison or on the streets. John Paul started Real Life Poets because writing saved him and he wanted to do the same for youth in situations similar to his.
I’d like you to meet John Paul Taylor, founder of Real Life Poets. Real Life Poets is a nonprofit that leverages the creative process of poetry and spoken word as a means to empower youth, that otherwise might find themselves in prison or on the streets. John Paul started Real Life Poets because writing saved him and he wanted to do the same for youth in situations similar to his.
Real Life Poets is the very first nonprofit that we have featured on The Startup Story, as well as the only business out of Alabama that we have featured.
John Paul’s journey is much different than mine, and I suspect much different than yours. But that is the beauty of entrepreneurship. While his journey might be different, his experiences are relatable. He had to overcome friends and family thinking he was crazy for wanting to pursue Real Life Poets. He had to push through personal challenges, including a dissolved marriage. And, he had to have 2-4 different side hustles to try to make things work until he truly understood what it was that he was supposed to be building.
This episode is an example of the diversity of entrepreneurship and a true testament to following a passion and building a business for good. This is John Paul Taylor’s startup story.
“Once people started telling me that I could not do it, I became driven to prove them wrong.”
—John Paul Taylor, Real Life Poets
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Special Guest: John Paul Taylor.
The Startup Story - John Paul Taylor
John Paul Taylor: This is John Paul Taylor, cofounder of Real Life Poets, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: The last couple of weeks, we've replayed our first two The Startup Story episodes to ensure that our new listeners got to hear how we got started. A lot has changed in the eight months since we launched The Startup Story podcast. In particular, our listenership has grown tremendously. When I launched The Startup Story, we had zero listeners and, I'm quite embarrassed to say it, really no prelaunch plan at all. So we really started day one with nothing. My initial outreach once the first three episodes were live was to simply email my LinkedIn contacts and past attendees of live entrepreneurial events I used to run. That was it. You see, I started The Startup Story podcast because I knew there were so many stories to tell that spoke about the challenge and triumph of entrepreneurship, and I wanted to provide a platform for those stories.
I also created The Startup Story to meet a personal need that I have, and that was to learn from those who are farther down the road than I am. I love entrepreneurship and even more so, I love how diverse the journey is yet how similar the experiences are. So while I might have launched The Startup Story with no real set plans on marketing it, our community has grown exponentially and what I love about that is that it shows me that the stories are resonating with you just like they do for me. And if that is true, can I please ask you for a favor? If you have found any value in The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review on iTunes. Even if you listen to the podcasts on another platform, like I do. I listen to mine on Spotify and Stitcher sometimes. The reason I ask this is that the reviews are a very significant component to being discovered in the iTunes Apple Podcast platform.
But my ask is not one sided. Please, plug your brand, website, or Instagram username in your review so that when I read it in an episode, it will be like a free ad that will be heard from our 20,000 listeners. That is the least I can do to say thank you for writing a review. I hope you'll take me up on my offer. Now, let's jump into this week's episode.
Our guest today is John Paul Taylor, founder of Real Life Poets. This episode exemplifies the diversity of entrepreneurship. John Paul founded a nonprofit that leverages the creative process of poetry and spoken word as a means to empower youth that otherwise might find themselves in prison or on the streets. John Paul started Real Life Poets because writing saved him, and he wanted to do the same for another youth in a situation similar to his. Real Life Poets is the very first nonprofit that we've featured on The Startup Story, as well as the only business out of Alabama that we've ever featured. But like I said before, I love how diverse the entrepreneurial journey is. John Paul's journey is much different than mine, and I suspect much different than yours, but that is the beauty of entrepreneurship.
While his journey might be different, his experiences are very similar to yours and mine. John Paul had to overcome friends and family thinking he was crazy for wanting to pursue Real Life Poets. He had to push through the personal challenges like a dissolved marriage. He had to have two to four different side hustles to try to make things work until he truly understood what it was that he was supposed to be building. But all right, enough from me. Let's hear John Paul's startup story from John Paul himself.
John Paul Taylor: Growing up in Birmingham, originally being from Birmingham and being raised I'm one of seven children of a single mother. Father left home. In turn, I wind up going into foster care with my brothers and sisters. The ironic part about that is that's where I found my gift, honestly. I actually had a teacher who told me if you don't find something else to channel your anger, because I had become a very angry young man, just for real, just because of the way life was unfolding for me. And we had a writing assignment, so I wrote about being in foster care and what that meant. The stereotype for going to school, to not being able to be around my parents, my mom. And just the world that I was in. To be honest with you, that became my escape. That became the one thing, no social worker, no judge, no one could take away from me was my writing.
No one even knew that I actually was writing. I had all of these stacks of notebooks and things I had written over the years and I was in college. I had a friend like find them and was reading them, was like, "Are you kidding me man? You have to share this stuff." I was like, "Nobody wants to read this." You know? But the beautiful part is once I actually started going to open mics and things to release to finally start doing that and started realizing the power that telling my story had for other people, that was like the eye opening kind of thing for me.
Part of that, I was actually in corporate America when I started getting on the microphone, and I hated it because I was actually an artist, a true artist on the inside, but I was trying to nail this, make it out of the system. That's what we always say. I was trying to make it out by living the American dream that they say, but it was really miserable to my soul. Part of my background is secondary education, so once I started in the poetry things, even in that I was like, "There's something more I can do with this, more than getting as we say, getting hand claps and finger slaps." This was something more here that we can explore. Being in Alabama in particular, where spoken word and poetry is not just a mainstream kind of art form, really deciding how to take this and create something very unique in all of this. But the motivation came from this is what saved me as a child, so I wanted to figure out how I then in turn could do that for someone else in the world. That's what led me to trying to figure out if this could work.
James McKinney: So there is a lot to unpack in this segment alone. You have had a challenging upbringing with the foster care sister, you and your siblings and obviously your home life was challenging, which led to the foster care system. You had talked about how you were an angry youth and writing was your escape out of that. But my question about that season is a lot of people will remain hung up on those early life challenges. But what happened for you, what did someone say, what was the interaction you had, what happened where you knew writing was the way that you could release all of that anger and become productive with your life?
The high school age, there's a lot of mature mental processing that took place for you to get to that, and that's not very common in high school. There's not a lot of maturity that takes place among young men, especially when they're filled up with anger and rage, and a whole lot of testosterone. So what happened in your high school years where you saw that as an outlet?
John Paul Taylor: When I actually got to high school, because actually the earliest event, that particular teacher, I was in the sixth grade when that actually happened, so when I started actually writing. So by the time I actually got to high school, I had transitioned back home with my mom. But we was in a very rural area of Alabama, Tilton County, and one of the things my mom did do for us was always instilled education was, that's how you're going to make it out is educating yourself.
When I got to high school, education, that was my focus. Even though I was still mad and angry, education, this is how I'm going to win. Actually being there in that city, I was going to the school where I was the only African American in any of my advanced placement classes. So even for then, the writing, that was that way of really even articulating that for myself, like rationalizing that in my brain. So that's what made me say I can rewrite some history here, and really try to find that unique space.
Like in that particular place, the student government, that was the leader of the school so I was like, "I'm going to run for student government president." Everybody was like are you crazy? Are you kidding me? A black person, you're not going to win. But indeed, stepping out on faith, and I'll be honest and say because of my background I felt like I didn't have anything to lose. So stepping out on faith and doing that, I didn't know how campaigns worked and all of that. I didn't do any of that. A lot of people were impressed just the fact that I had the balls to do it.
James McKinney: That is awesome. One of the things that you said was that idea where you had nothing to lose. And man, for me personally, that resonates. That's like goose bumps resonation with me because of some of the challenges that I had in my adult years with some mistakes that I made in my entrepreneurial journey. Now the absence of fear that I have in everything else I do, because once you've been at the bottom, you're fearless the rest of the journey. But you mentioned you're one of seven, and so you sound… your story sounds so unique. Of the other six siblings, are they all wired similar to you or did they choose a different path in general? Because I truly believe that when we come to that bottom and those hardships, we can either choose to be a warrior or a victim, or a manipulator. Everyone kind of takes their own path.
John Paul Taylor: Right. Actually, and I was hoping we would because I love talking about my brothers and sisters. I have two teachers in the family, one sister who has taught 20 plus years inside of Birmingham public school system. My youngest brother James actually still holds the Stanford University set record. He was a defensive end for them, and now he's a school counselor actually now. My oldest brother actually retired out of the military and then I have a sister who, she's a travelling surgical technician and she does the surgical tech things. She travels and does that. One of my brothers, my brother Dr. Bruce Taylor, he actually owns several doctor offices across Alabama now. Then my sister Carol, we kind of call her the wonder work. She's more like me, that artistic kind of do her own thing, laid back kind of person. But none of us has ever went to prison or I mean, we've had our challenges now, but we were not the what they told us we were supposed to become.
James McKinney: Oh man, I love that because one, it just goes to show that the course that you happen to find yourself on does not determine where it is you're going. You can absolutely set your own path, and I love that. Especially again, just hearing how all of your siblings have done well despite the challenges as a youth, but for you and your journey, one of the things you also said was academics and education was your way out.
Going up and I've heard that story before from professional athletes, where I've had a chance to interview Baron Davis for live events one time, and one of the things that he said being an NBA athlete is he grew up in Englewood, California, gangs and shootings all the time, and basketball was his way out. That's all it was. So he was driven and driven, and dedicated to basketball as his way out. For you, it was education was your way out. Education a lot of times leads us in that natural journey, that natural progression to corporate America but you had alluded to the fact that environment was just sucking your soul. That was no you.
John Paul Taylor: So that's where the transition really happened.
James McKinney: So what was your first corporate job and you did you come across your first shift into entrepreneurship?
John Paul Taylor: And I laugh because it's so many years later, I laugh. So I actually started working for Bell South. It's AT&T something now, but it was Bell South then. Actually I had started as a customer service rep, because I was out of college, I just needed a job. So was able to get the job. But then, the group of people I came in with all had aspirations of going into management, and this whole thing. That was never my aspiration, but what happened was once people started telling me that I couldn't do it, that became a motivator for me to do it. I remember going to my direct supervisor at the time, when I was a customer service rep, and asking her about taking the management test. She said to me, "You're not going to do well in management." You know, I was like what? I was offended. But what she saw in me at the time, I didn't take it for what it was. But she said to me, "You're not going to conform."
James McKinney: Oh.
John Paul Taylor: Right. Well, I didn't know. I was like, "Well what do you mean?" Well, once I got into it and then I'm managing this group of people that they've been with the company longer than I've been alive. But for me, it was going into these meetings and us not talking about humans, and calling them by their names. We had to call them by their seat numbers and things like that to dehumanize. But I was like wow, this is how this works, this is how you can fire people and get rid of people because you're dehumanizing the whole situation, and really understanding the structure of how a lot of this stuff works. I was like oh no, this is not the world I'm supposed to be in.
James McKinney: That is awesome, and that's real talk right there. That's exactly, in large organizations, how that plays out. So as you're in management now and you're seeing how things are constructed and how people become serialized, and how you're to manage them and you had someone tell you, "You're not going to conform," when did you start thinking this isn't for me?
John Paul Taylor: When I got fired.
James McKinney: That'll do it.
John Paul Taylor: Yeah, right. Like that's as honest as I could be. Actually, I had gotten married the year before, and my wife at the time was pregnant. All of this happened and just life fell apart, like literally. Fast forward just a little, my daughter was born and the marriage dissolved, like instantly. Literally, I had a bag of clothes and my daughter sleeping on my chest at my mom's house, and my mom came in and she said to me, "I don't know what you're going to do, but whatever it is, I'm going to let you be here for a minute, but whatever you do when you get up off of this couch, you're going to have to live your life in order to be there for your child, because you're not going to be like your dad was for you."
James McKinney: Oh, man.
John Paul Taylor: And I said to her, I said, "Mom, that's my writing." My mom, she didn't know anything about poetry, no spoken word, no any of that. But you know what she said to me? "If that's what's going to save you, okay. Do that."
James McKinney: Oh my goodness. I have to ask though, before we jump into what you did with your writing and going forward, and in case the listeners can't tell from a spoiler alert is business venture is in helping others use spoken word to raise up out of hardships.
James McKinney: Hey, everybody. I really do hope you love The Startup Story. Did you know that you can actually get paid just for listening to each episode we release? I know it sounds insane, but it's true. There's a free new app called Podcoin and it literally pays you to listen to podcasts. Here's how it works. You listen to podcasts and you earn Podcoin while you listen. Then you turn that podcoin in for gift cards to places like Amazon or Starbucks. Or if you're feeling even more generous, you can donate that podcoin to charity. The more you listen, the more you earn.
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Now, let's jump back into our episode.
James McKinney: Here you are, though, marriage dissolved, brand new baby. Was there something internally, because you had a hard life growing up, but was there something internally that thought, "Oh man, here I go again," and was there any part that thought about giving up? Was there any part that thought, "Man, I just can't get a break." Was there any victim mindset whatsoever during that moment before your mother said, "At some point, you're going to get back up and go." Was there any part of that?
John Paul Taylor: Oh, absolutely. I think for all of us, that's a natural thing for us to… especially because to me, I felt like I had failed in so many things. I had failed at this job. I had failed at my marriage. It was that. And so really, that fear of if this makes sense to people, I hope it really does, but for me it was I had to go so deep inside of myself to go, "Well what's the one thing that you would never give up on?" Because part of being that entrepreneur thing is when it gets hard, are you going to stop? So I was like what is that one thing that I know I can do, that no matter what happens I am not going to give it up, I'm not going to stop doing. And the one thing that was continuous through all of that was the writing.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness. So you collect yourself. There is so much in your life, there's so much in your life and I love this, and I hope the listeners as they're hearing it, that I'm going to be honest, I hope the listeners are hearing like man, I haven't had it that hard and I'm sitting here moping on something. Not for anything other than to say we have the ability to move beyond our hardships should we choose to. And that's the key.
For all the listeners, you have got to make the decision, I'm either going to make this business work regardless of the hardships. I'm going to make changes in my business regardless of how uncomfortable those changes are. It is about the decision and moving beyond the fear of what may come from the decisions. Because the fear of the "what ifs" are a thousand pound weight that will hold you at the bottom of the sea, 100% of the time.
So now, as you decide writing is that common thread, I can't see a way of monetizing that. That's not my world, so what is your first step into that idea of what do I do? Writing is what I know and has been my saving grace for my whole life. How do you process that into something that creates a living?
John Paul Taylor: It was a very difficult process, because all I ever knew, even from that, you're going to be a starving artist, that you always have to find something else to do. But one of the things, the education part of that, how I was able to kind of flip some things was I started getting into being a teaching artist, creating curriculums where I could go into school to do workshops, programming within schools, things like that, working with different organizations, having them create content, doing after school programs.
But also before even all of that started happening, just being a spoken word artist, being able to actually start… I was selling CDs. So that was actually my first introduction into actually true entrepreneurship as far as being an artist, because when I got into the world creating… The name of my first CD is "John Paul and Pootie Sleeping on my Mama's Couch," and it's all these poems and my spoken word of kind of that thing. My oldest daughter, actually her name is Gwendolyn but I call her Pootie and that's from the movie Pootie Tang.
If you all haven't seen that, like you should watch it. It's some real life things that happen inside of it. But that's why I call her Pootie, because I always wanted her to remember. Because there's a section in the movie where Chris Rock comes back as an ear of corn, and Pootie Tang had lost his bill, he lost his power. But Chris Rock tells him the power wasn't in the bill, the power was in your heart all along. You was the power, because the love that you had, that you were giving to the people. So I call my daughter Pootie because she's my constant reminder of what I owe the world, which is love. That is truly how I've operated since she's been on this earth.
Now one of the things, she started performing with me when she was about four years old, so she is, you don't want to market your kids, your children per se, but it was easier to sell CD's and easier to get workshops and things like that. But it was a journey in getting there and getting the respect that I felt that I was owed. I'll be honest in saying having to shift my mind away from the starving artist mindset. Oh, my art should just be given away. Nope, this is valuable. Put some pride on that, you've earned this.
James McKinney: And that's one of the things I wanted to ask you is even in the teaching and the creating CD's of your art, those are still non enterprise driven ventures. But you run an enterprise now, and so how do you shift… by the way, I never in a million years when I started this podcast ever thought somehow Pootie Tang was getting dropped into an episode, but I love it. I love it. I love it. That is the diversity of the entrepreneurial journey. I love it.
So as you're working through that education side, and obviously trying to provide, and I get it. It's about providing, providing, providing. At what point did you flip the script a bit and say you know what, there's an enterprise to be had here, there's a business to be made. How did that come about for you?
John Paul Taylor: One of the beautiful parts about the network that I was surround with were other artists who were also into education, different teachers, and things like that. Because of the work that I was doing off the stage, working with the different foster care networks and things like this, people were like, "Oh, you should start a nonprofit because you could get grant money and you could get more support that way." Well I was like how do I do that? Well, I actually had, me and my daughter did a performance, and when is actually the universe… I think when your heart is right and when things are supposed to happen, and literally that's what happened.
A gentleman saw me and my daughter do a performance and he was like, "What do you want to do with this?" I said, "I want to help other people do this. I want to do it in the form of a nonprofit." Well, his thing, Mr. Charles Fields, and I have to honor him because he recently passed away, but he will forever be part of my story and my journey because this brother said, "You mean you want to teach people to do what I just saw you and your four year old daughter do?" I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "All you have to do is come to my classes. If you attend every class, the only thing you will have to pay for is the filing fee to do it. I will set it all up and do it all for you, help you with the bylaws, help you get everything straight with the state and everything. You just come attend the classes."
I showed up every week with my daughter and we took those classes, and we had no problem because a lot of people get rejected. Especially at that time, there was a shift in the nonprofit world and so it was a little bit more difficult. They had changed some of the rules. It was a little bit more difficult to get the nonprofit. But having someone who could alleviate those hurdles and us setting it up from the beginning the right way was, like I say, a true blessing in it. But what I always tell people is the important part, even about that part of the journey, was had I missed one class, the deal was over. Right? It was like pushing on and keeping on.
Had I not been living my dream that I had, I would not have set myself up with the opportunity for it to even exist, for him to even see it, to know what it is. So to me, that's why I always tell that part too because often, we defeat ourselves so many times up front because we'll go, "Oh, nobody's ever going to get this. No one will ever understand." And the one thing I've truly learned throughout this journey is it does not take a whole bunch of people to understand and get it. Because you do want it to grow. We all want that. But often times, it is that person you would never think of who will see and hear you, and hear your story or see your journey, and that resonates with them. Then they want to be a part of that, to see that, "Hmm, okay, this is different. Let's see what this will do."
James McKinney: Everything you said there resonates because you have, one thing that I preach all the time is that entrepreneurs help and support other entrepreneurs, and you have Mr. Charles Fields who was willing to pour into you, but at the same time it wasn't a gimme, it was you had to deliver as well. I think that's right. I think that is something that we as entrepreneurs shouldn't be afraid to ask when we support other entrepreneurs.
Also too the idea that you shared about we want our idea or our mission to resonate with everyone, but it really, it's not going to and it really doesn't have to. You've just got to find those that it does resonate with. It resonated with Mr. Charles Fields and that's what got you started. But now that you have Real Life Poets, what did you want it to be when you started? And by the way, how many years ago did Real Life Poets start?
John Paul Taylor: This year is actually our 10 year anniversary of Real Life Poets being an official nonprofit organization. For me, especially being in the state of Alabama, to me and us having over that 10 year period like not only being able to do stuff locally but doing stuff nationally, being able to do things internationally, this has been beyond my wildest dreams, that we would be here 10 years later. What's honest is changing and growing still every day. I still feel new. That's a real thing.
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. I love that. So Real Life Poets has been around for 10 years, and when you started Real Life Poets, you had a vision in your head of what that was going to be. Is it safe to assume the vision you had in your head 10 years ago is vastly different than the vision you have today for it?
John Paul Taylor: Yes, absolutely, because we didn't know the possibilities 10 years ago. Us actually being able to now get support from the state of Alabama directly and lobbying now for spoken word to actually be a true teaching artist position.
James McKinney: Oh wow.
John Paul Taylor: Because other work we've been able to do, and like now we have our facility is called Freedom House, and that's the place where we do all of our artistic work and we create… because it was so hard for us to get venues and places that would let us come in and do things. We created this, so even the money that we do get, we put it back into like say the community, and building this. So we let artists have a low cost place where they can do things. But our ultimate goal at the end of the day is to really create an academy, a school.
People say the school to prison pipeline is a myth, it is not. It is a very real thing. So for us, we're trying to create this art world to life pipeline and actually redefine what education is, and redefine what that really means because that looks different. Education was always what was between… Like, I had a lot of life education but it was just life to me. I always took education as being what was between those books, but what we do is we actually give… Like people go, "Oh, you're going to teach him how to rap." I say, "No, I'm going to teach them how to live on their own, how to be able to survive."
So that's ultimately, that's what we're trying to create like this academy. So we do work with youth that's on probation and house arrest. So instead of them picking up a gun and hurting someone, they're learning this skill to where now they can empower themselves and create a different avenue for themselves. So we could create some certified like you come through Real Life Poets school and it's a certified thing, people take it as a legit type of thing. So that's the ultimate goal now. 10 years ago, I was just happy that somebody would listen to us.
James McKinney: At what point in your 10 year journey did you realize that the picture you just painted about disrupting that prison pipeline and speaking hope into young people's lives through spoken word, and having that academy set up, at what point in your 10 year journey did you say, "Oh, that's what this can be"? Because something has to happen. That wasn't your vision 10 years ago. Something happened in which something's flipped for you, and your vision just went 10x on it.
John Paul Taylor: So, and this goes back to part of my personal story, I gained custody of my four year old daughter at the time, my youngest daughter, and taking on the responsibility of that, I was actually doing some travelling w… and being able to be connected with mentors was a big part of this. So one of my mentors at the time was Dr. Shelley Stewart, and he had a foundation called the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation. What I would help do was facilitate like half of it is a classroom, and then half of it, it was a bus that we would travel the United States on.
Half of it was a classroom, half of it was a prison cell, but we would talk about alternate routes of everybody tries to push everybody to college, but we always talked about alternate routes of everybody isn't equipped for college. So a lot of my thought process started forming then on how I can really take what I was doing, really make it a viable, feasible thing for like I said maybe not the masses, but these group of young people who are not geared towards college, and just going back to where I grew up. I was like oh, these young… especially young men, we can figure out how we can really create a real system, this could be a real thing.
I left there because I had to take care of my daughter, and that's what made me step out on Real Life Poets full time. But that's when I stepped out on Real Life Poets for a time doing that, that was my vision from that, was like taking this knowledge that I had gained from there. So I started going to these courses. I started going… because you said it earlier. Everyone doesn't have to get it, but you have to find your lane. I figured out what my lane was, and rather than doing what people told me I should do, I took a lot of that knowledge and like I said, figured out who my audience really was and figured out well maybe in school isn't the best place for you. It is these foster care, these group homes. It is the probation, these juvenile justice centers, things like that. This is maybe more of your lane.
James McKinney: When you look back at your time, whenever it is that you retire or handover the reins of Real Life Poets to somebody else, whatever it is, when you look back on your Real Life Poets journey, how will you measure success?
John Paul Taylor: I think it's happening now, to be honest with you. We are now in a place where we have youth who started with me my very first session, and it makes me emotional sometimes because we have youth that started with me my very first session when they were in the eighth grade, who have no graduated college and who are now coming back and they have positions who are able to give them positions within the organization. That is the push. A lot of things I have been doing over the last couple of years is actually been to where I can transition from being executive director and just be cofounder or founder of this, and let them… But that's what's happening now.
This year, watching the young people take another group of young people to Brave New Voices is an international poetry festival where we've been the only teen from Alabama to ever represent there. And my vision at the time of us going there was to represent Alabama of course. But then watching those youth now lead other youth in doing that, and me and my daughter was actually on the team this year, but I did not go as executive director. I went as a parent. That's what success means to me, to be able to hand off something viable and tangible to the next generation for them to actually carry on.
James McKinney: Oh man, I love all of that. As our time comes to an end, there's always two questions I ask of my founders but I'm going to pause for a second before I get to those two. There's one new question I want to ask just you, because I have to ask it because of all the lives you've impacted. I'm not trying to create an Oprah moment where we sob together or anything like that, but when you look back on your 10 years and you look at all the youth that you've impacted, is there one… without using names, please don't use the name, but is there one in particular where that one story for you is something for you to hang your hat on and ride off into the sunset with that one story? Is there one person, one life that you could look at and say spoken word and Real Life Poets saved that individual?
John Paul Taylor: Absolutely. Yeah, and actually he was part of our… and I'm sure he wouldn't mind saying, because we just had a conversation yesterday about all of this. We caught him before Jacob Scott because I have to honor him, and to me saying his name is honoring and respecting the journey that young brother was willing to take a risk on me. Meeting this young brother in the tenth grade and him being from Collegeville Projects, and him understanding how vulnerable he was to the streets and those things, and going, "Hey man, can you listen to me rap?" I was like, "Yeah, I'll listen to you." I did, and I was like, "Okay, I'm going to mentor you."
He had been with me and he called me… I wish I could show you, you could hear the voicemail. He literally called me yesterday and he was so excited because he actually registered from Jeff State. "JP, I'm actually a college student, man." And I was like, "Yeah right." "I'm not in jail." I was like, "Right." And one, he is legal and now if he'd been underage I wouldn't have said his name because I am very respectful of our confidentiality, but we just had talked about this, so anytime I can honor our young people for being more than what the world tells them that they are, and they're doing it in an alternative way, I think that has to be honored and respected.
James McKinney: Awesome. That is awesome. So now, the two questions I ask all founders and I've said it before, but if I only had 20 minutes with a founder, I would want to make sure I got these two questions in there because I believe… I truly believe these things are critical in the idea of mentorship through this podcast. The first one has to do with gratitude, and the reason I ask about gratitude is I believe and I sense that you have this same vision, that you would agree with me, if we lose sight of all the people that have poured into our lives to get us to where we are today, that have poured in and supported us in our entrepreneurial journey, if we forget all those people, we will begin to think we did this journey by ourselves and we will become isolated and that is what will inevitably lead us to our failure. So when you look back on your journey and all the people that poured into your life, who would you like to say thank you to right now?
John Paul Taylor: I want to say thank you to Miss Reeves for actually saying to me, "You better find a different way to express your anger," and giving me that spark in my writing. My mother for instilling into me the drive for education, like past the material of what that could bring, but the drive to win. She helped with that. My two daughters for no matter how crazy my ideas are and they had to be the ones who were the… all the sacrifices I made along the way, they were the ones who had to suffer the consequences of those sacrifices. My brother Michael for being willing us literally, like we always say "believe" because us literally sitting down at a table one day and sharing our stories with each other, and then created this whole international project that we've been doing for four, going on five years now together.
My cofounder, Leroy Hicks and our other brother David Hawthorne, who we actually started Real Life Poets as a group of young men who were all fathers, and trying to figure out a different way to use our art. I just happen to be the one that took it and went on, but there was a lot of background things that happened in the journey. So these people, our chairman of the board Patrick Johnson who he's actually an Alabama hall of fame as a hip hop artist. So all these different people just coming on board man to help all the young people who have faith enough to listen to the parents, that because I am a parent and how meaningful it is for people to entrust their children to me is very special, and heartfelt for me.
I honestly have to say, and I know I might be taking too long, but honestly I say this part in sincerity, especially for all those other entrepreneurs out there, I have to give a big thank you to Bonner Wagner, who 10 years ago when I first got the nonprofit, I didn't know what to do. I walked into her office, and she looked at me and she said, "I don't know what you're going to do with these young people and the spoken word in Alabama," she said, "But it's going to take you 10 years for people to take you serious. But if you stay around 10 years, people will take you serious."
James McKinney: Oh man, oh that's rich right there. That is rich. And I will never cut an entrepreneur off when it comes to that gratitude question, because it's super important. I want all the listeners out there to understand all the people that poured into our lives at various ages and stages. So in our last question, as our time does have to come to an end, we've been talking to tens of thousands of entrepreneurs right now, in all various levels of success or challenges or defeat. But right now, I want you to speak to one entrepreneur. I don't care what their persona is, I don't care what the situation may be. What words of encouragement would you like to leave the single entrepreneur listening? You're speaking to one right now, how would you like to encourage them?
John Paul Taylor: Wake up every day with a passion that drives you so hard that the rest of the world thinks you're crazy. Go to sleep every night with that same passion and that same drive. I say this from a place of not when it's all good. I mean you have to have that passion and drive when it is at its worst, when you think that it's over, when everyone thinks that there's no way this can happen. You have to believe more than anybody else that your vision is meant to manifest and be a part of this realm, of this earth that we are on.
James McKinney: In our time with John Paul, there are three key takeaways for me from his story. The first is that sometimes rock bottom is right where we need to be. I know that is weird to hear and possibly even painful if you're in the midst of that rock bottom right now, but John Paul shared with us about the moment where he was sitting on a chair in his mother's house, with his daughter laying on his chest, and with all of his belongings in a bag next to him. This moment came after he lost his job and his marriage fell apart. Shortly after his mom came in and provided a fire to get him moving again. He needed to be at that low point to see what his upside was, and that is not uncommon for entrepreneurs across the board.
The second take away from me is a reminder that in many cases, we defeat ourselves before we even get started. That defeat may look like the obvious in that we never really get started, we talk ourselves out of it. Another way we defeat ourselves is that we never truly go all in. we allow the voices of those around us or of public perception to throttle exactly how hard we're going to push the accelerator out of fear of rejection or mocking. We have to be aware of those limiting thoughts and behaviors so that we do not start off this one thousand mile race with a self inflicted limp.
The final thing that all of us can glean from John Paul's journey is that we are not playing for the here and now, but that we have to play the long game. This is not going to be easy. It is going to be incredibly hard, but if we hang on long enough, then those who might not take you serious today will have to take you serious later. In fact, one of those converts might actually be yourself.
I hope you found value in John Paul's startup story and that you found it encouraging and insightful. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So if you found any value in John Paul's startup story, please visit RealLifePoets.org and make a donation. I'm not just talking about a financial donation, as they are a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and your donation would be tax deductible. But I'm also talking about donation of your time. Yes, Real Life Poets is in Alabama, but John Paul facilitates Skype sessions with entrepreneurs, leaders, and educators to help give the youth that he serves a vision for the future. So if you want to support John Paul Taylor in his journey, then I hope you will consider giving of your time as well as to possibly make a donation. Just visit RealLifePoets.org in order to do so. We'll have a link in our show notes as well. I say it all the time. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for John Paul and Real Life Poets in a huge way.
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If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.