Editor’s note: Here on AskTheMoneyCoach we like to profile successful business owners that we’ve met during our journey as entrepreneurs.
Jay Cameron is the kind of man that defies easy description.
At first blush, it would be convenient to label him as a serial entrepreneur, considering his successful forays into a variety of profitable ventures, ranging from real estate deals to the snow-removal business.
But looking solely at his entrepreneurial pursuits wouldn’t shed light into the social advocate side of the 42-year-old Cameron, who lives in suburban Washington D.C. with his wife of 17 years and their children.
It’s in the nation’s capitol where Cameron derives huge pleasure in doing everything from promoting youth financial literacy to writing and speaking about the importance of fatherhood in the Black community.
Then there’s the creative side of Cameron, who is just as passionate about the performing arts as he is about business and community issues. In fact, he often links all three areas. This fall, for instance, Cameron will put on a number of live events, starting with a Sept. 12, 2015 production at the Warner Theatre called The Church Mafia – Attack From the Pews. He’ll follow that up on Oct. 17, 2015 with The Art of Marketing, a daylong business and personal development boot camp.
And did I mention that Cameron happens to be a pastor too?
I first met Cameron back in 2007, when he was tirelessly working to promote his 10,000 book bag giveaway. He’d partnered with various organizations and celebrities, such as Hill Harper, R&B singer Ginuwine and his wife, Sole, and was looking to bring additional exposure to the 10,000 book bag effort, which supplies free backpacks and school supplies to low-income youth during the back-to-school season.
Earlier this spring, I caught up with Cameron to learn about his latest projects – and to ask him what he’s learned over the years about holding together his finances and family, all while keeping his business and civic endeavors afloat.
True to form, Cameron remains the modern day Renaissance man, with lots of talents, plenty of advice to share, and an enthusiasm for helping others that hasn’t waned one bit over time.
Here are excerpts from our conversation:
The Money Coach: I see that Urban Change, your community outreach organization, is putting on a lot of seminars, including one called Debt Free College Degree. Tell me about that.
Cameron: Education financing has been resonating with me for years, especially since we’ve watched the student loan crisis spiral out of control. It’s crippling families.
I know people my age who still have $100,000 in student loans and their kids are about to go to college. So we put together a seminar, Debt Free College Degree, and it shows families how to obtain college degree without loans.
The Money Coach: What else do participants learn in these college seminars?
Cameron: The number #1 we stress is understanding college financing. We want kids to get educated. But we don’t want them to make catastrophic financial decisions along the way.
A lot of people become discouraged if they don’t think they can afford college. We say you can get your degree and not pay $100,000 if you do it the smart way.
But it’s so competitive that if you don’t have certain credentials it’s going to be very difficult to get into the job market.
So we encourage students to seek scholarships too. And we stress that there are still plenty of scholarships for students even if they’re not the most outstanding scholars.
The Money Coach: Are you working exclusive with high school and college students now, or still with younger kids too, like you did with the book bag initiative?
Cameron: We are bringing our book bag initiative back in 2016. So we are now looking for sponsors to provide this on a consistent basis. But we’re preparing all our kids for the new generation in a lot of different ways.
With social media some of them are making catastrophic mistakes. They don’t realize how one post or one picture can follow them for a lifetime. So we’ve been actively educating kids and families about this issue. We partnered with the Washington Nationals. We’ve had two job prep seminars.
We also have a summer camp focused on the performing arts. Over time, we’ve added a financial literacy component because we realized there were a lot of kids coming out with high school diplomas and even college degrees but they still didn’t know much about money.
The Money Coach: When did you start doing the theater type work and specializing in the performing arts?
Cameron: I’ve been actively working in this community since 1999. We started with stage productions that talked about real life issues, and addressed them with the performing arts. Then we followed up with creative, live seminars.
The Money Coach: You also run a camp for youth. How does your camp work?
Cameron: We have a life camp prep academy. It’s a supplement to the traditional education system. It’s a weekend-based program and we tell students things like how to prepare for job interviews and how to present yourself in a professional setting.
That’s important, especially for many minorities who are already fighting an uphill battle to get good jobs. They have to know how to leverage their status and show up in a way that represents themselves well in order to shatter stereotypes seen in movies or the media.
The Money Coach: How many students take part in your camp and is it free?
Cameron: The summer camp averages about 150 kids per summer. With the majority of kids, the parents do pay a modest fee. But we underwrite some who can’t afford it, to allow them to attend free.
With our job prep program and life camp, we take the proceeds and re-invest it into the community: into our life prep academy and job prep seminars.
Life camp also supports the book bag initiative. That’s the model for what we do: constantly reinvesting into the community.
Over the past 10 years, we’ve reached approximately 200,000 people in the metro DC. area through our programs.
The Money Coach: What’s the best part of doing this for you?
Cameron: Every time I get an email or a letter telling me about how a particular seminar or program changed the direction of someone’s life, it’s the fuel that keeps it all going.
Sometimes you have those days when you get discouraged or you wonder if people are really getting it. But then someone will say: ‘This really touched me.”
A former camper recently returned. He’s married, and he’s now in the military. He said: ‘I remember the lessons you taught me.’ That made me feel good.
The Money Coach: Tell me about your family and how you’ve managed to juggle kids and work.
Cameron: I have three sons, who are 15, 14 and 11, and one daughter who is 21.
They all keep me busy and they all have very different personalities.
I’m very entrepreneurial and I’m a big encourager of multiple streams of income. So I share that with my family, including my kids. One of my businesses is a snow plowing company. I remember once my sons (did it) and they came back in with a lot of money. I said to them: “Do you know some people don’t earn that much in a week?”
I also say to them that if you’re strategic in your life plan, and you set realistic goals and attain them, it will inspire you to keep going.
The Money Coach: What other financial lessons do you think young people – and adults – need to know?
Cameron: A lot of my friends have doctorate degrees and higher education. But when the recession kicked in, they got laid off and they didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t understand why, with all these degrees, they couldn’t get a job.
I said: ‘You might want to have two resumes, because you might intimidate the person looking to hire you.’
You can have books smart and common sense, but you should also have multiple streams of income to set yourself up for long-term success.
It’s also important to prepare for a rainy day. Every thing comes down at some point.
The Money Coach: You’ve written or produced various productions. What’s the most recent one you’ve done?
Cameron: One of our original productions, called Skool Dayze, was about peer pressure and teenage issues. In 2014, we did Annie, to give the kids that side of technical theater.
Another of my most recent productions was called College Fever. It’s the story of a single parent facing the reality of their child getting accepted to a school but not getting all of the scholarship money they anticipated. They have to make tough, long-term decisions.
So we tied in the emotional components of college, the financial literacy aspect, and many people had their eyes opened as a result. Anything that I write is based upon real life events. That’s only because I realize the value of the stage is that you can illustrate serious topics in an entertaining way. We all learn through a lot of different ways, like reading, listening, and visual means.
A seminar is great but a lot of people won’t come to it. But they will come to a live production. So from an entertainment perspective, we’re looking to increase our presence in the Washington D.C. area this year.
The Money Coach: With so many irons in the fire, how do you make time to be a good father?
Cameron: I made conscious decisions when they were babies to be present. They always saw me and knew me. I also have several mentors. They all advised me: ‘Make sure you’re close to your children because those years go by so quickly. Before you know it, they’ll be in high school and then gone.’
So in 2003-2004 I made the decision to really stay close to home. I still traveled, but it was very strategic. So as they’ve grown up, I have a solid relationship with them. We have a family unit that’s been consistent with them.
I’m at all their games and events. Any business ventures I’m involved in they know about it and are involved in it. They have the opportunity to see it demonstrated in front of them. They see a living example of someone that could create a business and be successful with it. And then see the charitable side of things too.
It’s important for them to know that we’re not just focused on us building our empire, but that we’re willing to share what we earn with others and to create opportunities for others as well. That gives them a well-rounded view as life. As far as our lifestyle, we live nicely, so it’s not like they do without. But they watch us sacrifice to help others.
I also give a lot of credit to my wonderful wife. We’ve been married almost 17 years and it’s hard to believe that it’s gone so quickly.
We don’t try to create an image so that our children see us in a perfect light. They know we’re human. I say to my sons: ‘I want you to see the good and the not-so-good. I face challenges too, but I want you to see how I overcome them.’
We have an open dialogue. They knew they can talk to me about anything they’re facing. My daughter is older, but I’m there for her too.
Snow removal can be an intense business. You can be away for 48 hours straight. But once my daughter was out looking for a job, and I stopped everything. I said: ‘I’m going to take 2 weeks and drive around with you for job offers.’ And she did indeed get two jobs and several offers.
I’m very proud of the young lady that my daughter is maturing into, and glad to be a part of that experience with her, and my whole family.