Exploring the Intersection of Race, Immigration, and Entrepreneurship: A Personal Perspective from Keel Russell 

"Being an immigrant provided me with the empowerment and freedom to pursue any path I desired.."

Overcoming Systemic Barriers and Pursuing Entrepreneurship as a Path to Success

How do you feel being an immigrant/child of an immigrant impacted what you saw as career possibilities?

Being an immigrant provided me with the empowerment and freedom to pursue any path I desired. During my childhood, I observed many individuals who held multiple jobs to make ends meet. My mother, in particular, serves as a source of inspiration for my drive and determination. Most immigrants arrive in America believing they will excel in any venture they undertake.

Do you feel the Black American experience is different than the experience of Black Immigrants? 

There are similarities and differences in the challenges that Black Americans and other immigrants may face in America. While there may be shared difficulties related to institutional lending, access to quality education and healthcare, income inequality, affordable housing and redlining, disproportionate incarceration, voter suppression, lack of representation in politics and media, and systemic racism and discrimination, Black Americans have also faced unique and deeply entrenched forms of systemic racism and discrimination in America that immigrant groups may not have experienced to the same degree.

It’s important to acknowledge that many people come to America for better financial, healthcare, and lifestyle opportunities. Still, it’s also important to recognize that Black Americans have had to overcome systemic barriers that have limited their opportunities and access to resources in ways that other groups may not have experienced. While economics and finances are certainly factors, they are not the only reasons for Black Americans’ disparities and challenges in America.

What was the goal for you? What helped to drive you to your accomplishments?

Growing up in a predominantly Black community, my perspective was shaped by what I observed and saw on TV. Despite this, I always knew that I wanted to become an entrepreneur. My entrepreneurial journey began in elementary school when I started bagging groceries at a local food mart after school. I made about $20 per day in tips and $50 – $100 on weekends. Since it was a first-come, first-served system, I had to rush to the store right after school to secure a rotating hourly spot. The owners, Diego and Jose, were Cuban immigrants who had built a thriving grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. The employees were a diverse group of Cubans, Jamaicans, and Haitians who had mutual respect and admiration for each other. Working at the store was a fun environment for me at a young age.

As a kid, I made enough money to buy anything I wanted, including bikes, gaming systems, clothes, holiday gifts, and treats for my friends. Although it felt great to have financial independence as a child, I remained humble and hardworking, buying and selling candy bars and snacks to my classmates and even recruiting other kids to work for me in exchange for a profit split. Looking back, I ran an entire distribution system at a young age, and the adults who knew me believed I would become a successful businessman.

Even in college, I held onto my ambition of becoming the first Black billionaire to build my empire through business, not sports or media. I was inspired by Wayne Huizenga, who built multiple Fortune 500 companies, and today, Elon Musk serves as a modern-day inspiration. Nevertheless, I am particularly impressed by the successful Black billionaires who have reached the highest levels of wealth in business, such as Aliko Dangote, Robert Smith, David Steward, Oprah Winfrey, and Robert Johnson. These individuals make up less than 1% of all billionaires, highlighting the true disparity. Despite this, my journey has only just begun.

Were there any rules of thumb or sayings repeated to you in your childhood that you live by to this very day?

Not exactly, but I have my own analogy for entrepreneurship. While most people describe it as a roller coaster, I prefer to liken it to a theme park. In this entrepreneurship theme park, you can choose which ride you want to go on – the path, the journey, the growth process, and the people you work with. Each ride offers a different experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you end up on a roller coaster that takes you through valleys, loops, tunnels, hell, and back, remember that the ride won’t last forever. Eventually, it will stop, and you can catch your breath. At that point, you can either get back on another intense ride or pick a less intensive ride like a carousel or Ferris wheel, where you can predict the ups and downs. But even that ride will eventually end, and you’ll get off. In summary, entrepreneurship can be uncomfortable, unexpected, and challenging, but it can also bring small and significant wins that make you feel like you’re on top of the world. My advice is to enjoy the experience, or as I like to say, “enjoy the ride.”

 Pick three theme songs for your life. One for childhood, one for when you just entered the working world, and what’s your current theme song?

Hustlin by Rick Ross (Childhood) 

Dear Mama (Starting the workforce) 

Remember the Name (Current)

Did you know that by being who you are and pursuing your aspirations, you would be helping to write the following chapters of Black History? How does that make you feel?

I feel amazing because it is what I love to do. Like I said before, Information should be free. If I had business mentors in my early childhood and teens, I would be much further along, but my journey is my journey. My duty now is to encourage as many Black Americans and people of color as possible to start their own businesses. It is through wealth, we can influence and impact policy changes, education, programs, and investments in our own communities.

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