We had the good fortune of connecting with Brandon Okpalobi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brandon, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Before founding DREAM, I established a for-profit business, DIBIA Athletic Development, which promotes excellence through athletics by offering sports and athletic training to various youth. As I started to take a deeper look into education, it was evident that there were few quality after school programs in Miami at the time. Youth were getting into trouble during after school hours (3pm — 6pm) and youth gun violence was on the rise. I researched a few existing programs and saw an opportunity to provide our youth with something better. So, on October 6, 2014, DREAM (Development through Recreational Education for Athletic Minds) was born with the focus to help youth win at life through STEM and sports-based programming. I founded Dibia DREAM to provide free afterschool and weekend academic enrichment to historically underserved populations of students. My lived experience as a young man of color both shapes my values and informs the framework of the programs that I lead. Because I struggled in school, but was afforded a second chance, I am passionate about changing the trajectory of and building asset spaces for Miami’s youth. At a very young age, my parents bought me an Atari, Nintendo, Sega Genesis and a Super Nintendo. When I would get bored, I would break the machines open to see how the mechanics worked on the inside. I was intrigued to know about their inner workings and wanted to understand the technology behind them. This was not an after-school program activity like the ones offered at DREAM Academy to engage youth through STEM and sports. I had to create this activity. Today, our afterschool and weekend programs provide activities for youth just like me. We provide youth a safe and constructive space to learn while equipping them with social and emotional life skills. As a young change maker and community leader, my efforts shed light on today’s youth and the need for community-based organizations committed to engaging and empowering them. Taking a deeper look into our school system, I noticed that in some communities science and math curricula were not advancing at the level needed to prepare our students to compete later in life. When I was younger, I recall completing science projects each year and entering them in a city-wide science competition. The winner would get a cash prize and a trophy. I always wanted to win that prize. Today, that does not happen often in low-income community schools. Additionally, mixing STEM and sports brings together the best of both worlds. If I would have looked at basketball (or any sport for that matter) through a scientific lens, I would have been a better athlete. The mission of my for-profit company, DIBIA Athletic Development, is to promote excellence through athletics and life skills. Here we link science concepts to our athletic skills and development training. In a similar fashion, my non-profit organization Dibia DREAM blends STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education with academic tutoring, health and wellness, financial literacy, and mentorships to engage underserved youth in Miami, New Orleans and Bermuda by improving their educational opportunities, outcomes, and long-term quality of life. We reach youth in a unique way by partnering with organizations like The Center for Research on Sport in Society at the University of Miami. Together, we implement the Teaching, Excellence, Achievement, and Motivation through Sports (TEAMS) curriculum, an integrated STEM and sports curriculum for grades K–5.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Being an athlete, I am extremely competitive. I want to make sure that DIBIA Athletic is the best training company on the planet. With DREAM, my goal is to make sure every underserved youth has the chance to be great, dream big, and has equitable access to all opportunities. What you see daily is that minority and underserved youth are not afforded opportunities that other kids are. If you read the statistics that are out there today, they are surprising. 35% of African-American youth graduate from high school. I recently met with a friend who works in child services in Miami, and there were two kids there. One was standing in front of the judge; he must have been in the third grade. There was another kid that was so tiny, he wasn’t even up to my knee in height, and he was a defendant. What could he have possibly done, I thought? After seeing that, it was a moment for me. This is why I do this. These kids need a chance. They need someone to tell them that they are special. These kids go back to neighborhoods surrounded by negativity. They need to see something different. And if I can impact them in their younger ages, then they will have a chance. Those same two kids could be the next leaders of their generation. This is what pushes me to go into these communities. Before founding DREAM, I established a for-profit business, DIBIA Athletic Development, which promotes excellence through athletics by offering sports and athletic training to various youth. As I started to take a deeper look into education, it was evident that there were few quality after school programs in Miami at the time. Youth were getting into trouble during after school hours (3pm — 6pm) and youth gun violence was on the rise. I researched a few existing programs and saw an opportunity to provide our youth with something better. So, on October 6, 2014, DREAM (Development through Recreational Education for Athletic Minds) was born with the focus to help youth win at life through STEM and sports-based programming. The term wrap around services is tossed around a lot in the non-profit sector. In establishing DREAM, I wanted to ensure that we truly help our youth holistically with dynamic programming. Our goal is to impact youth beyond the ‘bell to bell’ time they have during the school year. I recognize that systematic issues have plagued the black community for years. So, I am passionate about changing the narrative and building asset spaces for black communities to thrive. Our youth deserve the opportunity to be successful. I was once a lost young boy that was kicked out of a catholic school in the 2nd grade. After transferring to a creative arts school where they channeled my negative energy into art, I thrived and was no longer a statistic. So my desire is to create good athletes through DIBIA Athletic Development and to cultivate great stewards of the community with Dibia DREAM. Our afterschool and weekend programs provide activities for youth just like me. We provide youth a safe and constructive space to learn while equipping them with social and emotional life skills. As a young change maker and community leader, my efforts shed light on today’s youth and the need for community-based organizations committed to engaging and empowering them. I am excited about DIBIA Athletic Development expanding operations to Dallas, New Orleans, and Bermuda through sporting training and our DIBIA Champions League (basketball league). We are focused on promoting excellence through athletics and will continue to add new programs to teach life skills through sports. In my life, having grit and being successful is the only way. Failure is not an option. I will admit that I have failed forward many times, but I seek to learn from my mistakes and always welcome the next opportunity. There will always be times when things don’t seem to be going right – people won’t support, or something unexpected happens – but I look at those challenges as life lessons. I read a quote that said, “we should strive to get 1% better each day.” I believe that by taking this approach, then I cannot fail. For both DIBIA and DREAM, what pushed us through our most turbulent times was prayer, hard work and following the principles within The Purple Cow book. I pray before we embark on anything and because of this, I trust that things will always work out in my favor. I know that when things are slow or seemingly not moving at all, it is because my productivity is low. I quickly realize that I need to work harder. The Purple Cow is a marketing book that really allowed us to separate ourselves from other companies. Within both of my organizations, we pride ourselves on providing a unique experience, presenting our company like no other, and being extremely innovative. I have been blessed with God-ideas and the faith to act on those. That is what has turned my companies around and allowed us to be in a good position. In the face of COVID-19, our Scholars’ DREAMS have not been deferred. This is in large part, to partnerships with amazing organizations, that have made corporate responsibility, STEM education, and community engagement a priority. In response to our stakeholders social-emotional and instructional needs we immediately executed an Instructional Continuity Plan inclusive of the following highlights: · Implemented a Digital Convergence Plan diversifying our instructional delivery models · Re-Initiated DREAMPaks to address hunger insecurity caused by increased unemployment and closing of school’s · Created DREAM Virtual STEM Lab to facilitate asynchronous and synchronous STEM education in a virtual landscape · Launched Virtual STEM Saturday to continue engagement in STEM education with over 2,000 Scholars around the world · Redefined and re-trained Enhancement Coordinators to meet the needs of DREAM Scholars · Bolstering Social Emotional Learning curriculum for DREAM Scholars and internal policies for staff wellness · Providing PPE to all stakeholders · Facilitating parent engagement in recreational education
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Tuesday Party at Coyo Taco back room Jamaican food at Dukunoo Rent a Yacht and jet ski to hit the sandbars on the weekend Take them through Wynwood to see all the artwork and do an impromptu photo shoot Take them down Calle Ocho to see the rich history here Take them to Fort Lauderdale for an Igloo party Dinner at Prime Fish or Katsuya at SLS Drinks at East Miami Floor seats at the heat game Drink at Mama Tried Really depends on the week and time of year but this would be some of the stuff.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My drive was instilled in me by my parents. My mother, who is extremely positive taught me at a young age to look at everything through a positive lens. She bought me the “Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peele and made sure that I read it. That really changed my thought process on how I looked at obstacles. With a changed mindset, I can see the positive in every situation. Growing up in a Nigerian household under my father, we could never be second best. Hearing from a very young age that I must be the best, or that I had to be first in my class, and “Naija, No Dey Carry Last” (meaning Nigerians strive to finish first), I always had the mindset that if I worked hard, prayed and gave my all, I would achieve greatness. Whether times were easy or hard, the lessons from my parents keep me going through tough times today. Thank you, Calla Victoria and Ochendo Chuka Okpalobi. I just put down Inner Glimpse by Idil Ahmed and it was so timely. We all go through phases when we are in a bad place and considering the current climate, many people are dealing with mental health issues and more. This book reignited a fire in me that had be extinguished due to many issues and distractions. So thankful fo reading this book.
Korey Davis Photography