A ‘Global Entrepreneurship Week’ Memoir: One Teacher’s Dreams of Justice, and Making Money, Gets Hope in Jersey City

Author John Bredin, in the right corner wearing a striped tie, learns the fine art of brand excitement from Beatrice Johnston — seated in center with an orange dress.

As an English professor and activist, my segue into the business world (as a freshly-minted real estate agent) is fraught with fears of entering a shallow realm defined by inhumane and hyper-competitive dynamics, where the bottom line is money — to hell with people, and to hell with the community. Of course, we all know that there are plenty of companies in this world who do, in fact, operate with the moral principles of Gordon Gekko, but thankfully, none seemed to be on hand in Jersey City last month for the third annual Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Instead, I had my business fears allayed by a fascinating gestalt of community, interesting conversations, and exposure to smart, progressive-minded corporate folks (more like the crunchy Ben & Jerry’s and Bill Gates variety), a highlight of which was an inspiring talk by CEO and philanthropist Stephen Paletta. The theme of Paletta’s talk was achieving success by living a life of significance. He shared the story of how his own life was transformed by his 2004 trip to Rwanda; the dire poverty he saw there inspired him to create the International Education Exchange (IEE) to train teachers and to support school and library development in Africa. Hearing the passion and sincerity in Paletta’s voice, it was easy to see why he won a million dollars on Oprah’s “Big Give” program — an ABC series focused on philanthropy.

The speech also brought, for me, a pedagogical element to the conference. The fact that a critical space in between making money and healing the world was so beautifully articulated allowed me to give voice to my own complex desire (still nascent and emerging) to achieve financial success while promoting social justice and a better world for all. Who knows what fruit these dialogues (which included a chat with Alfa Demmellash, the dynamic founder of Rising Tide Capital, which sponsored the week long symposium) will bring in the future. For now, it’s enough that this innovative gathering — which was part of a larger international global Entrepreneurship Week, in 100 countries, with over 10 million people — engaged me in a process that, philosophically, is dear to me as an educator: a New Beginning.

Another transformative moment (for me) occurred during Beatrice Johnston’s “Brand Excitement” seminar, held in the Small Business Incubator at New Jersey City University (NJCU). She brought a combination of passion, energy and ideas to her talk on creative branding strategies. One approach Johnston recommended, I happen to be using right now (I took good notes!) –publishing articles and essays related to your business project. Mostly, though, what I got from her seminar is the amazing power of dialogue within a business context, since she created an open social space — in a gorgeous conference room with coffee, cookies and hummus — for participants to get to know each other and share our stories. This brought back memories of my own teaching experiences here at NJCU, as an adjunct English professor in 2002; especially how I arranged my chairs in a democratic circle, and taught my students — many from the inner-city and used to “lock down” authoritative teaching methods — the art of human dialogue.

In keeping with its progressive vibe, the week concluded with JC’s first ever Green Fair (held at City Hall) along with the annual Sustainable Cities Conference. Mayor Jeremiah Healy reminded us that Jersey City is one of the greenest cities in the U.S., since most of its residents take public transportation or walk to work. One final event, at the Downtown boutique Kanibal Home, taught me secrets about social networking to promote my business. Now, if I could only figure out how to Twitter this essay!

an English professor, real estate agent, and host of the Public Voice Salon TV show, an on-air dialogue on culture, politics and the critical issues of our time.