Growing up, I had one dream and one dream only—that was to play ball. While my friends were gearing up for summer breaks filled with swimming and barbecues, I competed in basketball tournaments across the country. I was a star in my region and flourished against guys that were nationally known. My commitment to basketball as a means of success is not a foreign concept in the inner city. Like most Black males, my only exposure to the achievements of men who looked like me was through watching sports. When I saw Allen Iverson or Tracy McGrady play, instinctively I saw myself. Therefore, basketball for as long as I could remember was all I knew.
The dream I had of becoming a professional basketball player began to dwindle with age. My parents encouraged me to choose a high school based on academics and not athletics. Despite my name being in local headlines, the D-1 colleges weren’t recruiting me like I anticipated. I knew I did not want to become another bitter almost basketball player never seeing my true potential in other areas of life. One thing I will always love about basketball is the drive and determination needed to win. The hustle it takes. I knew I didn’t have to leave that ambition on the court. I left high school with dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and would never turn back.
My first business idea was a clothing company that quickly taught me the importance of the Internet. The boom of tech in society did not touch the youth in the inner city as much as the rest of the world. We didn’t learn about tech careers in our classrooms or have any exposure to coding. However, as a budding business owner, I knew the Internet would have to become my friend. It started with me teaching myself how to design graphics for screen printing. Next, I was expanding my knowledge of online marketing. Before I knew it, I was an experienced coder and web designer. My tech skill set evolved to the point that I could visibly see how web design and development could impact a business. My family and friends saw the results too. Naturally, this led to an influx of people reaching out to me for help with the design and tech needs of their businesses as well.
When you start playing sports, your natural instincts are to be the best you can be for your own athleticism. You train to make yourself stronger and practice to make sure your game is perfect. Yet, in the heat of the game, it’s not about what you can do for yourself but what you can do for your team. My entrepreneurial endeavors transitioned from clothing design to network marketing, and I assumed all of my knowledge was for me. Conversely, the more I learned about design and tech, the more I attracted people who needed my help to make their businesses grow. One day, a light bulb went off in my head and I realized my biggest business opportunity was right in front of me. I could use my knowledge to enhance the online presence of small and midsize businesses. In 2015, Increase Branding & Design was born and each day I have the pleasure of growing businesses all around me by enhancing their branding and digital assets.
I am often humbled by the skills that grew from my entrepreneurial endeavors. I believe it is my life mission to not only help businesses develop their online presence but prove to inner-city youth that they too can find themselves in tech. Every day I see new programs and initiatives dedicated to teaching inner-city youth the importance of having careers in tech. I see classes emerging that teach youth that look like me how to code. It is inspiring but it is not enough. Representation is what will always matter the most. As Black young men continue to look to sports and entertainment to find themselves, it is my goal to give them a new aspiration.
This year, my mother watched the NBA draft. She said to me how she often wonders what would have happened if she encouraged me to focus on basketball instead of academics. I assured her that it is no better feeling than to be in the position I am in today. My sheer representation exposes a greater number of Black youth to careers in design and tech. It is my dream to prove to them that they too can be a champion in ways they never imagined and it doesn’t always have to be on a court.
Justin Dunn is the founder of Increase Branding & Design, a digital marketing agency that turns average business goals into actionable marketing strategies. Justin’s passion for training business owners on the power of their design marketing presence stemmed from his personal history with entrepreneurship. Since childhood, he launched several businesses that exposed him to the financial stability and creative freedom that comes with owning a successful brand. It was when Justin started a career in online marketing after college that he realized the correlation between business success in the 21st century and the Internet. With education and strong skills in web development, social media marketing, graphic design, and SEO strategy— Justin knew his next step was introducing more entrepreneurs like him to these tools. Today, Justin has worked with a clientele that spans corporate, non-profit, manufacturing and the arts. His one-of-a-kind understanding of both new entrepreneurship and digital marketing has helped transform dozens of underdeveloped business goals into recognized brands.