America is a land of second chances, and two brothers with Florida Gulf Coast University ties use this ideology as the backbone of Strive Hall, the name they put on their new, nonprofit youth program.
“Strive Hall is a youth-development organization that we built, inspired by our life story,” said Quay Longs, who is set to graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship. “The goal is to get urban youth to transition successfully into adulthood and avoid the pitfalls that we dealt with … and we fell into.”
The message delivered by Longs and his co-founder/brother, Jamaree “JJ” Jones — who is a 2021 FGCU entrepreneurship graduate now working at the university as an undergraduate admissions counselor — is clear from Strive Hall’s motto: “Where Entrepreneurial Mindsets Fuel Action.”
The brothers are from Plant City, a Central Florida town of about 40,000. “A lot of times when you come from a smaller place, your perspective on the world is that it’s a lot smaller,” Jones said. “If you keep a baby gnat inside a jar and you put a lid on top of it, after so long, you can take that lid off and it will never leave that jar because that’s all it knows.”
That’s his way of saying young people tend to conform to their environment, and Strive Hall’s main goal is to change that mindset among youths ages 16 to 22. One such opportunity took place this summer when Strive Hall held two camps at FGCU so young visitors could experience life outside their realm. Joshua McKnight, 18, of Dunbar High School, got to do things on campus such as walk a nature trail.
“It was flooded when we went there,” McKnight said. “I never really did anything like that before.”
But Strive Hall camps are more than nature hikes. One of the workshops campers have is “Choices & Decisions.”
“We teach the youth how to identify if they’re making a choice or a decision, and what’s the difference between the two,” Longs said. “Whenever I draw conclusions based on values and beliefs, it’s a choice. But if I’m thinking about consequences and performance and what’s going to come later, that’s when I’m making a decision.”
Many times, past decisions that result in mistakes make young people feel their future is limited. Strive Hall tries to show them that is far from true. Seeing others succeed despite a checkered history breeds new life into youths who face similar challenges.
McKnight explains the impact of seeing such relatable success with his own eyes.
“They told us about their past,” he said of the brothers. “They did a couple of troubled things. I got in trouble with a couple things. But they still did it (attended college) even though they got in trouble.”
Another camp workshop, “Energy & Effort,” delivers the message success requires work. “The energy and the effort that you put into something, it shows,” Jones said. “And if you aren’t working hard, it’s not hard to tell.”
Longs and Jones know about working to better themselves. Longs dropped out of college with a 1.3 grade-point average. Jones wasn’t far ahead with a 1.8 GPA.
“I would say growing up where we grew up — small-town mentality,” Longs said. “I never was asked about my GPA or what my grades looked like.”
Jones lost his financial aid and worked his way back into higher education taking one class at a time. Two years later, he was a full-time student under the mentorship of Sandra Kauanui, director of the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship.
“When they started taking entrepreneurship courses, they really connected with it,” Kauanui said of the brothers. “When they found entrepreneurship, it opened their minds to new possibilities and opportunities.”
Longs returned after 10 years and is about to graduate. “It was never about ability for me,” he said. “It was all about circumstances.”
The brothers are examples of progression — not perfection. “Because (they) see themselves in the students they work with, they know that if they can help those students utilize skillsets integrated in such areas as ‘Entrepreneurial Mindset,’ they can change lives just as their own were changed,” Kauanui said.
That’s why FGCU’s emphasis on individual success is important to the brothers.
“For me, it’s probably been one of the most impactful things in my adulthood,” Jones said of the university. “The support is real, man.”
His brother agreed. “It’s literally a second home for me. I became a man here … came as a boy, became a man here,” Longs said of FGCU. “My life changed here. This entrepreneurship program … man, there’s nothing like it.”