In biology terminology, an ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system. In entrepreneurship terms, Rasheed Aziz, executive director of Citywide Youth Development, defines an ecosystem as “things that interact in an environment that does not necessarily have to be organisms.
It can be ideas of that ecosystem, intermingling as parts of that one network, interconnected and “working together to produce a result.” Aziz’s “ecosystem” has produced results.
Citywide Youth Development, whose mission is to provide solutions for crime and poverty through utilizing the tools of manufacturing and entrepreneurial skills, has been credited with putting hundreds of local youths on the path to entrepreneurship. Citywide Youth Development is headquartered at the E.M.A.G.E. Center located 2132 W. North Avenue.
The E.M.A.G.E. Center houses two entrepreneurial programs – Frozen Desert Sorbet & Café and Made in B’more apparel. Frozen Desert Sorbet & Café sells all-natural fruit-based sorbet, salads, pizza, smoothies, and other items. Made in B’more apparel specializes in jackets, hoodies, hats, and other urban “athleisure” clothing manufactured at the facility.
Some of these products will be among the merchandise to be sold at the “1st Annual Times Community Services’ Baltimore Maker Marketplace,” Saturday, September 18, 2021, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Coppin State University located at 2500 W. North Avenue. The event will feature products made and sold by Baltimore-based businesses.
The event is being presented by Times Community Services, Inc., and The Baltimore Times, in collaboration with The Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), Coppin State University Center for Strategic Entrepreneurship (CSE), and Catalyst Enterprises, BDC’s programs include “Made in Baltimore.”
Andy Cook is the executive director of Made in Baltimore, a community of manufacturers, retailers and maker spaces working together to create and promote locally-made products.
“This marketplace will bring awareness to manufacturing,” said Aziz. “The Baltimore Development Corporation is doing a great job creating opportunities for a lot of minorities. Many of those opportunities would not have happened without a program like Made in Baltimore.”
He added, “Coppin State University is our neighbor. So, when Andy called and and informed me about the event, I felt it was an absolute honor for me to participate in. It’s essential for us to understand the impact that manufacturing products can have in creating opportunities.”
According to Aziz, the E.M.A.G.E. Center came to fruition after he saw a need to give aspiring young entrepreneurs training and space.
“In Baltimore City, you have so many people that have been incarcerated. Job opportunities are not blended, so you must be creative. People still have to eat, and people still have to take care of their families. Entrepreneurship and manufacturing products have to be a key strategy to deal with crime and poverty. If we can eliminate or at least neutralize some of the poverty, inevitably crime will go down. I believe this amazing event will open a lot of eyes and create a lot of opportunities.”
Aziz’s own vision is also about creating opportunities.
“Many countries have built their nations on manufacturing,” said Aziz. “I looked at that and thought, ‘hey, if industry can transform countries, surely building and developing industry can transform the inner-city. Berry Gordy did it through Motown. He built the system, cultivated talent, created a process, and created a lot of millionaires and multi-millionaires from the talent that existed in the community.”
He added, “I wanted to build a new age Motown. So, I left Florida over a decade ago with that vision and was heading to Washington, DC. But my real estate agent convinced me to come to Baltimore for a weekend, and I never left. I came with that mission in mind, and a system to engage young adults to create job opportunities.”
The 46-year-old talked about his humble beginnings.
“I had a pushcart model,” he recalled. “I brought three pushcarts up here with me from Florida. I also brought my sewing machine and screen print machine. In essence, I bought my own factory with me. The week after I arrived in Baltimore, I got young people involved. Within three or four days, I had a crew of young people. We made our own sorbet. We began selling our products at the Inner Harbor through our mobile cart enterprise, which is now one of the largest cart companies in Maryland.”
Today, FDS distributes via mobile carts, wholesale, stadium concessions, and Frozen Desert, and Aziz continues to “churn out” his vision through the 10,000 square foot E.M.A.G.E. Center.
“We wanted to change the image of how some people perceive the Black males of Baltimore. We are viewed negatively, like we have no value. We wanted to change that image, which is why we spell it E.M.A.G.E., which stands for Entrepreneurs Making and Growing Enterprises, and we are headquartered right here in the city.”
He added, “We also teach our youngsters about apparel manufacturing and garment construction. There’s also a job placement component. We also help mentor different product brands and provide domestic production private labeling for seven different brands in the city. Previously those brands were going to Pakistan and China to have their product made, but now they are being manufactured by people right here in the community.”
For more information about Citywide Youth Development, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CitywideYouthDevelopment. To apply to be a vendor at the Baltimore Maker Marketplace event, visit https://bit.ly/B2Mvapp