John Henry / by Imani Ellis

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“If you feed that narrative that ‘this place isn’t meant for you’ then you enforce that belief in your micro-actions, and then that perception keeps you from growing.”

Words by Justice Nnanna + Photos by Mark Clennon

John Henry is a hustler and passionate believer that the keys to success have been laid out within the flows of Hip-Hop’s finest lyrics. Henry is an entrepreneur, prominent orator, and now the host of VICELAND’s new show targeting the business-minded millennial, “HUSTLE”. Henry sold his first company, which he started while working as a door man, for a million dollars at the age of 21. The son of Dominican immigrants, Henry’s demeanor is humble and unassuming, which is in stark contrast to his goliath ambitions. He listens as much as speaks, and he speaks a lot. Henry has the audacity to hope and carries the unabashed belief that we all hold the power to determine our future. As the Co-Founder of Venture Capital Firm, Harlem Capital, Henry feels like the best-case scenario for who you’d want to be pitching your dream business to. Finding value in what’s often overlooked, Henry’s belief in Hip-Hop scripture brings to mind a bar from one of Cassidy’s greatest anthems, “I’m a hustler, I can sell raid to a bug, I’m a hustler, I can sell salt to a slug.”

For this ‘Thoughts Become Things’ series, could you share a positive thought that you often have and a negative thought that you often have?

My positive thoughts are… that I can change the world. I believe it when I think it. As I grow older, I’m stepping more into that belief.

The only negative thought that ever matters to me is—‘what is the inverse opposite of my positive thought’—like “I may not be able to change the world.” So negative thoughts are just any doubt of my positive thoughts.

James Baldwin said, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” What history do you carry with you most as a contemporary creator?

If I carry a history, it’s that of my folks’ immigration journey. That’s the weight I’m bearing on my shoulders is what has made me stronger. At first that weight can be stifling to your development, because you don’t have as much levity—but then you realize that it is exactly what makes your stronger. It makes your back stronger so you can walk taller.  

How do you navigate working in spaces that don’t feel supportive of you or in line with your beliefs?

I try not to feed that narrative so much. If you feed that narrative that ‘this place isn’t meant for you’ then you enforce that belief in your micro-actions, and then that perception keeps you from growing. On the other side, you can’t negate the reality. I can’t negate the fact that as I’ve been fortunate to be upwardly mobile in my career, the further  I get, the more I do realize that those circles look nothing like me. So, the final answer is, don’t allow a narrative to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but be aware of the fact. My remedy is to try to get everyone in the room with me. To bring them with me.  

How do you use your community to move your goals forward?

I trust that what I’m passionate about is what was instilled in me by my community. I move with community as a part of me. My contribution is economic empowerment, which isn’t a solo sport. When it’s done right, that’s upward mobility for the community.

It’s 2019, you just became the first college-graduate in your family, you’re a minority, you have a liberal arts degree, six figures in debt, Donald Trump is president, what do you do?

I would 100% be leaning into the biggest changes in our generation. There are so many. I’m not interested in a conversation where I can’t contribute meaningfully, and you shouldn’t be either. Just know that your voice is really well equipped for something. There are bunch of intersection of fields that are on the ground floor.

What fields specifically do you see with great potential?

Music is changing tremendously. The way the arts are being delivered to the world. There are so many new industries where no one is an expert, no one is a Warhol. Find a new space and be the Warhol.

True or false- “When they go low, we go high.”   

That’s the best answer on paper, but I can’t say I always do. It’s the right thing to work towards because of what it does to your character.