BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — In the Brooklyn Center High School media room Tuesday, teens like Rovella Charles showcased images of T-shirts and hoodies they designed in groups during a yearlong enrichment class.
"I learned that I could start my own business," the junior said.
Instead of a traditional teacher, five young entrepreneurs from Skntones lead the class. The school district pays their business to work with its students twice per week.
"These kids, at first, didn't know [anything] about profit, but now they're leaving this class knowing the formula," said product developer and art director Antione Jenkins, who is also known as Antione the Artist.
Skntones figured out a formula to making money during the 2020 unrest, after a semi-truck driver sped toward thousands of people on the Interstate 35W bridge.
"We basically were traumatized after being on the bridge," Jenkins said. "So after that, I felt like I had to take or use my talents somewhere else to protest."
The group turned to art, painting a mural outside Spyhouse that attracted national media coverage. The Uptown coffee shop also gave them $1,000 to create and market a specialty drink and eventually their business was born.
"We're a brand and a creative agency," creative director Stephon Atuti explained. "We're founded to do thought partnerships, content production, as well as events and activations."
Skntones has since partnered with Ye's Donda Academy, Jay-Z's Roc Nation, and Urban Outfitters. The brand often hosts pop-up events and plans expand to New York this year.
Instead of keeping what they've learned about business all to themselves, they thought about the younger versions of themselves and decided to pay it forward in Brooklyn Center. In class, they cover topics like the importance of collaboration, how to effectively use social media to market a brand, and navigating untraditional paths to success.
"We talked and thought about how we can make a bigger change earlier and catch kids when we thought we would have been in our prime," media director Anthony Brown said. "Doing this has fulfilled that for us and we look forward to continue doing it, too."
"Once we kind of decided who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do, it always comes back to community," Atuti added.
For Charles, she says the class gives her a sense of confidence to shout out ideas knowing her peers and teachers won't shoot them totally down.
"This class comes with criticism and it comes with, like, support," she said.