“Perseverance through adversity is the name of the game.” — As Garry and I began this journey I knew many would call us “Dreamers” and “Visionaries”, but would leave out the most important part: We’re doers. There are many moving parts to The Bridge, but we never changed course and believed that everything we were building wasn’t for naught. Many will show faux support and love on your journey, but it’s up to you to charge forward through the potholes that will for sure be on your road to success.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Corey Dupree.
Corey Dupree is the Chief Operations Officer at The Bridge: Eco Village. The Bridge is a real estate development company designed to establish self-sustaining eco-villages in inner city communities from dilapidated and abandoned buildings, like schools, malls and warehouses. The four pillars of The Bridge’s mission are to create sustainable: co-working spaces, REEF facilities, modern apartments, and entertainment arenas. Serving our communities by building one Bridge at a time!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I am originally from Cambridge, MA. When I was four years old my grandmother adopted my two brothers and me. Growing up in Cambridge, I became a true product of my environment, I attended MIT programs on the weekends and participated in robotics clubs and had a lot of great experiences. However, I never lost sight that at the end of the day, my family was on the lower end of socio-economic status. When I was 15 years old, I enrolled into Milton Hershey School, which is a non-profit boarding school by the famous chocolatier, Milton Hershey, and I spent my four years of high school there. The school is for low income families and single parent households and my grandmother was my sponsor. After graduating Milton Hershey School, I attended Penn State University and was the first of my immediate family to graduate college.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
In our world today, and not just today, but yesterday and going decades back, there has been a system of systemic oppression. The Bridge is combatting that system with one of empowerment and tackling how we work black, brown and marginalized communities. The Bridge focuses on how we eat and what we eat (turning Harrisburg, PA from a food desert into a food oases), where and how we live (utilizing mixed-use housing including low income, affordable, as well as market and upper class housing), how we learn (The Bridge is focusing on teaching our community financial literacy to create generational wealth) and how we play which is something as simple as providing access to green space and recreational space to AI arcades.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
The backstory that originally inspired me to feel passionate about The Bridge and what we’re doing always aligned with how I grew up. Growing up, my grandmother did everything she could to make sure that we didn’t struggle, or more importantly that we didn’t see that we were struggling. This goes back to even when my brothers and I would go grocery shopping and ride our bikes to the store. To us, it was just a bike ride, but in actuality, we occasionally had to ride our bikes because we didn’t have a vehicle, or because maybe a cab couldn’t pick us up, or the bus wasn’t running. My grandmother was my champion, knowing that she did everything that she could have to provide for us. For me, knowing that my story was not unique and there were more stories of boys and girls growing up just like me or worse, and knowing that we are in a position to change things, especially for my own children, has really provided inspiration on this whole journey.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
One trigger, or “Aha Moment”, for The Bridge’s inception was when Nipsey Hussle was killed. I can remember driving back from Washington, DC after seeing my goddaughters and I received the notification that Nipsey was killed and it was such a pain because he was deemed to be untouchable. Everything he was doing for his community and that he was taken away in the snap of a finger. That is when I met with Garry Gilliam, our CEO, and we made a business plan with the help of our attorney who also believed in the vision and knew we were on to something.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I believe the waythat we started was very unorthodox. We’ve heard people comment things like “no you should do this instead” or “you did things backwards” but I don’t think there is any one way to really develop an entire community and communities around the country. Everything with The Bridge starts with our community, so we have made sure that everything we do and every step we take involves them because they are the ones who will be most impacted by these projects.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One of the most interesting things that has happened since we began our journey, was back on Martin Luther King Jr Day in January 2020. Jordan Hill, my business partner, and I went to go speak at Penn State Harrisburg’s campus. We had numerous conversations with students who kept asking to come down and make up to a two hour drive every weekend to come and volunteer. If you know college students, you know community service, especially outdoor community service in January, is not necessarily on top of their to-do list. We were shocked with the overwhelming positivity from these college students and how they said The Bridge was going to become a part of history and that wanted to be a part of that.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
This is not necessarily the funniest mistake, but it was one of the bigger mistakes I have made when we first started. I always say that I want our team to focus on accountability, anyone I bring on The Bridge’s team, from intern to business partner, I want to show accountability through leadership and example. There was an instance where I accidentally approved a press release with incorrect information that was distributed to the national wire service. It was definitely a learning moment for me of accountability and I use this story when I bring on anyone to the team to show that I was holding myself accountable for that mistake.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My grandmother was my biggest cheerleader in my life but unfortunately not for my physical journey of creating The Bridge. She always made sure that a couple things always happened in life- one is family comes first. I look at The Bridge team members as family, and want to have an open-door policy and everyone’s opinions and feelings are seen as valid and everyone’s thoughts hold weight. The second thing she always said is you always have to finish. From when she refused to let me quit karate as a kid to when I started crying and walked off stage of my first piano recital, she was there to always make sure I finished what I started. I make sure that with my team, no matter how large or small you think a task may be, we have to execute and continue to move forward.
Also, since she passed last September, everything with The Bridge has expedited so quickly and I really do believe we have an angel guiding us along this journey.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
In January, a young man had reached out via our volunteer email on our website asking to intern with The Bridge. At the time we did not have the need for an intern and I told him I would follow back up with him when we were in need. I did not follow up with him so he followed back up with me in April and again I did not follow up. He took the initiative to reach out to a friend of his who volunteered at the MLK Jr Day clean up event and got in touch with me and my business partners. We ended up hiring him as an intern as he was so eager to learn from our team. Since July, Dylan has watched renderings develop, attends meetings and continues to be my right-hand man. He’s studying the growth and structure of urban cities and urban planning so The Bridge is right in his wheelhouse and after just two weeks he asked if he could intern with us for the year.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
There are many things the community, society and politicians can do to help address the root of the problem The Bridge is trying to solve. The community and society as a whole can address the root of systemic oppression by not ignoring it and continue to encourage community conversation. It’s important that we have these conversations within a community involving law makers, law enforcement to educators and everyday civilians and remember that an issue may not impact you directly, but it may impact others around you in your community. It’s also important to not “put your blinders on” or be blind to things that are all around you in the community and make sure when you’re “putting yourself in other people’s shoes” you’re doing so not out of sympathy, but to allow yourself to be educated.
For politicians, they really need to be active and engaged in the community in ways that focus on eating, living and funding and pay close attention to the marginalized communities that tend to be black or brown. Politicians should be intentional with their funding and a good example of this is opportunity zones. Opportunity zones are in place for people to reap the benefits of in the real estate world, however those who are reaping the benefits aren’t those who are living in the community. It’s important to provide education and resources to break down this wall. Unfortunately, you can’t break a system that you did not create, which is why it is important for The Bridge to build a system of empowerment. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done than just the conversation. The conversation is a great way to start but you can’t talk about the fire without talking about the accelerant.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) “Perseverance through adversity is the name of the game.” — As Garry and I began this journey I knew many would call us “Dreamers” and “Visionaries”, but would leave out the most important part: We’re doers. There are many moving parts to The Bridge, but we never changed course and believed that everything we were building wasn’t for naught. Many will show faux support and love on your journey, but it’s up to you to charge forward through the potholes that will for sure be on your road to success.
2) “You will be viewed as leaders and change makers.” — As much as I love to be the social butterfly and engage with peers and strangers alike, I would love to be working behind the scenes occasionally. I actually got in an Uber once where the driver recognized me from the news, spoke about how she was personally inspired because of her backstory, and then asked for a selfie. It wasn’t the oddest thing to happen in an Uber I’m sure, but not expected at all from my end.
3) “There aren’t enough hours in the day” — I REALLY wish that this could be echoed enough. When deciding to go “full tilt” as an entrepreneur, you have to understand that there is going to be an unprecedented amount of unpaid time. This is where you separate the dreamers from the doers. In the early stages of creating our business plan, Garry and I were on opposite coasts so the time difference was 3 hours. There were moments where it was 4:00 a.m. EST and 1:00 a.m. PST and we’re both still hammering away at edits to our plan; all while questioning what the other was still doing awake.
4) “Creating and sticking to a schedule is paramount” — Knowing the importance of time management can be the difference between a well-oiled machine and you driving yourself insane with a jumbled schedule. Early on I thought I should take every meeting and talk with everyone who reached out which once caused me to triple book my calendar. Luckily, I was able to finagle things around, but I did not like that feeling.
5) “Enjoy the process!” — As important as it is that you succeed and hit your goals and objectives, it’s even more paramount to embrace and enjoy the journey. Understanding that the highs and lows of the journey are just as important as the process. I would get so caught up in making sure our objectives were met that I wouldn’t fully embrace those we met, the events I attended, and the work that I was doing.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Focus on our environment and have a full understanding of sustainability. Sustainability not only ties into the earth and the environment, but also ties into the community focusing on longevity. When something is sustained and maintained, it is there for the long-haul. At the Bridge, we acquire old and abandoned warehouses, schools and malls and turn them into eco-villages. We don’t want The Bridge properties to only be there for ten or twenty years, we want them to be there generations later.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to sit down and have dinner with Ryan Reynolds. Aside from him being one of my favorite actors and that I watch Deadbolt weekly, over the summer it came to light that he and Blake Lively acknowledged the pain behind their wedding held at a plantation. It became evident that he is not championing from the rafters and is actually putting action behind his words and he has learned from the feedback from the everyday citizen.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!