HERE IS A SAMPLE STORY FROM MY BOOK “ACHIEVERS” IT IS REPRESENTATIVE OF MANY OTHER PEOPLE IN THE BOOK WHO HAVE CONQUERED OBSTACLES SUCH AS POVERTY AND WENT ON TO GREAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS!
KOREY DEAN, SR.
THE BEAT GOES ON
Korey Dean, Sr. (AKA: XROSS) was nominated for a Grammy for his hip-hop/rap recording. He didn’t win, but it shows the traction he is getting in his art. He is an up and comer! In his modest and comfortable office, he has two rooms – one for his desk and receiving area for guests, and one a recording studio equipped with high tech audio and visual equipment. At 39 years of age, he has lived a lot of life already!
He grew up in a poverty stricken small town in Missouri, the son of a single mother. Unfortunately, he doesn’t recall meeting his father as his parents separated when he was very young. His father doesn’t fit the stereotype of the deadbeat dad, however. He was an educated man. Indeed, he had a PhD and was a preacher. It is kind of a dichotomy that a preacher would separate from his family, but he was also a human and had his own personal reasons. Korey is at peace with that decision and bears no grudges.
His mom was no stranger to hard work; she was the eldest of sixteen children and actively involved in caring for her siblings. She worked the southern fields of Missouri to help put her siblings through school and later became the owner of a beauty salon to support her own children.
Korey had his first job in 3rd grade, getting up at 5:30 AM to go to an elderly woman’s home, Ms. Alma, to let her chickens out of their coops for the day. The 50 cents a day he earned allowed him to buy candy plus get an early start at learning responsibility.
In high school, Korey was a Missouri “blue chip athlete” – a term used to describe the best of the best in the state. Korey became well known, and as a result, he was approached by Mr. Kalich, a white male in the community known for his interest in academia. Mr. Kalich asked Korey if he planned to go to college. Korey replied “no,” but admitted he did want to play in the NFL someday. Mr. Kalich encouraged him with that goal telling him it was possible but that college was an integral part of that desire. Better yet, he explained how academics played a role in his plan, and if he did well in high school, he could get into any college he wanted. Even better, he convinced him that an education was critical in case he didn’t make the NFL for any reason, injury or otherwise. After graduating from college, Korey was injured in a NFL pro-football tryout; he realized his mentor had given him excellent advice. Mr. Kalich bet Korey that if Korey would come to his home every night to study and be tutored, Korey could get accepted into any college in the country. Korey was intrigued by the notion and took that bet!
He went to the man’s home every night after football practice and studied until about 11:00 PM before heading home. He stopped hanging out with his friends who often were drinking and smoking weed, and endured their ridicule. That stopped when he began getting A’s in his classes! His mom would question his whereabouts and finally called his tutor to verify Korey’s story about studying nights. His teachers initially thought he was cheating; and his friends were surprised when his grades went from F’s and D’s and C’s to A’s!
As a junior and senior in high school, Korey got his taste of humility as the man’s seventh grade son, Kevin Kalich, tutored him in algebra! They also tutored him for the SAT and ACT tests. He did well enough in both that the mentor and Korey both won the bet. Korey had many colleges accept his application, and he received an academic scholarship at St John’s University in Minnesota where he could also play football. Although a smaller school, St John’s has a great football tradition. It was not Division I at the time but was a nationally prominent Division III powerhouse. His mentor told him if he excelled, NFL scouts would find him anywhere. And he did excel. He still holds a record at St John’s for scoring five touchdowns in one half! Culturally he was out of his element being one of only a handful of black students in the college at that time. He did meet a woman of Laotian heritage, and they had a child together. The situation dismayed her racist parents very much.
The couple moved to Kentucky after his first year of college so he could play football in a Division I program. With a son and a live-in girlfriend, his life was becoming more complicated. It got even more complicated when his girlfriend and son were in a serious life-threatening car accident that left the woman unable to care for herself or their son. Korey filed for and was granted full custody of his son. He set out to be a good father and raise his son as a single parent while still attending college.
After single parenting for several years with the help of his mother and extended family, he met an African American woman, Mariaha, at the University of Louisville. Mariaha, who is now Korey’s wife, helped to raise his son. They now have four other children as well. While at the University of Louisville, Korey latched on to another mentor and father figure, a black male named Frank McKinney who was the Dean of the School of Business. Frank groomed Korey for business and encouraged him to return to Minnesota to seek more professional opportunities than the state of Kentucky had to offer young black males.
Korey moved his new family back to Minnesota where he worked in education, and Mariaha worked in a corporate job. Korey had been a rapper in high school and had done some as a hobby in college. He decided to move to the West Coast to develop a record label. He soon was into recording what he refers to as “gangster rap” – part of the music of the hip hop world. He was rolling in money, getting high, and living a hustler’s lifestyle. He thought it was a great life until one night in a strip club he heard a voice say to him, “Are you happy?” It was then he realized he wasn’t happy and was wasting his life doing things that were highly profitable but not contributing to the good of society. So he spoke with his brother, his label partner, and made an immediate decision to leave the label and the fast life to return to Minnesota to be with his son and marry Mariaha, his girlfriend at the time.
Korey returned to school at the University of Minnesota and completed his education earning dual degrees in Youth Development Studies and Sociology. He set out to make a difference in his community.
He had deserted the hip hop/rap music because he believed the messaging was hurting youth but found he missed the art form. So he got back into rapping and recorded a few positive messaged CD’s and promoted them nationally within the music industry. He also moved into Christian rap music, and it was in that genre he was nominated for a Grammy in 2005.
He looks back on his life and fully accepts responsibility for the mistakes he made. He also stays in touch with his mentors and recognizes the value of the mentoring he received from them. Now his goal is to give back by mentoring African American males in schools and around town. He does this with his music and his emerging program “Man Up,” a secular program he conducts in high schools. Korey has recently established “The Man Up Club” as a non-profit that receives donations from people interested in the cause of mentoring disadvantage young people. This along with his hip hop music ministry are the passions he now owns. He and his wife, Mariaha, also own a prominent construction management firm in downtown St. Paul called EDEN Resources. Together they are able to provide for their five children. His first son, Korey Jr (AKA K-Jay) who was in the car accident is also a well-known Christian hip hop artist along with his father. Korey Jr. is now in college and working part time at a bank with the hope of beginning a career in banking after his college graduation.
As a nationally known Christian hip hop artist, Korey is taking the steps he believes will make a positive impact on society in general, as well as with the young African American kids he clearly understands well.
When I visited Korey at his studio, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never met anyone who had been nominated for a Grammy, and I didn’t know if he was a big deal or not. But I was greeted with a huge smile and a warm, humble welcome that immediately spoke volumes to me about his love for people.
I was impressed with the setup he had created in this small office. He had a high tech recording and video studio given to him by an NBA player and friend who wanted to support Korey’s ministry. He operates out of this little office with goals to change the world!
As a 67 year old white male, I am clearly not the market for rap music. I do like music but had never listened to hip hop before, so it seemed at first we had little in common with each other.
He knew this and showed me some of his work on YouTube. I was an immediate convert to his music! He also gave me a few of his discs that I play in my car while driving around town. One of them had the lyrics, “I work hard so I play hard, pray to God, my safe Guard, live life, make money, love people, and stay humble. I’m a born winner. I play to win. I’m a born winner, oh yes! I AM.” Those lyrics started repeating themselves in my head, and I actually came close to memorizing them! I learned that rap is a very powerful medium that can actually program people with the beat and lyrics. I am glad we have Korey providing great messaging to young people all over America. I am now an Xross fan!
Korey has made mistakes in his life but has also done a lot of things very well. He was a great football player with aspirations to go to the NFL but through an agreement with his mentor about academics received a good education too. I also admire the leap he took to humble himself to accept help from others. This is a very important lesson we can learn from Korey’s story – his willingness and humility to accept help from someone else. There is a lot of help out there; we just have to be aware of it and take advantage when we need it regardless of our race or culture! We don’t need to do everything on our own.
I expect big things from Korey and am betting that Xross will become a positive and even more prominent figure in this county.