It was three years ago that I was sitting across from Brandon Davis on campus at Temple University. Truth be told, I can’t remember how we met. But what I can remember is the moment I realized I was talking to a future leader of our generation.
Davis, now 29, is the brain behind the Philadelphia-born magazine American Dreaming. After the death of his brother, who was always focused on helping others follow their dreams, Davis decided to celebrate his brother’s life by finding a way to help young twentysomethings follow their dreams too. What would begin as a non-profit organization turned into a national magazine. Here, Davis shares his story on how he created the life he wanted with just a dream and a memory of his beloved brother.
EBONY: Can you tell our readers how American Dreaming came to be? You have such a powerful backstory.
Brandon Davis: It started from the mourning of the death of my brother, Rick. I was just trying to figure out a way that I could celebrate his life. I remembered what kind of guy he was. The thing that was very unique about him was that if you had a dream, he just had a way of making it seem so easy to attain it. I remember I went to him and said, “I want to rap.” I told a couple other people and they were like, “Why do you want to rap? It’s so difficult.” But he was like, “No, we can do this, man.” That was just him. He was such an inspiring brother who always supported me. I started thinking about that and I thought, “A non-profit that has the mission similar to his personality would be pretty cool.” So we—my partner and friend, Kris Johnson and I—created the Rick Foundation, which is a non-profit that helps young adults’ dreams become a reality by streamlining information and resources.
EBONY: But that’s the foundation. How did the magazine come to fruition?
BD: We realized that a lot of young people in Philly were passionate about fashion, blogging, journalism, photography and styling. But it was just us two. We were like, “How are we going to address all of that in one organization?” So we decided to create a magazine. A magazine would need all those different things to come together in order to create an issue. That’s where the idea of creating a magazine was born. Kind of random, but it fit.
EBONY: I love that you put a play on the American Dream. You’re focused on being a leading cultivator of the young generation and what it means to allow us to dream our life into reality. But how do you teach other twentysomethings to do this?
BD: It’s never been about just dreaming; that’s the first step. Everybody who knows me knows that it’s all about the action. I always emphasize that. You can’t just dream. But the first step in anything is having that dream and being able to dream bigger than anything that you’ve seen. You have to believe that there is something out there beyond what you’ve been taught. And that’s what we’re planning to help young twentysomethings do with our American Dreamer University that we’re starting in May.
EBONY: What will American Dreamer University offer?
BD: It will be a school for scoundrels. A place where you can come and learn from other people. It’s going to be a cooperative and artistic learning space where you can just come in and sit next to someone who has a catering company, a marketing company, someone who plans events, a photographer, a stylist, etc. We’re all just going to be feeding off each other and talking directly to people’s passions. Think about when you go on a job interview after college. The number one thing they tell you is that you don’t have any experience. Because you don’t have any experience, you’re taking $25,000 less than someone who has experience. I think that’s a huge scheme that’s been hitting people for so long. We want to change that.
EBONY: Why do you think that you have been able to stand out and build a brand effectively?
BD: I think that I just work hard as s#!t. I look at things that other people see as roadblocks and take them as constructive criticism instead. I actually look forward to failing because I learn something new about the company, and then I adjust. I’m just relentless. I’m driven by something else. I’m fighting with a whole different kind of passion about what I’m doing.
EBONY: Does the battle ever feel endless and tiring?
BD: No, because you always get that one person who says, “Thanks for that Instagram post” or “Thanks for that article. That really motivated me.” That’s what keeps me going.
EBONY: What’s the biggest mistake that you think twentysomethings make when they want to do something?
BD: Many don’t have a focus. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. We’ve got to be disciplined.
EBONY: What are your plans to make American Dreaming magazine mainstream and garner a bigger following?
BD: I’ve been talking to different distributors. I’ve been talking to universities to be able to now scale AD. We understand where we want to go five, 10 years from now, and we know all the steps we need to make right now to turn this into a multimillion dollar business. Those are the next moves that we’re making. In addition to American Dreamer University, we’re making renovations to The Dreaming Building, a building we bought with money awarded by the Pepsi Refresh Project. All these different things are going to help us help people build a business, scale a business, and really turn it into a small business. Our mission is turning large passions into small businesses.