Stix on the ‘gift’ of growing up in Watts and giving back

February 28, 2024 | By Vinecia Hill

“Growing up in a neighborhood like Watts allowed me to learn valuable lessons, on how to navigate people, how to navigate society, how to produce something from nothing, but also how to just manage, which is, I think, a real gift.”

In the latest episode of “What’s Next In,” Mastercard’s podcast that informally explores technology, innovation and ideas, host Vicki Hyman talks with Brandon “Stix” Salaam-Bailey, the Watts-born-and-bred hip-hop artist who is the force behind the ThinkWatts Foundation, the nonprofit delivering an ever-expanding range of programs — from weekly food distribution, environmental justice initiatives, and coding, financial education and entrepreneurship workshops, to name a few — to underserved residents in his community, where the poverty rate is more than twice the national average, and beyond.

ThinkWatts is one of the community organizations supported by Mastercard through its In Solidarity initiative, a $500 million investment in Black communities in the U.S. to help narrow the racial wealth and opportunity gap. These partnerships are unlocking the capital and delivering the coaching that entrepreneurs need to grow. ThinkWatts’ Business Builder program, now training its fourth cohort, shares expert insights and delivers hands-on training in financial management, marketing, cybersecurity, strategies for securing capital and more.

On the podcast, Stix shares his own journey from rapper and producer to activist and social entrepreneur — despite earning good money from his music, he went broke three times before realizing he needed to empower himself through financial education. He highlights some of the success stories he’s shepherded through ThinkWatts, outlines his plans for the foundation’s future, and reflects on the community that forged him.

“It’s almost like the rose that comes from concrete,” he says. “I wanted to show that because you come from a location like that does not mean you cannot be successful, right? It simply means you have to take your experiences, take the energy that being presented to you, you take the lessons that you learn from mistakes … and you have to utilize them as tools in your tool belt to build something greater.”

To hear more, stream “What’s Next In” in the player above and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or your favorite streaming platform.

Vinecia Hill, Specialist, Global Communications