Do you believe your childhood was difficult? Well, think again. In this episode, we have a virtual chat with Rahkeem Morris, the CEO and founder of HourWork, who joins us from downtown Boston. Rahkeem shares with us his childhood experiences, which challenged and tested him, ultimately shaping him into the successful man and leader he is today. This journey is both humbling and inspiring, and definitely worth listening to. No spoilers though!
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Intro: Voices. We hear them every day. Some voices like mine are smooth and comforting, while on the other hand, the Chad and Cheese podcast is like listening to a Nickelback album, you'd rather stab yourself in the ears with an ice pick. Anyway, y'all now listening to Voices, a podcast series from Chad and Cheese that features the most important and influential voices within the recruitment industry. Try not to fuck it up, boys.
Joel: Think your childhood had some hurdles? Not even close. On this episode, we meet HourWork CEO and founder Rahkeem Morris, chatting virtually with us from downtown Boston. Rahkeem takes us on a journey of his childhood. No spoilers, but it was these early years that challenged him, tested him, and essentially made him into the man and leader he is today. Equal parts humbling and inspiring. It's a must listen.
Joel: So Rahkeem where does this podcast find you?
Rahkeem: This podcast finds me in Boston, and in fact, I'm sitting in Old City Hall in Boston right now.
Joel: How's the WiFi at Old City Hall? [laughter]
Chad: It's good...
Rahkeem: You tell me. How good is it? Is it good enough for you?
Joel: Is there like a Sam Adams router somewhere?
Rahkeem: Well, Sam Adams is literally buried perhaps less than 200 feet away from me right now.
Chad: They planted the WiFi in Sam Adams.
Joel: What's the best and worst part about living in Boston?
Rahkeem: Really the people, you can find [laughter] anyone that you want to ever want to meet here. Whether it's different cultures, different ages, different everything it's a place to find someone of interest for you.
Joel: And oddly enough, the worst part is the people of Boston. [laughter] I'm kidding. What's the worst part?
Rahkeem: [laughter] That's funny.
Joel: The winters.
Rahkeem: The weather. You know what? I've gotten used to the weather because I found out what winter coats are. Well, and I say that in a way that I grew up in Upstate New York, and so I didn't have a good winter coat [laughter] when I was there. And it makes it much bearable. I suppose one thing that... One of the cons is that a lot of the streets here are narrow and just generally the... It feels like a older city, but not in a way that's cool, in a way that like, alright, I can't get gigabit to my house for my internet. That kind of old [laughter] The houses are old, and so there's a lot of not modernization in terms of how we're able to live here because of some infrastructure challenges.
Joel: Well, thank God the country's most elite technology school isn't in a place like Boston. That'd be horrible.
Rahkeem: Hey, I had no stick in that game.
Chad: Would be. Talk a little bit about growing up in Upstate New York. Your entire life did... Born, bred, Albany. Where were you at?
Rahkeem: Actually the first time I was outside of Albany, I was about 19. So yeah, born and raised in Albany, New York. And I think your question was how was it growing in Upstate New York, in Albany? So in Albany. Albany is the capital of New York, but as you both know, it's not the biggest city in New York. You definitely get some smaller town vibes, but it's very much a city. I had a pleasant enough [chuckle] childhood growing up in Albany, New York. And it gave me enough of a grounding in just, where we are and who we are as people to be successful enough in the world. And so that's Albany for me.
Joel: So your upbringing is unique, single parent household. Talk about that and how it shaped you.
Rahkeem: Yeah, I think in terms of just having a single parent it's something that happens frequently here in the States and for many, many, many different reasons. But you can imagine that you just have one half less of a person as the head of your household. It's one less income, that's one less stream of support, that's one less of everything. And that's just math. And so when you have a mom, in my case, a single parent porting three kids, there's just a lot of resources being divided across many people. So, that's just the reality of it.
Chad: Remember Joel, when latchkey Kids became a phrase. A moniker?
Joel: I was one of them.
Chad: I think that was a Gen X thing, right? Where latchkey kids where you would obviously get up in the morning, your parent probably wasn't there because they went to work and then you came back home and the parents still wasn't home yet because they were still at work. But you had the key that was either under the mat or on your necklace or where... Where was your key?
Rahkeem: That's a good question. You know what, back in the day, and I... Now that you asked it, I haven't thought about this in years. I used to keep my keys in a carabiner.
Joel: I'm sorry, what? The carrotbiner. What is...
Chad: Carabiner. That's more of a military like piece of equipment. Joel's... Yeah. He's used to more like snacks, like carrots and well, maybe not carrots and...
Joel: Now Rahkeem you dropped out of high school, correct?
Rahkeem: Yes. That's correct.
Chad: Oh, when?
Rahkeem: So I was 14 years old when I dropped out of high school.
Rahkeem: I went through I guess my evolution as a person later in life [laughter] if I could... Yeah, I was 14 years old, about two months away from becoming 15. That's just the way this school year works. And the reason why I dropped out of high school was because I had a new thing to do at home and that was to bring my little brother to school every single day.
Joel: Are we talking elementary? We talking...
Rahkeem: He's... Yeah. Great question. He is 10 years younger than I am.
Joel: Oh, wow.
Joel: Okay. So you're 14 taking care of a four year old?
Rahkeem: Exactly that.
Rahkeem: And so it wasn't even school in the beginning it was daycare I was bringing him to and then eventually it became school. Explaining why I got into this situation in the first place. So I mentioned before, single mom, but also my mom, her employer gave her an ultimatum and they told her that she needed to move her afternoon nursing shifts to mornings or find a new job. When that happened, she asked me to begin bringing him to school, well, initially, again, daycare, and then eventually to school every single day. But, well, sometimes in the morning they aren't always cooperative, especially when you're 3, 4, 5. And so you can imagine that this would add a lot of time to my schedule every single day. Most of the time I got him to daycare about 2 miles by public transit across town. It just added 90 minutes to 2 hours to my mornings every day. I began missing my first period of school. And that dominoed to me missing entire days of school. And the last thing I'll mention there is that I didn't quite understand this when I was telling people, initially this story that I only began this year recently, that I'm telling you now. I didn't realize that people thought I just dropped out because I wasn't focused or something like that. I was in honors classes. I was actually a year ahead in school. And...
Chad: Oh, wait, time out, time out, time out. You didn't... So did anybody reach out to you during this? Seeing a kid with such great promise just eject, did you have anybody actually from the school reach out to you and say how they could prospectively help?
Rahkeem: Yeah, that's a really great question, because this is what happened. So, no one from the school, I'm sure they called me. I don't remember getting those calls, and I don't remember my mum letting me know that she got those calls. So, about around the time I was going to my high school, Albany High School, in upstate New York. Only 43%, 44% of people that entered their freshman year graduated from that high school. It's one of those schools that, well, Johns Hopkins has done some research of all these high schools in the states. And that's just one of the dropout factories, they call it in the States. And so I think I got some calls, perhaps they were automated. There were just so many people who were dropping out of my high school. It's the only high school, public one in Albany. They put you on a program when you don't go to school. So, eventually, the outcome of this was that I was in this program called TIPS. I forget what the acronym stands for, but they more or less have you visit a probation officer every week or every other week.
Chad: Like truancy. Right?
Rahkeem: Exactly. Yep. Absolutely.
Joel: And what was the impact on your mom? Obviously a solid work ethic as a nurse. Where was her head knowing that her son was in honors classes and dropping out of high school? That must have been crushing.
Rahkeem: Definitely, it was. I also have to say that because I was also working, we had opposite schedules. So, I wasn't having these types of conversations with her. I was literally working in the evening while she was working in the day, and then it often switched.
Rahkeem: At a certain point in time, she was able to get enough stability with her work that this wasn't an issue. Later when I returned back to high school, though for some time it was definitely well a lot extra to do that others wouldn't have to worry about at that time.
Joel: So what was the catalyst to get you back into school? What sort of events played out?
Rahkeem: I have a couple of different people to thank for that. I made friends with an incredible group of people that age in my life that we're around the same age. We all had our own thing that we were dealing with in life, and they really encouraged me to go back to school around 17, 18 years old. And so that was Juan. I had an amazing mom of a friend who also encouraged me too, and of course my mom who actually went through the process of getting it all done and making sure that I was returning back to school. So, I have a really good group of people, both friends and family that encouraged me to go back to school when I was 17. Just about 18 years old.
Chad: So your mom, she was obviously having schedule, not really scheduling issues, she was having employer issues, right?
Chad: So what do you know about that experience other than it rocked your life and obviously her life as well? What can you tell us more about that experience for her? What could you actually see? What was your experience through her?
Rahkeem: Yeah, that's a really a great question. When I think about it, I... She was already out of the house in the morning when I was awake. So she needed to be at work at 6 o'clock in the morning. And the way that the public transportation... Well, it just takes an hour to get there. [chuckle] If you were to do it by public transportation, we didn't have a car. And so for her to be on a bus for nearly an hour, she had to walk to the bus stop, get in the bus. It just took 90 minutes for her to get on the bus in the morning. So she left around 4:30. So, in the morning, it was just... It was completely up to me and whatever I wanted to do. And what she instructed me to do too, at that time, which was to bring my little brother to school.
Rahkeem: It was just, it was all up to me. And there was no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I got to school. What I'm getting to is that given the time... So if you're working an 8-hour shift and you get your standard 1 hour, which is typically unpaid, especially with wage work, you're at work now for 9 hours, then you have an hour to and from work. 'Cause it's several miles away, she doesn't have a car. So, now you're spending for earning 8 hours, now you're spending close to 11 to 12 hours just to do that one job because you don't have the resource to buy a car and you're taking the public transportation. I guess that it's also to say too, it's hard for me to tell you exactly all the things that she was working through and the feelings and emotions, and thoughts that she was dealing with to see her son go through this, go like drop outta high school and it's because she was working. She wasn't in the house. And then, eventually I was going to work myself in the evening and including going to night school for my high school diploma in the end.
Joel: So this does have a happy ending. And most people would say you're a very unlikely candidate to attend an Ivy League school.
Joel: Let alone even maybe even have that on your radar. Talk about the process of considering an Ivy League school applying, getting in, what that was like. That seems like the best hallmark story ever. From your perspective, how did that play out?
Rahkeem: Yeah. Yeah, it worked out. It played out very well. So I went back to high school when I was 17, two months away from becoming 18. I went to a night school program that allowed you to get the full credit for that course, if you're passing the final exam. And so even though I had only gone to high school for a year, I was able to finish the last 3 years of school in a single year. [laughter]
Rahkeem: 'Cause I would clear these 65 final exams [laughter], and in fact, I actually got a, on some of the state exams, I had scored the highest in the school in both the night and day programs. And so I still had that working well for me. But I had this experience not going to school for so long. It became, I'd say clear to me that even at 18, that education was going to be the only way for me to get out of my current circumstance, my situation, and I really poured myself completely into it when I was younger.
Outro: You can find more episodes of Voices, the Chad and Cheese Podcast series devoted to stories and opinions of industry leaders by subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts or just visit chadcheese.com.