Alley Oop Hoops presents
"Drive & Kick" with Lorenza Wilkins, CEO/Co-Founder of Compass Youth Center and Executive Director of Rebound, Alternatives for Youth
Lorenza is from rural Northeastern, North Carolina, in Warren County. His love affair with basketball began in 7th grade after a four inch growth spurt and he made his middle school team. He comes from a family of baseball players but was the first serious basketball player in the family. Sports were part of his upbringing, to stay physically active but also as a potential way to create a career and build net worth.
Student athlete mentality
During his freshman year in high school, he was holding his own with the varsity team and got more serious about basketball. He continued to grow and kept in shape through early years of high school, finding the weight room, building his strength, agility and skill. Lorenza has always been a supporter of student athletes, and he kept “student” before “athlete”. Perform off the court before focusing on performing on the court. Late in high school, Lorenza attended a Project Uplift event at UNC-Chapel Hill, which was one of his first exposures to secondary learning - this really got him thinking about his future.
Focus on business and entrepreneurship
Lorenza had early dreams of being a pilot but towards the end of high school, he became more intrigued by entrepreneurship, so he focused on business studies in his junior and senior years in high school. Though business is not taught explicitly in high school, he focused on mathematics which is used in business. His uncles had several businesses, which empowered Lorenza to foster a business mind. “I wanted to be able to create profit while doing something I enjoy.”
Mentors that supported Lorenza
Lorenza’s father was always a great role model in his life. His uncles, brothers, teammates, teachers and professors also made an impact on his life. father, uncles & brothers, community, teammates, teachers & professors. He had a lot of people around him letting him know from a young age, “you can do this.” “I took everything from those around me who had something positive to say and customized it to help me be as successful as I could on my path.”
Basketball as a means to an end
Lorenza grew to understand how basketball could be a ticket to help him get into school, so long as he was maintaining academics while being an athlete. Sports and academics used as an opportunity to get to schools, opportunity to sustain academics & sport and opportunity to take lessons forward to your future career.
Lorenza chose North Carolina Central University due to the strength of the education and basketball program. NCCU had won a National Title a few years prior and the team was strong that he joined. He was also considering Coppin State and Shaw at the time. Lorenza declared a Business Administration major with a Finance minor. Though basketball was consuming, Lorenza started to see that the opportunities in Research Triangle Park for business was vast. “I saw that if we get young people connected to STEM at an earlier age, it creates the opportunity to build a career.”
Career in Corporate America
As Lorenza was nearing graduation, it was paramount that he found a job with stability and good benefits for him to support his family, as his first son was born in his sophomore year at NCCU. He was thinking long-term when building a career, and began his professional career in talent acquisition and resource management. He made the most impact in this field by being able to shape careers and the talent pipeline for big companies. Lorenza found there was a “population of students that need additional support.” He was called to action, seeing that nonprofits can assist by preparing young people for a career mindset and connecting them to career opportunities at a young age. “Opportunities are there. It’s just a matter of connecting students to the resources.”
Compass Youth Center
Lorenza co-founded Compass Youth Center over 10 years ago, and still to this day, most of the work done by volunteers. The organization uses STEM as a connector, helping children engage with project-based learning to help redirect misbehaviors that cause disconnection in schools. The data shows us that in rural, undserversed areas, organizations can make the biggest change. Since 2015, Compass Youth Center has served over 500 students in nearly 12 counties in North Carolina with a two-fold approach: 1. Connect young kids to STEM as an opportunity for educational advancement and 2. Utilizing former athletes to support building leadership abilities in youth.
Rebound, Alternatives for Youth
Lorenza joined Rebound right before the pandemic as Executive Director. Rebound was founded in 2013 to support youth. Short-term suspensions make it difficult for students to stay connected to school, graduate and reach academic and professional goals. Rebound helps keep kids connected to their school work during suspension. The organization partners with the school system - both administration and educators, to ensure students have an environment that helps connect students to their schools. Rebound also leverages relationships with the university system to help meet the needs of students.
Advice to those seeking to mentor
When someone is not sure where to start, the “first line of contact should be the public school system.” This will provide direct contact to those who need mentoring and resources. Also, Parks and Recreation Centers and local nonprofits are good places to start. Find out what the needs of the programs are and help fill the gaps.