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How Garrain Jones Went From A Homeless R&B Singer With Six-Figure Debt To A Millionaire Entrepreneur

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I knocked nervously on the door of the high-rise condo.


I was late, to my dismay, despite leaving 45 minutes prior to our scheduled interview to drive the 12 miles from Hollywood to Santa Monica — a reminder from L.A. traffic that leaving on time means you're already late. But my tensions quickly subsided when the door opened and a smiling Garrain Jones, decked out in full Herbalife paraphernalia, pulled me into a tight hug as if we were old friends before giving me a tour of his $3 million home, just steps away from the beach.

“You can't live in your car for two and a half years and not care whether you live or die, and four years later be a millionaire and part of the two percent wealthiest in the world as an African-American man by accident," he says to me before getting settled at the dining room table.

And just like that, I'm reminded that I'm not just here for an interview, I'm also here for my own breakthrough.

Photo Credit: Kiah McBride

Growing up Garrain had an idea of what he wanted to do, and it wasn't working a typical nine to five job. He had a passion for running, something that started when his legs carried him from a walk into a full-blown dash at seven-months-old. He loved the arts, whether he was singing to himself in the mirror or sketching in his notepad. And he had this knack for giving great advice even at seven-years-old, though he wasn't quite sure at the time what that meant in regards to his future. But before he had the chance to turn those passions into paychecks, he stopped listening to his instincts, and started feeding into the idea that he needed a more stable career.

"I would hear people say, 'go get a real job,' so I'm listening to what everybody else is saying but myself," he says. "I stopped running. I stopped doing my art. I stopped singing. I stopped giving people advice, and I stopped giving. So in the act of doing all of that, now I'm just trying to do what everyone else is doing. Meanwhile, I have something on the inside of me saying, 'no, do this!'"

Like many, Jones spent his younger years conforming to an environment that didn't motivate or uplift him. His father — a drug dealer living in the 3rd ward of Houston, TX — was murdered when he was 12. His mother, taking on the role of mother and father, lacked the affection needed for her two sons. So Garrain turned to a life of petty crime — breaking into cars and houses, even doing a stint in stripping at the age of 17. The following year he found himself in a prison in France for drug smuggling with a twelve-year sentence hanging over his head. He didn't think he was getting out, but life had another plan for him.

His consulate handed him the The Power of Positive Thinking, which he studied intensely and began applying the principles to his own life. Before long, he was getting back to doing the things that he loved as a kid: running, sketching, singing, inspiring. "All of a sudden the other prisoners started running. I didn't know I was adding value, but there was nobody smoking, there was nobody stabbing each other, there was nobody fighting, so I didn't know that by doing what I love, I was bringing joy and adding value to an environment."

Photo Credit: Kiah McBride

"I didn't know that by doing what I love, I was bringing joy and adding value to an environment."

Bringing joy to those battling their own emotional demons gave him a sense of purpose, and eventually convinced the powers that be that he was worthy of a second chance. Two years into his sentence, he was released. The drugs that he was caught smuggling turned out to be fake. "I'd seen the test," says Jones, his brown eyes wide as if still in disbelief. "“They tested it three times; I saw the paper. But all of a sudden when I'm positive — despite what was going on in my life; despite not feeling like I'm ever going to get out — I still chose positivity."

While in prison, he had made a promise to himself and to his half-brother — comedian DeRay Davis — that when he got out, he would go hard for his music. “DeRay was like, you want to do music right? So you'll have all of your bills paid for, rent free, I'll get you some clothes, food, everything paid for. Only don't come home unless you have a song."

With no connections to the industry, he got to work with hitting up producers on MySpace for records. By the end of 30 days he had enough music to make an album, and he was on his way to L.A.

Garrain "Steph" Jones

It was just five years ago that Jones — who then went by “Steph" — was one of the R&B crooners next up to blow. After a chance meeting with Disturbing tha Peace (DTP) label owner, Ludacris, he secured a recording contract with the record company and began penning tracks for big artists, all while maintaining a public relationship with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. But in private, the very thing that he thought he wanted became the source of his suffering. The contracts he signed (and didn't sign) kept him from padding his pockets, and after his departure from the label for creative differences, he was left with the car that he purchased with his advance money and $357,000 of debt.

“People thought I was doing really well, and I was good at fronting like I was doing really well. Meanwhile, I was dying on the inside. So I still had stuff going on that made it look like things were popping, and I hated my life."

As if things couldn't get any worse, he was pulled over by a cop for having a suspended license and expired registration, just steps away from the courthouse. They took his car and left him and his five white trash bags full of clothes on the side of the road, despite that he was on his way to pay for said parking tickets. "In that moment I asked, 'God, why am I here? All of these people think I'm something and I'm just lying through my teeth.'" He says as he leans forward and looks at me intently. "I was so good at making things seem like everything was all peachy, but deep down inside when nobody was around and I looked in the mirror and the truth showed up, I wasn't good."

“I was so good at making things seem like everything was all peachy, but deep down inside when nobody was around and I looked in the mirror and the truth showed up, I wasn't good."

His mom wired him the money to get his car back, and that same day someone broke into it. "I remember that night I laid down in the middle of the road, and I wished that a car would run me over," he says. "I prayed for a car to run me over."

Instead of letting suicide be the end of his story, he got up, drove to the parking lot of the Mail and More on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea, and broke down in prayer. "I'd always been focused on what I didn't want, and when you focus on what you don't want, you'll attract that in your life. And I never said exactly what I wanted, but this time I did something different."

He threw his hands in the air and screamed out animatedly the specifics of his prayer: happiness, healthiness, positivity, inspiration, and getting paid to do something he'd do for free. "Silence," he says, finishing with a dramatic pause. "I'd never cried out like I'd cried before. And I gave everything in crying out."

He didn't hear from God that day, but a week later while at the gas station he ran into a homeless guy peddling for change who said to him "change your mindset, change your life" before walking away.

It's the same words that are now artistically framed on his living room wall, and that inspired the title of his forthcoming book. "I never had a set of words stop me in my tracks. Everything I'd ever learned — all the stuff that my mom taught me and my dad taught me — it stopped everything that I'd learned in it's tracks. It interrupted my thought process and made me think, so if I do the opposite of everything that I normally do, my life will change."

Photo Credit: Kiah McBride

He did an overhaul on his life, from his mentality to his poor decision-making with relationships. He started getting back to the things that he loved as a kid, that he was once told weren't realistic enough to pursue as a career. To this day, he believes that it's what we're taught from childhood that prevents us from living the life that we're destined for. He details, "Imagine a world full of people that are stuck in their patterns because of how they're raised — because every adult that you've come in contact with, every decision that they make and everything that they do, the way their life is played out is based on a set of decisions that they made when they were five or six-years-old that manifested in who they are today. I, in that moment, decided to break all of those agreements and do something different."

Photo Credit: Kiah McBride

It was while exercising his mental shift that he came across Herbalife, a multi-level marketing corporation that recruits “coaches" to sell nutrition and weight loss products. It wasn't quite the answer he was looking for when he shouted his prayer in the Mail and More parking lot, but it turned out to be just what he needed to take his motivational message of positivity and empowerment — and, of course, health and fitness — to a broader audience. Suddenly, the guy who had hardly two pennies to rub together was raking it in by the thousands.

"I would attract other people that were already in my life that just wanted to live a better quality of life, those people that wanted to be a part of my business that already had all of this money in the world but they didn't have themselves. When they saw me genuinely happy, genuinely able to make a difference in my personal friends and family's lives, that was a different conversation. From there, I was able to build massive successful leaders, not just in the company, but in their communities, based off of the philosophies and principals that I would learn from what I was reading."

Today, Jones is traveling the world sharing his story of going from homeless to Herbalife, and inspiring even the youngest of listeners to not allow their childhood dreams to be deferred by their circumstances or the people in their lives.

"This is a three-year-old of someone I didn't know but I had affected. I built a relationship with a complete stranger and their entire family in Virginia," says Garrain, picking up his iPhone. He scrolls through his photo album for a minute before stopping on a video of a blond-haired little girl named Calli. "I went to visit them and stayed two weeks in Virginia, just spending time with the family and everything, and their daughter comes into my room at five in the morning, saying something that I taught her mom, so it's also affecting children."

In the video Garrain asks Calli what she says to herself before going to bed every night. With just a moment of hesitation she goes into her monologue. "I'm a champion. I'm a winner. I'm powerful. I'm strong…I'm a winner. I make things happen. That's what I say when I go to bed," she says, proudly fingering her curls.

Garrain looks back at me with a knowing smile. "God is like, you've found your sweet spot just keep going. And I have all of these gifts that I give away." He stretches his arms out wide. "I'm stimulated everyday just from watching people change their lives. I wake up at 4:30 every single morning, and I'm just on fire for life knowing that I'm in purpose — on purpose — teaching other people how to be able to harness their gifts and their skills and give that away. It's like the most beautiful thing watching somebody transform into something that their soul has literally had the platform for since the day that they were born."

"I'm a transformation collector," he continues. "That's my thing, and for some reason God is like you get it my son, here's more. You need money to do this? Here are more opportunities; have as much money as you want. I just want to show people that they can have that if they want it."

At the end of our interview he goes into his kitchen, which looks like a personal Herbalife store, and makes me a cookies and cream shake. "Drink this," he says, placing the cup in front of me.

But after hearing his story and soaking up his words of wisdom, I'm already full.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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