#24: Divine – The journey from going in and out of prison to Breaking Into Tech
Born in Newport, Rhode Island, Divine started dealing drugs at 13, got incarcerated at 18, and found himself not only locked up physically in federal prison, but also, in a psychological cycle of recidivism.
Always knowing he was bound to be more than that, Divine tapped into his spirituality, fortitude, and his quick grasp of knowledge and turned his 7-year sentence into a self-development workshop. Along with some help from his mentor, Divine was finally able to break out of his destructive pattern going from incarceration to innovation.
From crack to rap to tech, Divine currently provides financial literacy and entrepreneurship education to people through his new startup BLAK Fintech (where BLAK stands for Building Leverage Acquiring Knowledge).
|Years in Tech||2|
- Apply your energy on the right things. Break out of your physical or mental prison by treating it as your self-improvement lab. Whatever circumstances you’re in, be sure to always come out of it 100% better.
- If you put your mind into something, visualize it. If you conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it.
- Knowledge is the foundation. To get to the next level you have to add determination, discipline, passion, and focus into the equation.
- Let your fears propel you to excel in the things you want to achieve. On the other side of that fear is your success so never give up.
- Mentorship is key to success. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Keep knocking on doors.
- Be passionate about the things you can contribute to. Look beyond the money and the money will naturally come.
Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):
[2:16] Divine describes how his relationship with venture capitalist Ben Horowitz started and how he and Ruben got connected for the first time which grew into a brotherhood they have today.
[4:00] How he got his name Divine: Going deep into spirituality while he was incarcerated. Meaning of his name – Determined, Idea, Visualization, Infinitely Never Ending
[5:27] Divine was born in a very racist town in Newport, Rhode Island. His mom, although raised by nuns, resorted to drugs to recover from issues with his dad, which caused them to turn from a middle class family to living in the projects. Drawn by the hip hop culture, Divine later traveled to New York City at 11 years old.
[9:05] Divine’s first exposure to drugs: Moving to Louisiana, getting exposed to drug dealing and guns, moving back to Newport, living in the projects, and his mom selling and using drugs
[13:50] He began selling cocaine at 13 years old, growing his business, and building an empire until he got arrested as a juvenile at 18
[17:26] From crack to rap: Using his drug business to gain financial independence
[21:00] Going into juvenile facility at 18 years old to serve a 3-year sentence but got out 6 months later and back to his cocaine business in New York City
[22:47] The Big Arrest in 1992: Getting a 7-year sentence at 19 and how his juvenile detention prepared him for this
[28:32] Divine describes his 7-year sentence being brought at a federal prison in Oklahoma and Kentucky but his fortitude remained strong, always believing he had a greater purpose than this
[30:30] Serving at UNICORP (Federal Prison Industries) where they make money by selling products manufactured by the inmates making 10 cents per hour
[32:50] Turning prison into college: Divine started reading books and set out a business plan for his record label. He used the library to learn about every topic turning his sentence into a self-improvement workshop.
[37:55] Divine talks about recidivism: Divine got back in the game selling drugs and started drinking heavily for the first time, never trusting anybody, desensitized, and just focused on getting money and going back to federal prison 19 months later for another two and a half years.
[46:20] Divine suffered from post-incarceration syndrome and lost his confidence that he will ever get a job.
[49:03] Breaking out of recidivism: When he went back to prison, Divine realized he had to change his life and started reading Entrepreneur Magazine and began reading other magazines (INC Magazine, Black Enterprise) and books (Think and Grow Rich, The Richest Man in Babylon, Rich Dad Poor Dad)
[52:31] Divine initially got discouraged because none of them looked like him and he didn’t tie it to technology until he read The Week magazine featuring an article with the keywords: hip hop, billionaire, venture capital. (It was an article about Ben Horowitz)
[53:59] What is venture capital? Who is Ben Horowitz? (What?! A billionaire venture capitalist interested in hip hop? So Divine started researching more about the guy)
[56:46] How the book Think and Grow Rich impacted Divine throughout his prison time and empowered him
[59:30] While he was in prison, Divine was internalizing the things he learned and he visualized he was going to meet Ben Horowitz and connect with him someday. Then he met Ben two years after.
[1:01:00] In that two years before meeting Ben, Divine was back to selling drugs and started consciously working to break the psychological cycle of being reliant on drugs and criminality. He put together an album, put it on Kickstarter and got the opportunity to perform with Rakim in Hollywood
[1:04:33] Looking up Ben’s blog, The Legend of the Blind MC and it answered all the questions he had about his love of hip hop (Ben used to be a rapper!) and he got compelled to reach out to him being impressed with Ben’s philanthropic efforts
[1:07:54] Twitter is where it all started between Divine and Ben Horowitz – After an exchange of tweets and direct messages, Divine asked Ben to mentor him
[1:11:20] Inspired by Ben’s kind gesture, Divine made a rap song for Ben called Venture Capitalist (Like Ben Horowitz) and sent it to him. The next morning, Ben’s wife, Felicia, pledged to Divine’s Kickstarter (being the largest pledger to his Kickstarter) and Ben gave an additional to get his album started
[1:15:56] Learning that Felicia was his biggest fan, Divine met with Ben and Felicia in New York at The Phat Startup. A couple months later, Felicia called him and invited him to Ben’s birthday. A year later, Divine started building his first startup, the BLAK Fintech
[1:18:34] Why Divine chose to focus on financial literacy
[1:20:45] Overcoming the stigma of being previously incarcerated: People connected to his story in terms of spirituality and the human potential. Divine eventually launched the BLAK Card. Finally, Divine was able to break free from the psychological cycle of negativity.
[1:25:09] Divine’s advice to those who want to break into tech: Knowledge + Passion + Focus + Follow through + Determination + Relationships + Discipline
[1:32:26] Leveraging Relationships: The power of building your network up and overcoming your fear of reaching out to people
[1:38:11] Divine’s biggest struggles with building BLAK Fintech and dealing with his son’s death
[1:47:17} What’s next for Divine? (Motivational speaking and “Incarceration to Innovation” tour) and Divine’s long-term vision for himself
[1:52:54] Divine’s message for those also in prison: Believe in yourself!
Articles Mentioned & Resources:
The Phat Startup
Black Enterprise Magazine
The Week Magazine
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
The Richest Man in Babylon by George Samuel Clason
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Steve Stoute’s documentary, The Tanning of America
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowtiz
Divine’s song for Ben – Venture Capitalist (Like Ben Horowitz)
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