Opening Doors with Kayode Bentley of 4Ts, NYC

By Akash Ghai and Sam Clark

4Ts – Teaching Teens to Think – founded by Kayode Bentley, helps students stay committed to their education and prepares them for entering the workplace. Through workshops and evaluations, staff help students recognize what they do inherently well, where at times they are dormant to such abilities, and how to translate that skill into a career path.

4Ts is an organization devoted to the welfare of young people and their communities. Not wanting 4Ts to be dependent on grants from foundations or government support, Kayode decided to find ways of partnering with the community he was determined to serve, ensuring that collaboration and a shared sense of success were built into the organization. In working with NY Public Library (NYPL), Kayode acts as a mentor to students who seek support through the library. He also hosts workshops at local public schools, where 4Ts is able to offer support to students who need assistance be it through tangible skills development or motivation.

“We’re not the end-all be-all… we don’t know everything, I’m not expecting 4Ts to be an organization that can fill every need. But 4Ts can address some of the existing gaps and provide outside support to students at a critical point.”

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4Ts workshops are tailored to a student’s skill set enabling them to act on their passions and hone their specific abilities. Informal internships allow the students to be placed in positions where they can utilize their developing backgrounds in a real world situation, which results in a tremendous sense of confidence and purpose. These internships allow them to see the benefits of education and diligence and the ways in which they as individuals can prosper and become an added value to their communities. Ideally, the students will be able to find ways to apply their background on their own; something that Kayode realized when he was younger.

Born and raised in the South Bronx, Kayode was an average student who didn’t see the need for education and attended school to just avoid trouble. After school, he would go home, throw his uniform on the floor, and watch cartoons. When his mother arrived, he would throw his clothes in the closet to avoid being scolded and pretend he was doing homework. Neglecting his schoolwork meant poor grades on tests and when senior year came along, it seemed likely this trend of mediocrity would continue, but. Kayode then selected among compelling electives classes in an effort to find something that truly interested him.

Filled with new resolution, Kayode would stay in his uniform after school; he organized his room in the style of an office, and even changed his music listening habits from hip-hop to jazz and pop music that college students listened to. Once he started doing his homework, he developed the confidence to participate and become more involved in class. With his improved grades, he was able to graduate salutatorian of his class.

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As he entered the workforce, he realized that his peers from his neighborhood lacked support and motivation. They knew how to work in fast food restaurants, but not how to work in roles of responsibility. Putting two and two together, 4Ts began to build as an idea in the back of Kayode’s mind with the hopes that others could be inspired to pursue their passions successfully.

At 20 years old, he began working at the Woolworth Corporation and at 24 he became the youngest person to be promoted to a supervisory position. Although he did well financially, he started to feel apathetic about the business world and questioned himself: What is there to do in life? What should I do? Should I follow my bosses, or can I create and run something myself?

Working at Woolworth meant that Kayode could access the conference room and put together a media agenda of what they wanted to do and how to share their ideas with others. At the time, Google wasn’t around to give Kayode hints about how he should set everything up and without anyone in his community or environment that had either access or relevant knowledge, he had to learn how to structure and prepare everything on his own. Essentially working from scratch with no guarantees is a daunting prospect, but because Kayode was following something that he was passionate about, it became a part of him. There were moments when he burnt out, pushed the project aside, and questioned himself, but each time he would find something that would drive him to go forward.

Feeling stressed from the environment surrounding him in his next job at Bloomberg LP, in 2011 he decided to resign and devote his time to 4Ts, establishing it as a nonprofit organization, committing to better the lives of inner city youth and lower dropout rates.

As the president of 4Ts, Kayode is able to interact with inner city youths and learn about what interests them. His story is one told to the students who participate in the workshops so that they can hear first-hand how someone can change their habits to influence their future.

KEY LESSONS FROM 4Ts

  1. IDENTIFY YOUR SKILLS: The first step in learning how to do something better is to acknowledge what you can do already. When Kayode was developing 4Ts, there was no one who acted as a mentor for him. He was able to figure out what he needed to do, how he could go about it, and what skills the people involved could contribute. If you feel that your skill-set is lacking, you need to follow the advice in lesson #2…
  2. RESEARCH THE MARKET: “A lot of people get into the nonprofit industry because of the desire to help.” Identify what’s not out there. Focus on what you think is lacking. Kayode created 4Ts because he was able to recognize the lack of drive that made students flunk or drop out of school. While it’s not a necessity for you to build an organization from the ground-up, there may be a cause that you feel strongly about enough to pour your energy into – and that’s where lesson #3 comes in…
  3. FOLLOW YOUR PASSION: Kayode was able to devote himself to 4Ts because he cared about the inner city youth and wanted them to not only succeed, but do what they loved. It can be frightening when you’re making a new path rather than following the traditional one, but traditional doesn’t mean secure. Working an office job may seem to be safe, but how often do we see companies collapse? While some are forced to continue a job that they’re unhappy with due to certain obligations, there is no time limit on following your dreams.

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Kayode Bentley has been the president for 4Ts for over twenty years and shares his story with his students as a source of inspiration. With his infectious zeal, he works to better the lives of the people that he meets and does not compromise on doing what’s right. Through his passion, he hopes to empower inner city youths so that they can pursue their own passions.

Find out more about 4Ts at http://4ts.org

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Akash Written by:

Akash has worked with small and mid-sized NGOs and social enterprises from around the world and specializes in assessing operations and management alongside creating growth opportunities for such organizations. He established Development Three (D3) a firm that delivers on this premise. Based on his experiences with NGO/NPO founders, he conceptualized and established the Founding Stories project.

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