On his grind

How this student entrepreneur went from food stamps to CEO 

Jude Collins sees every moment as an opportunity.

It is a calm, sunny Saturday afternoon in New Orleans when Jude Collins, 21, picks me up in his black Mercedes-Benz SUV.  All around us on Broadway Street, the Tulane student community is slowly waking up, hungover and lazy. But Jude is on a mission.

Jude is so productive that it’s as though time passes differently for him. Judging from the $100,000-company he runs, full Tulane business school courseload work he excels in, and family he takes care of, you would think Jude Collins had more than just 24 hours in each day.

“The early bird gets the worm,” he says in his gravelly Southern drawl. Like the leather interior of his car, Jude is looking immaculate—today he’s wearing a crisp Polo T-shirt, dark designer jeans, and squeaky-white Jordan sneakers. “I had to get on up out of the library ‘cause shit needs to be done right now. Man, you don’t even understand how platinum we about to go.”

Jude drives quickly, safely, with purpose. He tells me he has been up since 7a.m., writing event proposals for his business, Fresh In Entertainment LLC, which he founded in October 2009. Now, we are on our way downtown to get his contracts signed so that when the rapper Lil Wayne comes to New Orleans, Jude will own four event contracts at the hottest clubs in the city, where he’ll be able to charge $20 covers and profit off drink sales, and in the end, hopefully, make upwards of $20,000 in one night.

“This” —he says, eyes all lit up, waving the stack of contracts in the air—“this is how I’m able to go to Tulane.”

Through his company, Jude has worked with such high-profile artists as Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne, Swagga, The Roots, Nick Thomas, Tyga, Trombone Shorty, and Kermit Ruffins.

“Man, I ain’t got time to chill and fuck around. I’m a’keep on my grind and make so much money that my grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids still be spending it. After me, there’s gonna be no more working for anybody in my family, so they can all finally do what they want to do.”

Jude is so driven because he came from nothing. Growing up in the Iberville public housing development, Jude had a childhood filled with “gunshots, food stamps, drugs, police, welfare, basketball games, DJs, and cockroaches.” His only role models were “the drug dealers because they had all the money.” He remembers the constant gnawing hunger and having to wait “til the end of the month for the $500 check from the government to come.”

At 12 years old, Jude started making money by paying the janitor who lived in the boiler room at his school to let him throw parties for all the kids. He’d charge each kid a $5 cover, pay the janitor $100, then keep the rest.

Since then, Jude has been on his grind.

Out of the 600 in his John F. Kennedy High School class, about 110 graduated—and of those, only about 10 made it to college. Jude eventually earned the grades to transfer from Delgado Community College to Tulane.

“Man, I love Tulane. It’s the best school—hell, one of the best places—I’ve ever been to. When I got here, I was like ‘damn,’ it was a breath of fresh air. People here are motivated, are going places, are doing big things.”

Now that he has felt what it’s like to have money, Jude refuses to settle.

“Look, the average black man lives to be 64 years old. That’s some bullshit, man. If I did it their way—the legitimate, non-hustling way—I’d go to college, take out a bunch of loans, graduate with a pile of debt, get a mediocre job, keep paying off my loans with interest adding up, save up to get an average car, get a loan, get an alright-house, and then by the time I’m done paying off all these loans I’m 55—and got nine years left to live? Fuck that, man. Nah, I want the best for me and my people.”

On the way to the nightclub, we stop at the carwash, because Jude’s “got to roll up fresh.” As the rotating bristles bombard the windshield, Jude turns up the volume on the smooth hip-hop beats and, for the first time since I’ve been with him, puts down his cell phone, leans back, closes his eyes, and relaxes. When the wash is over, an old man approaches the car, holding up a rag. Jude tells him he can dry off the car for five bucks, then hands him a ten.

He is annoyed by any unproductivity, anything that could be wasting his time—a car driving slowly in front of us, someone who didn’t pick up their phone after they had just called him, the guys just chilling outside the gas station.

“See? They not serious,” he says nodding to them men drinking out of paper bags. “Man, you are so lucky to be from a place like Boston where time matters, where people move to get things done. I hate New Orleans. It’s the worst place in the world. People in New Orleans are functional illiterates. They’re able to talk, but they don’t know nothing. If they knew, they’d be like me—trying to get it. But they have no idea. Their eyes be closed, they be high. It’s like, say that Ford over there has $100,000 in its back seat, unlocked, ready for the taking. If you don’t know it’s there, you’re not gonna go take it. It’s basic lack of knowledge, lack of understanding. People just don’t know what’s going on in this town, and that’s the only reason they fail.”

So while most Tulane students are out drinking and having fun, Jude stays sober and focuses on his business.

“Alcohol and weed pollute the human body and mind. Bad enough I went to a shitty high school where the teachers hadn’t even graduated themselves, and they had more metal detectors than books—man, I sure as hell ain’t gonna waste my time at Tulane making myself any dumber.”

His attitude toward fun is evident by his ‘friends:’ all of them, in some way or another, are part of his strategic business collaborations. One is a clothing designer, another is a record producer; the other is a rapper. When they spend time together, it is always for a purpose.

“If it ain’t about business, Jude ain’t doing it,” Brian Palmer, 20, a Loyola student who works as a promoter for Jude’s events and whom Jude refers to as his ‘number one partner,’ says. “I’ll be like, hey Jude, let’s chill and watch a movie or something,’ and he’s all, ‘man, I ain’t got time to watch no movies.’”

Jude pulls over beside a mailbox on a street corner and asks me to hand him a large envelope by my feet. Inside are about a hundred photos—of smiling children, high school cheerleaders, teenagers playing basketball, party scenes. Jude is mailing them to his older brother who has been in jail since November on marijuana distribution charges.

One day, far in the future, Jude plans to become a criminal lawyer to try to help out people, who, like his brother, he believes are wrongly behind bars.

But until then, he’ll be the one hustling and chilling with Lil Wayne—and declining his blunts.

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