As a child growing up in Washington, D.C., Antwanye Ford, SEAS BS ’87, GWSB MS ’93, learned that a single individual could have a significant impact on the world around him. His parents owned a small upholstery shop in the U Street Corridor, where Antwanye worked after school. Living, working, and contributing to his community gave Antwanye the sense he was an integral part of something larger. It also gave him the confidence many years later to leave a successful, 11-year career in the communications industry to start his own international IT and management consulting firm, Enlightened Inc.
Accustomed to working with people he had a strong bond with, Antwanye founded the company with two other GW alumni, Andre Rogers, BS ’88, and Thomas Spann III, BS ’88, all of whom stayed close after graduation.
“We named the company Enlightened because we wanted people to be better for having worked with us,” Antwanye says. “We think of ourselves as bringing light to darkness and knowledge to lack of knowledge.” (With a short laugh, Antwanye reports that every once in a while, someone will show up at the office, looking for a place to meditate.)
In many ways, the company name describes Antwanye as well. As a student at GW, he and a group of fellow Colonials started an organization called Myth Men, with a charter to dispel negative beliefs about African American men. Not unlike notable peacemakers throughout history, rather than taking an ‘anti-something’ stance, these young men chose to challenge negative stereotypes by adopting a service model. Registered as an official entity at the university, the Myth Men focused on helping people in the community by volunteering at soup kitchens, holding food drives, and distributing clothing to those in need.
“It’s one thing to go against something,” says Antwanye, “but it’s better to change in a positive way—change for good. That way, people can actually see it. If you grow up in an environment where people only look like you, you don’t know the reality of what other people are like. We felt we had to do something positive to show them something different.”
GW’s diverse population is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the university to Antwanye. The exposure to students from around the world opened his eyes to new ways of navigating his own life. He describes friendships with students from other cultures where they learned from each other, had disputes and worked them out, and adopted new ways of viewing the world.
“We had kids who were in the U.S. for the first time, kids from all over the U.S., and local kids from the D.C. area,” Antwanye says. “It was a cultural cauldron of societies. People from around the world all in the same class, living together, learning from each other. It would be terrific if the country could emulate this ability to work and live together.”
Antwanye continues to give back to the GW community. In fact, Enlightened, Inc. has recently become the premier sponsor for this year’s Pitch George Competition, which will take place on Nov. 18, 2017, and the New Venture Competition finals, scheduled for April 19, 2018—a generous gift totaling nearly $50,000 and no small amount of personal engagement on Antwanye’s part.
Clearly, Antwanye puts his money and his time where his heart is. He feels that GW—and its alumni—have the power to affect change on a global scale. “We need to ask: How can we bring our intellectual capital together and influence society?” he proposes. “We as a university just need to say—‘let’s do it.’” —Mary Follin