Javon Martin, a Dorchester-native born to Jamaican parents, started his involvement at Berkshire Partners Blue Hill Club at the age of 11 back in 2006. While there, he was instantly drawn to the music room where he bonded with Rick Aggeler, the Music Room Director at the time, who encouraged Javon’s passion for music and taught him how to play the drums. Javon eventually picked up the mic and would become the artist known as “Yung Fresh.” During his time at the Club, Javon recorded three mixtapes, two albums, and performed at Gillette Stadium and TD Garden.
After performing at the Converse Global Summit, Javon connected with CMO Geoff Cotrill who learned about Javon’s five-year goals which included getting to the GRAMMYs in 2014. A week later, Geoff, also a member of the GRAMMY Foundation Board, called Javon and told him to prepare for Los Angeles as he had just been invited to the 56th GRAMMY Awards. Unbeknown to him, this experience was the spark for Javon’s interest in his future career path.
After graduating from Northeastern University, Javon secured a role at Converse where he is currently a Associate Global Product Merchandiser. Eager to empower the youth in his community, Javon reached out to Rick to learn more about how he could give back to the Boys & Girls Club in an impactful way. Javon joined the Mattapan Teen Center Advisory Board and went on to become the youngest member to hold the title of Chair of the Advisory Board in 2021.
We sat down for a Q&A with Javon about his experience as a Club kid and how it impacts his life today:
Do you remember what your first day at the Club was like?
I just remember walking in with my mom and seeing this big Boys & Girls Club space that was just crazy. There were so many kids walking around and there was a big gym, which was the first thing that caught my eye. I just remember thinking that I couldn’t believe this place existed in my community. We did a tour and from there I was a member.
Were there any staff who you looked up to as a member?
I looked up to all of the staff in the building for a multitude of reasons, and I think the staff member I spent the most time with was Rick Aggeler. We were together every day, basically the entire time I was in the building. We experienced a lot together, we travelled together, and he gave me so much advice along the way. Rick was definitely a mentor and still is a mentor for me. He has a son now, Richie, who feels like a nephew to me too.
It started out as being just a Club member, but now it’s like I’m a family member. We had Hector, who was the Director at the time, and he was instrumental in my life as well. Josh Bonds and Shari Maestre helped me and so many other kids prepare for life beyond the Club, too. Ryan, in the Art room, taught me how to screen-print clothing, and how to design and develop my own graphics, and now I have my own clothing brand thanks to what he taught me.
What qualities did the staff possess that you admired?
Everyone just had an open mind, which made me and all of my friends so comfortable around them. It takes a unique kind of person to work with kids because you have to be very patient with them and you have to understand that kids are always learning and they’re always curious. They are going to make mistakes, and a lot of the staff members at the Club have a special type of patience that allowed me and my friends to be creative, think outside the box, make mistakes, and fail forward towards ultimate success in life.
They treated us like family. They understood the community we came from. They understood a lot of the hardships we go through. All of these factors together created an environment that attracts kids to come and stay the whole night, night after night.
Who are your role models today?
My dad is one person I have always looked up to. I’ve always told myself that if I could be half the man he is in life, that would be great. He demonstrated to me how to work hard and be successful in life, and how to go after anything you want in this world. He taught me everything that guides me in my life today, and is still teaching me things.
I look up to Elon Musk. He is a great example of someone who thinks outside of the box and thinks differently than everyone else. I think he is amazing. In the music space, I look up to Jay-Z for his ability to stay relevant over all this time and continuously re-invent himself in a lot of different ways. He’s a popular rapper, a well-known business mogul, and he has helped other people of color around him like Kanye West and Rihanna become billionaires as well. It’s cool to be successful on your own, but it’s even greater to help others be successful with you, and I take after that myself with the kids who are currently going to Boys & Girls Clubs. I’m proud of where I’ve made it to in life and I want to be a resource for kids in my community and share my path with them.
What have been the highlights of your life and career since the Club?
First off, a huge thing I learned at the Club was how to combine the things I love to do with ways to make a living, and I’ve always kept that in mind. I love to dress, I love sneakers, I love the fashion industry, and I love music. I took all of these things about me and started thinking of places I could potentially work that would allow me to focus on these things. I always thought about Converse, which is an apparel company in Boston owned by Nike, and I decided to just go after it.
When I was in college, everything I did was focused on getting a job at Converse. I did focus groups at Converse, I networked there, I showed up to all of their events, and I even ended up modeling for Converse. It also helped that they had sponsored events at the Boys & Girls Club, and even events with the Music Clubhouse specifically. Then, I was able to land a co-op with New Balance through my school that I knew would provide me with skills and experience that would translate well to a role at Converse.
Finally, when it was time to apply for a full time position at Converse, I reaped the benefits of all this due diligence. When I sent in my application, I followed up with one of the contacts I had gotten to know over the past few years, and he connected me with the hiring manager directly. Three weeks later, I was working at Converse, and I’ve been there ever since.
Are there any experiences or habits you picked up as a Club kid that have served you well in your career so far?
Absolutely. At the Club, I got exposure to a really diverse group of people and learned a lot about other cultures. This broadened my perspective in a way that I would have missed out on otherwise. I even got to enjoy lots of different types of food and travel a bit. I’m grateful to be able to bring this broadened perspective with me everywhere I go today.
A great habit I picked up that I think is really undervalued is smiling. Rick always emphasized the importance of just smiling around new people, especially in situations where I wasn’t comfortable talking, because it has the ability to open doors that would otherwise stay closed. This habit has served me well throughout my life, and continues to today.
I also learned the importance of annunciating and speaking clearly around other people, along with how to give a firm handshake, start conversations, and make people around me feel welcome and included. All of these habits and skills have been incredibly helpful so far in my career.
What has motivated you to stay connected to BGCB as an alum?
It’s never forgetting where I came from. I came from the Club, I know a lot of the kids there, I know a lot of what they are going through, and I know how hard it can be, especially for kids of color, to make it in an industry like the one that I’m in or just the corporate world generally.
Kids are always getting advice from their parents and guardians, but it hits differently when it is someone like me who is just a few years older than them who has all the same interests and like all of the same stuff, but has just a bit more experience to share and pass on.
I’ve had kids from the Club that I want to reach out to me and tell me I’ve changed their life by simply just being myself and showing them it’s possible to be doing what I’m doing in the world. Other kids reach out and are looking for advice on how to get into the industry I’m in or how to start their own brand.
Ultimately, I’d love to see a bunch of kids from my community in this industry doing things that they never thought they’d be able to do.
What does it mean to you to be Mattapan Teen Center’s Local Advisory Board Chair?
It means everything, it’s a very “full circle” thing for me. I started out as a Boys & Girls Club member who received opportunities that moved me forward in life, and to now be able to come back and facilitate this same process for other kids is incredible.
I started to contribute, volunteer and work with the kids directly, and support as a Local Advisory Board member until I was chosen as one of the youngest Chairs in BGCB’s history. It’s super exciting and I really enjoy being able to lead and support the kids from this position.
What is your advice for Club members today?
It’s very important to have a plan for what you want to do. Whether you are going to college to get a degree or a trade school to be an electrician or a beautician, it is so important to have a plan and to understand that it is possible to work for any company that you want to.
Looking for ways to support BGCB’s work? Make a gift today.