Luke Lawal, Jr. is a born leader, a true teacher and a bold innovator that does not subscribe to the status quo. Lawal, 22, is a DC native, who graduated from Bowie State University in May 2012 with a degree in Biochemistry. He is an ambitious, fast rising entrepreneur who is driven to achieve nothing less than success in anything he puts his mind to accomplish. This mind set was no accident. From a very young age Luke was taught by his mother to be a leader, to do something different and change the world. His mother, who also attended an HBCU, graduated summa cum laude as an undergrad at Howard University. She earned a Master’s degree from Howard’s graduate degree program. The values Mother Lawal instilled in Luke, along with a host of mentors and internships had a major impact on his life as a youth and as an adult. He’s all about paying it forward. Earning a degree and getting a corporate job could never satisfy the hunger of this young future mogul. That’s why he set his sights on becoming a business owner long before entering college.
Luke has self-proclaimed himself to have grown up with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which is why he says, “I can’t just stay with one thing.” He likes to diversify by getting involved in several different things. Luke began his college experience by studying marketing and business administration, as freshman at Georgetown University. “I wasn’t feeling challenged because I was being taught things that I had already learned and have been developing my whole life. I’ve always been involved in entertainment and marketing, so I decided that studying business and marketing was a waste of time.” Moving forward, Luke decided he would pursue going to school for something that would be new and challenging to him at Bowie State University. So he resolved to go back to his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.
He was influenced initially to go into medicine because many of his family members are doctors. In the end he majored in biology and chose pharmacy over medicine. When he reached the age of 21, in the height of his junior year, a time when many students are balancing partying and school work, Lawal pooled his network of resources to launch a multifaceted brand call HBCU Buzz in March 2011. The Buzz provides daily news coverage of all 105 HBCUs. Since then HBCU Buzz has expanded to TV and video production. Recently HBCU Buzz launched an HBCU store.
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[toggle title=”HBCU Lifestyle: What inspired you to launch HBCU Buzz?“]
Lawal: I was an active member of the Student Government Association (SGA) while attending Bowie State and in the spring of 2011 I made a weekend trip to Florida A&M’s campus in Tallahassee, to gain some insight on how their SGA operated. When I got down there, I just loved the way FAMU’s SGA was structured. I don’t know if it was specific to the particular SGA administration or if it was part of the foundation of the University, but I was inspired by the way the SGA was operated like a business. So I when I came back to Bowie, I thought ‘wow’, why didn’t I know about this? I felt like I really needed to start touring more HBCU campuses, learn from what they are doing to improve some of the ways that we do things. The question I kept asking myself is: Why isn’t anyone publicizing this? It was the inspiration as to why I started HBCU Buzz. I got the idea that more of this kind of information needed to be publicized so students could know what happening on other campuses and take pride in their HBCUs.
[toggle title=”HL: How has your HBCU experience helped you as an entrepreneur?“]
Lawal: Going To Bowie State University, I’ve been inspired with our school’s motto: “Prepare For Life” and that’s exactly what my HBCU experience has done for me. Especially with the trials and tribulations you go through at an HBCU. A lot of students at PWIs really have a lot handed to them. PWI students don’t have to struggle with their teachers, nor do they have as many issues with school administrations. People don’t realize that in the real world of college life, you don’t have anyone making sure you complete your work or meet deadlines. It is important to make sure things are done correctly. Attending an HBCU has opened my mind to how the world is when it comes to learning to do things on your own versus having things done for you.
[toggle title=”HL: What makes your company unique and what value does it provide?“]
Lawal: The biggest thing is my staff, who are really demanding. They love HBCUs and because of this they always want to do more. When we started, we just had a writer or two at each HBCU. They were able to receive college credits for their work. Everyone brought great ideas to the table on how HBCU Buzz could do more. It was challenging for me at the time, because I had so much work to do studying biology. Yet, with all of the obligations that I had, we still made it work. So between my staff, several students at Howard University, Bowie State University and Morgan State University, we came up with a bunch of ideas that we felt the HBCU community needed. We came up with an HBCU store for people to buy products online that allowed them to display their HBCU pride. The HBCU Buzz Store was officially launched this past May. One of our most popular products is the “I Love My HBCU” t-shirt. I got the idea going through some of my mom’s college photo albums and seeing her in photos with her social group wearing these shirts. I thought ‘wow’, if we brought these shirts back today, a lot of people would buy them. That’s what we did. A lot of people loved the shirts. Then we came up with a magazine that showcased HBCUs, spotlighted students and provided the latest news and information. Additionally, we also came up with several events including the 1st annual HBCU Awards, which was staged this past April in Maryland. The second edition will be bigger next year, because we just feel this is something good for HBCU students. Many of the students who have graduated and have never been awarded anything, will be provided an opportunity to be acknowledged. We also came up with ideas for creating a series of shows produced on HBCU campuses, with the intent of exposing HBCU students to what’s happening on other campuses through video and not just written articles. Next fall we’re launching 2-3 online shows, including some weekly news reporting.
[toggle title=”HL: What words of wisdom would you offer current, future HBCU students?“]
Lawal: My biggest advice is for students to branch out. For example some of the challenges Howard students face is they feel like their campus is the world. What they fail to realize is once they graduate, that network at Howard might be good, but it doesn’t mean squat when you get out in the real world. So you have to branch out, and go to different schools. Go to Atlanta and visit Morehouse and Spelman, network outside of your University. At the end of the day, Howard is your smallest network. That is one thing I did as an undergrad, as soon as I crossed over as member of Omega Psi Phi, I went everywhere and walked every yard. Out of the 105 HBCUs I have visited at least 50 campuses.
Luke is not planning to slow down anytime soon. In addition to further expanding his empire, several new projects are in the works for the fall. He is also planning to attend graduate school to study pharmacy. And yes, it will be at an HBCU.