Millionaire barber to speak at boys summit Saturday

Millionaire barber to speak at boys summit Saturday

October 7th, 2010 by Yolanda Putman in News

Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Sep 23, 2010 - On Thursday evening at The Partnership Travis Lytle discusses the Boys Leadership Summit with Chris Ramsey, from back, Ed Hines, Jemus Terry and Antinio cq Petty, all members of the Program Committee. The summit is an event that will be held at Brainerd High School on October 9th.

Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

After serving prison time for dealing cocaine, Uchendi "Chin" Nwani knew it would be hard finding a job and certainly didn't expect to get a business loan.

So he went back to school, enrolling in business administration at Tennessee State University while working the one skill he had, cutting hair.

"You've got to use what you've got," said Nwani.

Less than five years after getting out of prison, he had created the largest barber school in the country and become a millionaire, all before the age of 30.

Nwani, now 38, will be the speaker at the city's Boys Leadership Summit scheduled Saturday at Brainerd High School.

Cornerstone Community Bank Vice President Travis Lytle, one of the event's organizers, said the summit is an attempt to find mentors to black youth.

"If we can encourage black men to step up and get involved and help young black men, it can change the problems we're all dealing with," Lytle said. "Home invasions, gangs, low school attendance, all of this stems from kids who need mentors."

Workshops titled "Hip-Hop & the Law," "Gang Thang & Gang Violence" and "Preparing for College" are among the topics addressed at youth. Parent workshops include the "Impact of Fatherlessness" and "Learning Difficulties & Resources," organizers said.

"We want to get some real help for the problems that youth are encountering," said Bo Walker, chief operating officer of the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.

Drug dealer-turned-businessman Nwani said he's evidence that change is possible.

Nwani's mother was a teacher with a master's degree. His stepfather, who helped raise him from age 8, was pastor of one of the largest Baptist churches in Nashville.

In his senior year during his first go-around at Tennessee State, Nwani was known by some as a preacher's kid and honor student and by others as a kingpin drug dealer.

"My beeper would go off in church while my dad was preaching. It might be a code 25. They're letting me know they want $25,000 worth," Nwani said. "So that's the type of double life I was living."

On Oct. 15, 1993, both worlds collided.

Nwani was taking a mid-term exam when his beeper went off. His employees were informing him that police had intercepted a $1 million shipment of cocaine.

Nwani turned in his exam and left town. He evaded police for nearly three weeks before following his mother's advice to turn himself in.

His education got him moved from jail to a federal boot camp in Lewisburg, Pa., where he worked 17 hours a day before being released 6 1/2 months later.

"There were over 130 self-made millionaires at that boot camp," Nwani said. "They were people on Wall Street who got rich legally but greed kicked in. That's where I got most of my (business) information," he said.

He got out of boot camp in 1995 and returned to Tennessee State. To make money, he worked at the school salon, cutting hair for $10 a head and earning about $1,000 a week.

He ate sandwiches provided by a halfway house. He shopped in the Goodwill store and rode the city bus.

By the time he graduated in 1996, he had saved $43,000. Two years later, he used the money to open his own business, International Barber & Style College.

By the end of summer 2000, enrollment had increased from six to 190 students, and Nwani had made his first $1 million.

With his wealth, he was able to help his mother retire to take care of his stepfather when he became ill. It added 15 years to his stepfather's life, Nwani said.

"Money isn't everything, but it's right up there with oxygen," he said.


What: Boys Leadership Summit

When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Brainerd High School, 1020 N. Moore Road

To register: Go to or sign up at the school