By: Thoughts of a Random Citizen Podcast
Hey, everybody, thanks for tuning in to another episode of Thoughts of a Random Citizen. Today, I have an interview with Shaun SF Banks, a very entertaining guest, so I appreciate his energy on this podcast. We talk about a heap of things that he is involved in right now, a youth magazine that is operating around the world, a youth camp that he runs down there in Georgia. In addition to an orphanage that he runs over in East Africa, which is hands down my favorite part of this conversation and we dive into really just the perspective in eye-opening stories that he experienced over there.
I think if Shaun's light on to some of the luxuries that certain people have in parts of the world as opposed to what others don't have in other parts of the world. A fantastic conversation and I really hope you guys enjoy. We're just jumping in, man, I'm excited.
Tell me about this magazine because I have no idea you had a magazine. That was very sick.
Yes, man, it's called You Can Have It All. It's a motivational magazine. It is pretty much the only motivational magazine, well, youth motivation magazine of its kind in the world. It's all about motivating kids to go after their dreams and be inspired by other kids that have dreams. For example, an issue we have up now, we have kids that are doing dirt biking, they're doing all kinds of martial arts stuff. I have a kid that's running track, one of the fastest kids in the US, and then there's puzzles, there's games, there's fashion, there's all kinds of stuff for kids for them to be inspired.
Like a kid, you don't know what you want to do until you see it. It's like, "Oh, that might look cool. I want to try that." We put it in a magazine so that they could be able to do it.
Okay, nice. With the magazine, how does that print work? Do you guys print that? Is it all through you? Do you have somebody else work with you? Can you walk
Sure. Yes. We have third-party printing, so we don't print anything here. We send it all out and it gets printed and then it gets distributed or we'll distribute it from our office, but we have someone else that prints it. We also have a digital copy just because digital is a lot easier if we want to get it.
Other parts of the country or other parts of the world because some people just want to be on their phone, looking at stuff but then also, the cost of shipping is expensive, so we don't want people to have to pay extra money. They'll pay twice for a magazine just to get it shipped to their house.
Man, that's sweet. I'm just want to jump into the episode because we already started talking about that news interesting for me. I'm going to ask about your background, but one more thing on that magazine, I know you said it's international. Do you feed your kids from all across the country, all across the world, or how does that work out?
All across the country, all around the world. The magazine is relatively new. So far, we've been able to have someone contributing from somewhere in the world like this issue. We have writers from Australia, we have some kids that submitted artwork from Trinidad and Tobago. We have, let's see, next month, we have someone writing from Malaysia, so it's growing. It's growing and as it grows, and they know youth in their areas who want to be in a magazine and do things so that's how it's grown.
Initially, yes, a lot of the kids were out of Atlanta because that's where I'm from. Then we started getting other kids from the States and growing.
Well, can you walk us through for all the listeners who are like, "What the hell"? Can you walk us through your background kind of what you did? I know you're in real estate for a bit. If you want to highlight that, I'm going to ask you questions on it but who is Shaun SF Banks? Who are you?
Man, well, originally from Seattle, Washington, and got into youth development, almost on accident. I didn't want to work with kids at all. Couldn't stand kids, man. I didn't want to engage to kids at all. I was in the finance industry on the finance side of real estate. Back in 2008 when the market changed, it was hard to get deals closed. A buddy of mine had working out at a martial art school said, "Man, maybe we should start teaching kids martial arts?" I said, "Well, all right, that's the way to make money."
It's like I got to figure out something because it was just the bills are piling up and the deals aren't closing. One plus one equals two, you got figured out how to make some money. That's what I started doing against my interest and it started growing from there. When I was about 17, my aunt and cousin were murdered in a domestic violence situation and I'd always said that I wanted to do something in their honor to be able to help other people if I could. I never thought that it would come out this way.
When I started the martial arts program, I was able to do something in their honor to be able to teach women how to defend themselves, to be able to teach kids martial arts. What I found with doing that was that there are a lot of kids that needed personal development. They needed to learn confidence, skills, how to improve their focus, their discipline, how to make a friend, how to have better work ethic, and I looked around and those skills weren't being taught anywhere else.
I said, "Okay. Well, maybe this is a need, we can start filling." That's where Camp Warrior King came from. Then, the Camp Warrior King came and said, "Okay, there's--" I just kept seeing other needs. That's where all this stuff started coming from, was just trying to fill all the needs that I saw that needs to be met.
That's incredible. What led you from that transition to, "I don't want to work with kids," because I get that especially when you're younger, but what was that transition that when there's no way I want to mess with that, too, now, what you do, and all of that you do with the youth?
I started seeing the need and I started seeing the results of when they would get personal development, workshops, or lessons, and when they start to apply them to their lives that it actually worked. When I started seeing that it worked, it's like, "Okay, man, we can really start helping people." The desire started growing out of my heart. You started seeing kids who walk around and didn't have any self-esteem, they couldn't make a friend, they didn't have-- wouldn't play sports or they wouldn't have interest because you don't always have to have any interest in sports.
They wouldn't have an interest and then they will come to our programs or come to our camps, and then they would come out with an insurance, they will come up with a friend, they would hold their head up high, they will walk differently, they would be able to deal with somebody bullying them, or how to deal with it, or a bully would come through, and the bully would be changed. We started seeing a lot of transformation. That's where my heart that really got into it. There's nothing I'd rather be doing now in what I'm doing, which is crazy, because I never work well with kids at all.
Yes, no joke. I'm trying to focus on this transition a bit to what specifically the startup look like because obviously, you were helping teach MMA. What kind of went from that--? Did you form classes? How did you outreach to the youth? Was it all through that MMA? Was it your MMA? I guess if you can walk us through with that.
Sure, sure. The way it started is we started going to schools because that's where the kids were. They were just said, we would go to an elementary school or middle school, say, "Hey, look, they're a martial arts program here, and if not, we want to teach one here and this would be a good way for the kids to get disciplined in school and focus and improve their grades." It started like that.
I started with three or four kids in the first school, and then those kids will tell other kids, and then they will see the kids with the uniforms on, walking around, and stuff like that, then more kids want to be involved.
Yes, of course.
Yes. Then, we'll start growing from there. I was a Taekwondo and Hapkido instructor by trade, so I teach them traditional Taekwondo. The parents would come and watch the classes. When the parents watch the classes, then the moms will say, "Well, hey, listen, I work late at night," or, "I'm a single mom at home," or, "I've been through some kind of situation, I want to be able to protect myself. Do you have anything for us?" It's like, "Well, I can create something. Give me a second. [laughs] Let me put something together."
He put together a curriculum and then we start teaching their moms. What happened is during the summertime, school is out. In the US, there's no school during the summer, so then it's okay. What are you going to do during the summertime? Well, that's like three months' worth of time. The need was kids didn't have anything to do and then we also need to continue to generate revenue. We open up a camp because that's what's going on. I looked around, I thought there were camps everywhere in the Atlanta area.
There are camps, but there was nothing like Camp Warrior King, which is what we do, and which is all about exposure to activity. Then, we started doing fishing, hunting, hiking, spelunking, and taking them out to-- We did an oceanographers trip this past summer where they got to see-- they drag the bottom of the ocean and pulled up all this stuff for the kids to be able to see squid and all kinds of fish and crap. We just started doing all that. We're starting to expose them to different things that kids could find different interests.
Wow. That's incredible. Can you walk us through what that camp atmosphere is like? How long is it? Man, for me, being a kid, I would have absolutely loved something like this.
Yes, absolutely. Camp Warrior King is a youth development camp that exposes kids to activities that normally wouldn't experience during the school year. It's like a camp on steroids, man. There's assemblies in the morning. We go on field trips three or four times a week. Like I say, we're going hiking, fishing, oh my gosh, rollerskating, boxing, karate, fashion classes, Lego robotics. We do haircutting classes, we do cosmetology classes. There's girls that learn how to do hair. They could do their little sister's hair or their friend's hair at camp.
We have art classes, we had a bike loop at camp this past year, where kids were able to ride their bikes around camp, bring their bikes from home, leave them in our gym, and ride them around during their free time because if their parents are working, the kids only get to ride the bikes on the weekends or when they're at home. Now, they can ride their bikes at camp. We had a car and bike show at camp this year, where these different guys came with all these clown cars and souped-up hot rod cars for the kids. The lunch is good. We had a celebrity basketball game this past summer.
Yes, man. It's anything the kids want to do. We go to museums, we went to Chattanooga, did an adventure up there. We've been down to Florida to the space museum, the Kennedy Space Center. Whatever the kids want to do, man, we try to keep them engaged. We have music classes, so we've done violin lessons, we've done cello, holding a piano, we've done guitar, we've done saxophone lessons at camp during the summer time. It's about 10 weeks and it's 10 weeks full of just crazy fun. It's a day camp.
The kids come. we open at 7:00 in the morning. They come all day long and then their parents pick them up in the afternoon and take them home.
Wow. I bet they love that because they have a tired kid at the end of the day.
They have a tired kid, man. The kids are tired and dirty at the end of the day. Yes, man.
Do you find it easy to find because I'm assuming you don't teach all those things specifically the helpers to work with that, is it pretty easy? Is it on a volunteer basis?
Well, we pay the people to come in and work. Paying them makes it easier to get them interested.
Consistent, yes, obviously.
Right, but finding good people is always a challenge, especially with everything that happened with COVID. This past season was really hard to find people that wanted to work because people were able to make money staying at home but we were fortunate to find a good amount of people that wanted to work and work with the kids. I'm always looking for people that have a passion to work with kids because that makes a difference.
If somebody is doing it just for the money and they don't like kids, then they don't really stick around because working with kids, sometimes the money's not worth it. It's like, man, you got to deal with this seven-year-old that wants to tell you their mind. Sometimes it's not worth getting the checks. You got to really-- [chuckles] It's like now you take off the belt and whoop him, and that's your kid. You got to find people that care about the kids.
Yes, man. I did something like that. Well, not specifically that, but I was a lifeguard way back when I was younger. There was this thing in the mornings and we had a nickname for it that I won't repeat, but it was pretty much before the water park opened, there was like a youth camp, essentially, next door to the water park. It was an hour, an hour and a half, I can't remember, and man, it was like absolute chaos. They're all young, so you have to be careful and really focused.
You get the ones that just come up and blah blah blah blah, you got to go away now. No, it was good. You had the good ones, you had the bad ones. It is what it is. Do you have any plans? I know, and we're going to dive into what you do in Uganda, and I'm very excited to ask questions about that, but do you have any plans to expand elsewhere in the US or internationally?
For the camp, you mean?
Yes, for the youth camp and what you do.
Okay. For the youth camp, as far as expanding the camp, I don't plan to expand the camp. I like it being a boutique kind of camp where it's a single location and people come to it. There is such a great liability when it comes to working with children that keeping it small works. I'll look more into consulting other people on how to run a great camp, how to do what we're doing is more of what we'll do in the future as opposed to opening up camps all over. I don't-- I mean, it's just-- Yes. [chuckles]
That's a headache, right?
Oh my goodness, yes. I think about just how it is. It's just this one camp. I couldn't imagine doing 30 of them.
Yes, actually. That just doesn't sound fun.
No, not at all.
Talking about what you do in Bombo, Uganda. I think I'm pronouncing that right. I know it is an orphanage. Man, what made you want to go to Africa? How easy has it been? How did you figure out how to do it? So many questions. Can you just walk us through that?
Sure, sure. No problem. I originally went back in 2019, right before COVID.
So you had been to Africa before?
The first time I went is where everything started. I went to do a conference. We were invited to do a You Can Have It All conference in Uganda. I agreed to do it. It took us about a year to get everything situated in the planet. Everybody on my team was supposed to go, people I work with camp, and different people I knew that were interested in going to Africa and being able to help out with the conference. At the end of the day, everybody had quit that was supposed to go. I was the only one left that was still going to go. I said, "You know what--"
Because of COVID?
No, this is before COVID. This is before COVID. This is way before COVID.
Why did everyone quit?
Well, I don't know. That's the question. People, they didn't get their shots on time. They didn't get their passport. They just didn't do the things they were supposed to do. It's like with anything when you start, a lot of people say, "Hey, yes, I'll do it with you, man. Let's go. It sounds good." When it's time to actually do it, then they fall off and that's what happened to me. I said I'm going to go anyway. I went by myself, which people say, "You're crazy to go by yourself. You haven't been over there. It's east Africa. What are you doing?"
I said I'll go. I went there. There were four gentlemen that met me there, Matthew, Shadrack, Enoch, and Joel were the four men that met me there. Man, they took care of me the whole time I was there for the conference. Everything that we did was able to go without a hitch. Well, I'll take that back. There was a lot of hitches. [laughs] There were a lot of challenges, but obviously, I made it through. What happened is Matthew had an orphanage that was struggling. He said, "I don't know if we're going to be able to keep the doors open because we don't have the finances to keep it open."