Hopeton Latouche is a young social entrepreneur who has a long-term commitment to creating opportunities for the youth in his community of Lawrence Heights. His entrepreneurial spirit was alive from the age of 12, when he was selling chocolates to make money and earned enough to purchase his own computer. He used his PC to make music, becoming the kid that people in his community knew as a “good beats producer”. By high school, he’d taken over an empty school storage closet to build himself a “second [music] studio”, and was participating in the Remix Project (which provides opportunities for training, education, and mentorship in the creative industries to Toronto youth from marginalized communities).
As Hopeton realized that he had the talent and mentorship support to take his career to the international level — he could see himself becoming a globetrotting beats producer — he also realized that he was pulled to work closer to home. Rather than create his own stardom, he wanted to nurture the talents and passions of the youth in his community, so that someday they could succeed in creative industries too.
His first social enterprise project was to build and run his own studio out of his mom’s basement in Lawrence Heights. After Remix, he’d graduated from college as an architectural technologist, and created the digital plans for building his studio. Without any practical construction experience, though, he relied on friends to show him the basics. He scavenged free material (he found carpet undermatting that someone had set out as garbage, and brought it home to use as soundproofing), bought wood and insulation, and caught his neighbours’ attention when he pulled up in front of his house and started unloading things. “In my neighbourhood, people know about everything that’s going on within about two minutes.”
So, two minutes after he started unloading his building materials, neighbours were asking him, “What are you doing, Hopeton?”
“I’m building my studio,” he answered.
And he did. With help from friends, he had a functional space three days later, and for the next three years Hopeton volunteered his time and the studio to the community, making it into a Lawrence Heights hot spot.
As for many social projects, the model that was workable in the first few years wasn’t a lasting model. At the three year point, Hopeton was exhausted, his equipment had deteriorated or been damaged, and he was disappointed that others hadn’t shown the same control and discipline he had in using the studio space. Without the resources to repair or replace his equipment, he needed a new plan.
Hopeton’s vision was that youth in his community could have careers they were passionate about, but he also wanted them to see the reality behind the “smoke and mirrors show” of the entertainment industry. He would give them the opportunities for developing their creative talents, but would also show them what they were up against, in terms of the industry, the odds against success, and the ease with which the entertainment world chewed young people up and spit them back out. Hopeton hoped to build the opportunities and attitudes that would actually allow these youth to succeed in fields they were passionate about. And he looked forward to having a tight circle of talented creative folks that he could work with, a circle of folks who came from his own community, and who would provide each other with mental, emotional, and spiritual support.
Hopeton had the idea, but it didn’t yet have a form or structure. In the meantime, he pursued a number of job opportunities — entry level jobs in architecture firms, in construction management companies, and at a community recording studio. He remembers going into each opportunity with the mentality to take everything he could learn from it, and to keep building his skills and experience so that he could bring the maximum possible to his own idea. Yet over time, each of the positions started to feel demeaning, and as if their limited nature were a discredit to his true capacity and potential.
After being fired from an internship that was boring him, and going through a dark personal period, Hopeton landed at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Ontario. As a Social Entrepreneur Fellow, he worked with other Fellows from all backgrounds and experiences, and learned how to communicate his ideas and dreams to people from all walks of life. His interpersonal and communication skills developed through the program, and he regained some of his confidence in his abilities and leadership. “SSE was a way to stay positive in a dark saga.” He connected with other people who had deep commitments to improving their communities, and he started developing his idea into a plan with more structure.
“Other business programs start with marketing, legal, PR… They say, ‘Here’s how you market it.’ But I was trying to figure out what it was!” At SSE, he found the space and support to start to figure that out.
A few years later, Hopeton is working in the building industry, which he describes as a way to create reality, to create physical structures. This move to the literal world reflects where he is with his social enterprise idea: he wants to move it from the dreamy reality into the physical reality.
Hopeton’s project plan starts with a 9 x 34 foot trailer. Youth involved will get training in construction as they build the trailer into a studio and stage. They’ll get training in the creative industries — film, music, concerts, TV — as the construction project is documented and the studio, stage, and artists head out on a concert tour. They’ll develop these skills within the context of film-making — Hopeton has his eye on film as offering the widest employment opportunities in the creative industries, because films require people in production, carpentry, design, music, sound, writing, food, and everything else you can think of. The project culminates with youth — trained in construction, in their creative goals, and in film — going on an international concert tour. And all the way along, a docudrama follows the journey.
It’s a huge and ambitious vision, and it’s going to take a long time in development. The Hopeton who started as a 12-year-old entrepreneur selling chocolates is now a 25-year-old, working away at his day job while he finds the team and the partners to help this vision becoming real. He’s not sure how old he’ll be when it becomes a reality, but he’s committed to his community, and committed to using his skills for a greater good.
Update on this story: With help from an SSE mentor, Hopeton has secured a grant to help him with his film and he has secured a trailor. Watch this space for further updates.