From Tremendous Bowl to CEO: Garry Gilliam’s Path to Entrepreneurship
As a young boy, Garry Gilliam was raised by a single mother in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a city that exemplifies the importance of systemic racism and continues to do so today. During his childhood, Garry’s mother worked 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet, but she never complained or apologized. In fact, Garry didn’t even realize at the time that his family was poor because his mother had worked hard to provide for his family. Through her character and resilience, his mother brought him the term “perseverance through adversity” with the hope that Garry would embody this motto in order to overcome the struggles he faced at a young age.
When he was only eight, Garry was sent to Milton Hersey School, a boarding school for children below the poverty line. In order not to think about his homesickness, Garry put all his energies into athletics and academics, which eventually led, at a time of extreme football uncertainty, to receiving a full-time scholarship to play football for coach Joe Paterno at Penn State University play program.
While at Penn, Garry’s journey only got tougher when he suffered five knee surgeries and a last-minute change of position from tight end to offensive tackle in his senior season at Penn State. These fights resulted in him declaring himself late for the NFL draft and not receiving an invitation to the NFL Combine. Despite those struggles and fears of retirement and near-life injury, Garry still managed to get three degrees at Penn State. After missing the NFL combine, Garry was left vacant but refused to be defeated and instead worked harder, eventually signing as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks.
After Garry wasn’t drawn to the Seahawks, he fought his way into the team to lose a Super Bowl on the 1-yard line. However, he recovered from that defeat by securing a spot with the Seahawks for the next two years before signing two deals with the 49ers. When he got to the 49ers, he went on another heartbreaking journey when he won just ten games before being released the year they returned to the Super Bowl.
Immediately after his troubled football career ended, Garry started The Bridge, a company that purchases old buildings in city centers and turns them into sustainable community centers. He has put his energy and ability to overcome adversity into this company and into putting together a team of like-minded individuals to take on their mission of overcoming systematic oppression with bespoke solutions. The bridge aims to address the challenges of systematic oppression of black Americans by creating an empowerment system that focuses on cooperation, collaboration and community.
While Garry no longer plays professional football, he mentioned that the values, systems, and processes he learned during his football career taught him how to be a great man and how to run his company. Garry is presenting his team and his vision to his team as if he were a young quarterback, and he must build a well-rounded team around him to win the Super Bowl, which means they are an eco-village from start to finish to complete. Garry explains to his team that they “need to know their role because each of them is 1/11 of a team. If everyone else does their job and one person doesn’t, then only 10/11 is complete and the game fails.” “” He also emphasizes that his team has to build development step by step, as much as you can not win the Super Bowl in training camp.
Regarding The Bridge development, Garry’s goal is to have eight bridge locations within the next six years. He seeks to do this through their public and private partnerships and is confident that these will prevail as there is a great need for The Bridge. Garry stated that “The Bridge is a solution, not a patch” to solve many of the problems that plagued 2020, including the pandemic, the racial crisis, the financial crisis and the ongoing environmental crisis. With a clear vision and a clear path to achieve his goals, Garry is confident that The Bridges can develop the inner cities one by one.
Aside from working at The Bridge, Garry spends his free time giving back to the community by working closely with young athletes, particularly from Pennsylvania and the Milton Hersey School, to help them follow in his footsteps and bring them to life in their present escape by embodying. “Perseverance through Adversity” and a focus on academics and athletics. Throughout his life Garry has overcome difficulties and taken the lesser-traveled road. Now he is using his platform and business to bring other people the same opportunities that his hard work and perseverance could get him.
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