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Changing course in a pandemic: How one man, afraid to leave his front porch, turned a panicked moment into a movement

“Yesterday I wanted to walk around my neighborhood, but the fear of not returning home to my family alive kept me on my front porch."
Shawn Dromgoole walks with supporters during one of the nine walks he organized in the greater Nashville area.
Shawn Dromgoole walks with supporters during one of the nine walks he organized in the greater Nashville area.Shawn Dromgoole

It started with a post on social media.

Shawn Dromgoole, a 29-year-old resident of South Nashville, Tennessee, took to Facebook and Nextdoor, a popular neighborhood networking app, to share that he was scared to walk around the now-gentrified neighborhood he grew up in. His family has lived there for generations.

“Yesterday I wanted to walk around my neighborhood, but the fear of not returning home to my family alive kept me on my front porch,” Dromgoole said in a May 27 Facebook post. The post came just two days after the death of George Floyd, which was followed by months of national protests and civil unrest.

The following day, nearly 75 of Dromgoole’s neighbors showed up to walk with him in support and solidarity.

Since May, that moment has become a movement that’s inspired Dromgoole. “I was scared to walk alone, and now look who is behind me. Look who has my back,” he said. To build on the momentum, Dromgoole organized another walk the following week — but this time a crowd of roughly 1,000 people showed up, wearing masks and doing their best to stay physically distant from one another. “I was speechless. I literally did not know what to do,” he told CNBC.

To date, Dromgoole already has organized and completed nine walks in the greater Nashville area and one in Shaker Heights, Ohio. His goal is to continue walking around the country to help build a greater sense of community. That goal already has helped him raise over $18,000 via a GoFundMe page, set up by Dromgoole and his mother, Lynetra Dunn. According to the GoFundMe page, the funds raised go directly to “offsetting all [of his] travel and lodging expenses to walk across the country.”

Dromgoole’s goal is inspiring and far-reaching, yet it’s not his only dream. He has another lofty goal, which has been shelved almost entirely due to ongoing challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The irony: It is Drumgoole’s devotion to social activism that caught the attention of a mentor — renowned serial entrepreneur, VC founder of Health:Further and life coach Marcus Whitney — who may ultimately help him achieve both challenging pursuits. Whitney, a Nashville resident had heard about Drumgoole’s passion and wanted to focus him - not unsimilar to how he felt when he first moved to the city.

Shawn’s Story

In early March, Dromgoole was one of the millions of Americans who found themselves out of work as shelter-in-place orders began to take effect around the country. He was temporarily furloughed from his job as a logistics processor at Nordstrom, where he had worked for two years hoping to someday go into sales. Dromgoole says he was given the option to continue working throughout the pandemic, but that option presented obstacles of its own, as he currently lives with and helps care for his 77-year-old grandmother, Carolyn Washington.

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Dromgoole is also one of many American’s who filed for unemployment, only to find that he was making more than he was on payroll at Nordstrom. He says he cried when he applied for unemployment, because he was raised to believe that “you don’t go on the system.”

He returned to work late last month but quit his job several days later to focus on organizing his walks around the country and to reassess. In doing so, Dromgoole realized he’s always put his dream to become an entrepreneur on hold.

The problem? “I have no idea where to begin,” he said.

Hustler, hacker, hero

After graduating from high school, Dromgoole took out a $30,000 loan to attend “The Beauty Institute” — a cosmetology school in Memphis that was later shut down following a federal fraud case in 2016. Nevertheless, Dromgoole received his cosmetology license, inspired by the gentrification his community had seen over more than 54 years of his family living there. “There just wasn’t a place for people to go who look like me,” he said of local beauty salons and barber shops.

So Dromgoole decided he wanted to start his own, and Whitney is happy to coach him. Following is some advice that the Nashville-based serial entrepreneur and investor suggests Dromgoole should follow in order to achieve both dreams.

Turn this moment into a movement. “Shawn needs to understand that the press he’s getting now is just a spark, and that won’t translate to other neighborhoods across America unless he can make the ‘Shawn’ in those neighborhoods the one star of their story.”

Commit to a vision. “Do you want to become a hairstylist, or do you want to grow a nationwide movement? You can do both, just not at the same time.”

Build your team; play your position. “Once you’ve gotten clear on becoming a servant and what your vision is, you need to build a team to help you execute. And you need to find a role that best suits you on that team.”

And last, remember these three words. “Hustler, hacker, hero. You have to work super hard. You have to be clever and crafty. And you have to be ready to overcome adversity on this journey because you will face it every single day.”

Disclosure: Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow. is a financial wellness and education initiative from CNBC and Acorns, the financial wellness app. NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.