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The creative freedom of Daymond John

He will not be placed in a box

If one believes in the American dream, then Daymond John is living it. John, 47, went from selling “Free Mike Tyson” tees on New York City corners in the early ’90s to founding and running a $6 billion apparel company — FUBU — to working on two separate initiatives with President Barack Obama. When he’s not helping run more than 40 companies, the businessman is one of six investors, or “sharks,” on ABC’s Shark Tank, which is heading into its eighth season. Oh, and for fans of the 2001 film How High, the FUBU founder was not amused by the movie’s creation of “BUFU.” “I always questioned,” he said, “ why [Universal Pictures] did that.”

“For the most part, mostly everything in business is truly for us, by us. Usually, somebody who’s found a passion for something, or something that was missing in the market … they create it and they find an audience who understands it. People thought I could only do fashion, but … to get up and be able to not be in a box, it’s amazing. And that didn’t start with Shark Tank. It started when I became successful with FUBU.

“After that, I had the opportunity to do anything else I desired. Anybody that invests in me, they know I’m young enough to be cool, and I’m old enough to be old. I’ve gotten screwed enough times, and I’ve lost enough times to take a very sensible approach. [Executive producer Mark Burnett] understood that entrepreneurship is the ultimate equalizer, and he didn’t put me in a box. Even when many of the competing networks wanted to get an African-American who is a comedian or rapper or athlete, he said, ‘No, we don’t know if we’ll be believable, we want someone who is not one of those things, and they’re going to be handling business every day on set.’

“For the people out there seeing me on the show … I would hope they say, Business is business. You can be articulate, and you can be this young man who has dyslexia, got left back in school, never went to college, and didn’t have anybody to give them any money or anything else. He pulled himself up by the bootstraps, and surrounded himself with like-minded people. And he’s still here.”

Martenzie is a writer for The Undefeated. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said "Y'all want to see somethin?"