Overview & History
The idea for Swish Dreams was birthed in the Summer of 2006 by Joshua M. Mercer
Growing up in Chicago’s “Jordan” Era, Joshua was heavily influenced by sports! So much so that he often dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, and in the process, amassed a huge baseball, football, and basketball card collection. As an avid collector, Joshua quickly learned where various professional sports’ teams/divisions were located(Geography), the statistics of his favorite players (Math), what it takes to succeed(Leadership and Discipline), how to research his favorite teams (Language Arts), and even how to buy, sell, and trade his memorabilia (Investing).
Year’s later, after graduating from the Howard University School of Business (2003), Joshua transitioned into a promising sales career in banking/financial services in Chicago’s Englewood community. Englewood, consisting of only three square miles, has been victim to over 700 murders in the past ten years with 43% of residents below the poverty line. As Joshua learned more about his customer base, he was equally appalled to find that over 60% of the communities’ population had no checking account largely due to poor credit scores. Frustrated by the communities’ lack of financial education, high rates of illiteracy, and violence stricken neighborhoods, he felt compelled to integrate himself through volunteerism with the local youth. It is through his community service that he was made aware of an opportunity called the AUSL (Academy for Urban School Leadership) that afforded him the opportunity to receive his Master’s degree in Education from National-Louis University (2006) and see firsthand the roots of educational inequity as well as gain a grounded understanding of how to solve it. The mission of the AUSL is to improve student achievement in Chicago’s high-poverty, chronically failing schools by providing a foundation of specially trained teachers.
Shortly after graduating from National Louis, Joshua began his teaching career at ACE Technical Charter High School where he taught Entrepreneurship/Physical Education and served as the school’s Sophomore Boy’s Basketball Coach.
After having noticed the high volumes of his students that were highly deficient in the areas of Math and Reading, but loved to compete in Sports, the idea of Swish Dreams & Educational Foundation was born! It was simple, every Saturday Joshua would open the gym for his students and friends…if the students wanted to play basketball, they had to come early for the Math and Reading portion, if Joshua’s friends (or mentors) wanted to play basketball they had to agree to pay $3 and be a positive influence on the students. For the first time in many of the students’ lives, they were getting consistent exposure and forming relationships with African-American men that were business professionals, entrepreneurs, college educated, and most of all, were successful influences that looked like them. This gave many students hope and the belief that they could achieve anything!
After four years, the concept became so popular that Joshua used the money (from the sale of Gatorades and the Open Gym) to create a website, t-shirts, logo, a curriculum, marketing materials, and eventually form a board of directors that lead to the official formation of Swish Dreams as a non-profit organization.
To date, Swish Dreams has served over 250 students and has been blessed to have forged relationships with many prominent organizations; in July 2010, history was made when 35 boys from the Chicagoland area participated in the very first SWISH Dreams summer camp.
Swish Dreams Awards & Recognition!
- Howard University Alumni Club of Chicago Award for Education & Youth Development (2009)
- Calahan Foundation – The Ground Breaking Award (2009)
- National Association for Black Sports Professionals – Panelist (2010)
- Violence Prevention Honoree – Alderman Sandi Jackson (2010)
- WGN TV – One of Chicago’s Very Own (2010)
- MeTV (WCIU) – 2010 Chicago Public School’s Sports Edition (2010)
- WVON – Emilie & Friends (2010)
- Urban Business Round-table – Top 40 Under 40 (2010)
- Diversity MBA Magazine – Top 100 Under 50 (2010)
- Howard University School of Business – Young Business Leader Award (2010)
- H.A.S. Magazine - Up and Coming Entrepreneurs (2010)
- Chicago Parent Magazine – Someone You Should Know (2011)
- Chicago Urban League/Verizon Wireless – Everyday Heroes (2011)
For more information about Swish Dreams, please visit http://www.swishdreams.org/