Nineteen-year-old Noe Rueda (R) grew up on Chicago’s West Side. He is the oldest of four siblings raised by a single mom. As a boy, Noe watched his family struggle and decided to help.
Noe told Alex Fernandez (L), his high school economics teacher, about launching his first business venture — selling discarded cleaning products from a nearby factory.
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Alex Fernandez (AF): That’s a lot of comic books and stuff, yeah.
NR: But the thing is, I wasn’t like other kids. I didn’t go buy Pokemon cards. (Laughs) The little money I made, I gave it to my mom. The first time, I remember she was cooking. And, uh, I came up to her and I told her, “Mom, I know you don’t have money, so here’s 15 bucks I made.” She turned off the stove. She turned around, started crying and hugged me. From that point on I just dedicated on [sic] getting money for my family.
AF: How did you make that money?
NR: First of all, the one thing that comes to people’s mind in a bad neighborhood is drugs. But I did not sell drugs. The reason for that is, first of all, I know it’s wrong. Secondly, I picture my mom -- how disappointed she’ll be if she finds that out. So, I actually started helping on a construction site. And this was in fifth grade. It was bad on my bones. I like, I have bad shoulders, bad knees from all the stuff I was carrying.
AF: When you were younger, did you realize kind of like, hey, this isn’t normal or this isn’t what other people go through?
NR: Well, I always knew I was poor. But I remember one time, in particular. My shoes were all scraped up, so I got paint and I painted them white. Some kid fell and tripped in front of my shoes and noticed. And he pointed it out and, uh, laughed. And that’s when it hit me really hard like, I’m actually poorer than I thought.
AF: How’s your first semester of college been?
NR: Things are great. I just think about it, like, being the first one to go to college in my whole family of like fifty of us. That’s my biggest motivation.
AF: I’m really proud of you that you went this far. And I just want to have you come back in like ten years, dressed really sharp. You know, in like, a suit.
NR: Nice shoes (laughs).
AF: Nice shoes, and finally have a pair that you haven’t painted. You know, and I’ve had so many students where everything’s stacked against them. What happens is they get almost there, and then they just quit. You know, I really want you to be the one that finished. To be the one that actually did it. And I want you to get everything you’ve ever wanted.