These three businessmen went from Crenshaw High School to Clark Atlanta University and back.
By Blake Carter
The bond between Hasani R. Ellis, Omar Muhammad, and Thomas Fitch can be linked back to their days at Audubon Middle School, and they became pretty much inseparable at Crenshaw High School. The drive to succeed led them to business school at Clark Atlanta University and right back to the community where they grew up. They now manage Crenshaw and Clark Financial in Park Mesa Heights.
These business men provide tax, accounting, real estate, life insurance and financial services for a community that has been neglected in those areas.
Before they could financially help their community, they had to have the vision that they could be successful.
“Living in South Central Los Angeles, we always knew that there was more than the box that we saw,” Fitch said. “From the 110, the 10, the 405, and the 105 freeway. That’s literally all we saw, and we knew that we wanted more. We just had the passion to find more.”
The trio became the support system that they needed to make it to college and beyond.
“I was the first in my family to go to college, so there wasn’t really a roadmap,” Muhammad said. “There wasn’t anybody that I could bounce an idea off of about what I needed to do in high school. The conversations that I had with these two brothers gave me the inspiration to start looking into more opportunities to expand my college career.”
After graduating from Crenshaw High School in 2003, the trio moved on to West Los Angeles College, where they met with counselors who gave them short-term goals. They also had big long-term goals.
“There were times that we would leave campus after class, and we would drive in Ladera Heights,” Fitch said. “We’d look at the biggest houses and we’d tell ourselves that we can get this. These people are African Americans, and they’re affluent. They found a way, and now it’s time for us to figure it out.”
Their lives took a major change after Ellis traveled to Atlanta for a family event. When he returned home, he brought up the idea to the group of applying to Clark Atlanta University. It wasn’t long before they packed up and moved to Georgia to start a new chapter of their lives. They were pleasantly surprised that life in Atlanta was different from what they experienced in the neighborhoods that they grew up in.
“It was kind of like a culture shock,” Ellis said. “To see black people striving. Not only on campus, but anywhere you go in the city.”
The group stayed strong in their new surroundings, as they all joined Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and they all became business majors.
“I sold candy at Audubon as my first business,” Ellis said. “So I always said that I wanted to own my own business. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew nothing about owning a business, but when we went to college, we had all talked about getting into business.”
Muhammad was interested in mass media when he was at West Los Angeles College, but he felt that being a business major would be the better route.
“No matter what industry you’re in, it all comes down to business,” he said. “So I thought that instead of trying to be employed by a studio, I would want to one day own a production company, or at least be on the business side of one.”
After graduating, they all worked in Atlanta for about five years. Many people who leave their home city to go to college in Atlanta end up staying, but in 2013, it was time to come home and support the community that raised them.
“We felt that we had been climbing this mountain of success to try to get to another level,” Fitch said. “But what is success if we don’t give back? This is home. I can make an impact in Atlanta, just like everybody else, but at the same time, it was key for us to come back and make a difference in our city.”
“We felt that it would be horrible for us to leave the community and go and build another community,” Muhammad said.
They all landed corporate jobs when they came back to Los Angeles. After providing financial services to major corporations, they felt that their talents would be of better use by helping their own people, so they opened Crenshaw and Clark Financial, LLC, on Slauson Ave. and 7th Ave.
“We help our clients make smarter financial decisions,” Fitch said. “We help them protect their income through long-term investment strategies, retirement planning, and life insurance. We’re kind of like a one-stop shop.”
Fitch points out that African Americans make about one trillion dollars a year, but spend $1.2 trillion. That other $200 million is mostly credit. Financial literacy is an issue in some areas of South Los Angeles, and this trio is here to share their knowledge.
“A lot of our clients have one thing in common,” Ellis said. “They say that they have a problem, but they just didn’t know who to go to. We have people who come in here and their array of problems is from A-Z. They just needed somebody to help them.”
Ellis said that many people have problems with unpaid back taxes, and that if they spoke to an advisor, they would be able to solve their issue.
This group also helps people make money.
“Most people want to learn about investments, but they don’t know who to talk to,” Fitch said. “We sit down with them and we create a financial plan. I can show you how to make your money work hard for you.”
All three of these men are active members of Omega Psi Phi’s Lambda Omicron Chapter (Los Angeles), 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, and the Clark Atlanta University Los Angeles alumni chapter.