By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — Kalen Johnson is 12 years old and has the gumption to believe he will become a millionaire by the time he reaches the ripe age of 16. Could it be that this preteen prognosticator knows something that we don’t know?
He’s already begun working to make real his audacious prediction. In September 2018, he grossed more than $1,200 in a single day selling exquisite wire and beaded jewelry at the Cooper-Young Festival in Midtown Memphis.
“I believe in myself. And my mother, granny, brother and sister believe in me too,” said
Kalen, who is unabashedly frank about his ambition to become financially secure by 16 and beyond via Kalen’s Exquisite Pieces, a home-based jewelry business he started in 2018.
Although Kalen is young, he is rather mature, thoughtful, confident, and fully grasps what it will take to reach his goal. He also counts every opportunity as a move forward in that direction.
“When I was thinking about careers, I wanted to do something that’s fun,” said Kalen, a seventh-grade student at Germantown Middle School. “I didn’t want to work for someone where I would be sad and miserable.
Kalen abounds in contentment over patrons like Jacqueline Jordan, who became acquainted with him and his “exquisite” jewelry in February at Golden Gate Cathedral, the church where she and Kalen’s family are members.
One Sunday she noticed a black clustered necklace coiled around the neck of his mother, Tomeka Johnson, employed at Regions Bank, and was smitten with its beauty and intricate design.
Jordan asked Johnson where she’d gotten the necklace. “She said, ‘My son made this.’ I asked her his name. The little boy was standing near her and said, ‘It’s me. Here I am.’ Then I asked him if he could make one for me.”
A week or so later, Jordan paid Kalen $100 for a hefty necklace that he had made of elegant glass and crystal on a thick silver chain. He threw in matching earrings and a bracelet for good measure.
Jordan was happy, to say the least, and boasted openly after receiving the necklace that Kalen had presented in a dainty box. “It’s beautiful! Simply beautiful!” she said excitedly.
Since the launch of Kalen’s Exquisite Pieces, this dedicated kidpreneur has made his rounds at various marketplaces such as workshops, bazaars, and a children’s business fair at Germantown Presbyterian Church.
Tamika Heard, manager of the locally owned and family operated Makeda’s Cookies, recognized Kalen’s business in 2018 in an online marketplace called 901 Kidpreneur that she started on Facebook in 2016. The concept is to inspire and empower young entrepreneurs.
Kalen is humbled by Heard and other entrepreneurs who have paved the way for him. His mother, however, has been his support and pillar of strength since he first started tinkering with her jewelry at five years old.
“I’ll always love my mom,” he said. “She has been here for me for the whole journey.”
So has Kaleb, Kalen’s 12-year-old identical twin; Kayla, his 17-year-old sister; and his maternal “granny,” Mary Perry, whom he treasures. It was Perry who didn’t need to be convinced that Kalen’s refashioning of his mother’s old jewelry “will pay off some day.”
“He would take my jewelry, take it apart, and make new jewelry,” said Johnson, alluding to Kalen’s inquisitive nature and his creative mind. “Me and my mother asked him what he wanted to do in life.”
It was a foregone conclusion that Johnson’s young millionaire in waiting wanted to be a master jeweler and knew this before she had an inkling that he was teeming with talent. While he was polishing his skills, she undergirded him along the way.
Johnson recalls Kalen taking a briefcase to W.E.B. DuBois Elementary School of Entrepreneurship for Career Day when he was nine and in 5th-grade. “He had all his creations in it to show the class. Then he explained to them that he wanted to be a master jeweler,” she said.
“He’s so talented. He will not make two pieces alike. I’m so blessed to be his mom,” said Johnson, a single parent who likewise embraces the skill set of Kaleb, a computer gamer, and Kayla, a budding artist and future OBGYN.
So, who or what inspires Kalen? “I don’t know what inspires me,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ve just been fascinated with gemstones, beads and natural pearls.”
Then it dawned on him that he is actually enamored with Peter Marco, an influential Beverly Hills (Calif.) jeweler who has a high-profile clientele. Like Kalen, Marco knew what he wanted to do in life at an early age.
An interesting parallel, to say the least.