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Damian Brown, a 16-year-old Advanced Placement Academy student at Burke High, first tagged along on palmetto rose-selling jaunts with his cousins and grandfather when he was six years old. By the time he was eight, he had struck out on his own and soon was netting $80 to $100 a day on weekends selling his wares alongside the other kids around the City Market. He liked it, he says, “because I was always seeing things I wanted to buy—shoes, clothes, everything—and it let me get money in my pocket in a good way.”
Although Damian craved things like most second graders, he wasn’t frivolous with his earnings. Take his first Christmas as a businessman: The then-Eastside public-housing resident noticed that his mother, who was raising his four siblings on her own, bought presents for everyone but had nothing for herself. So he took his stash of cash, bought her a dress, gave her a Christmas card, and placed some money in it. From then on, he contributed to the family bills whenever his mom came up short.
For Damian, a typical childhood Saturday meant rising about 7 a.m. and heading out to cut palmetto fronds with his pals. Then they’d spread out across downtown, twisting and selling roses until there were no more customers. But business owners complained about the kids hassling tourists, and homeowners complained about their palmettos getting overly sliced and diced. So in 2006, the city—led by Jimmy Bailey, founder of the young entrepreneurial group YEScarolina—came up with a compromise: If the rose kids went to a weeklong free summertime seminar at downtown’s Martin Park Community Center, they could get rose-selling permits. One of the perks? Palm fronds (donated by Palmetto Unlimited on James Island) would be supplied to them thereafter. If a young vendor violated the permit rules, his license would be revoked.
Damian attended the workshop and, according to teacher and YEScarolina education consultant Jenny Whittle, took a real interest in the entrepreneurial process. At Damian’s request, the two began meeting weekly and developed a business plan to help grow his palmetto rose company. Jenny explained to him that if he sold more roses at a lesser price, he could be at home having fun on Saturday rather than stomping all over the City Market. Fired up by the prospect, Damian got her to help him place his roses in the Piggly Wiggly downtown and Drayton Hall’s gift shop, and she eventually connected him with a wedding planner wanting to place a large order.
Soon Damian’s Roses was born, and now the North Charleston resident spends weekends (beginning at 6 a.m.) crafting hundreds of roses, which he then bags, freezes, and ships all along the East Coast. His mom, Almeta Brown, serves as his sounding board and does the bookkeeping (a good month can net $700 to $1,000 in sales). And Almeta’s pitching in has paid off—she (along with Bailey and Whittle) joined Damian when he won a trip to New York as the South Carolina recipient of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s Student of the Year award.
Damian, who has also earned other accolades from Burke and the County School Board, says he saves most of the money for college. “I want to go to the College of Charleston or S.C. State University—but it’s not the money that’s behind it anymore,” he says. “I feel like there are so many people in my neighborhood who try to go to school but don’t make it all the way. I want to show them that I am strong enough to get out. And I want to give back more to my community, so there can be others like me, too.”
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Contact Damian’s Roses at (843) 343-1340.