Leading the Next Generation from Home with Daniel P. Calderon

By Ryan Staley
Illustration by C.J. Robinson

Daniel P. Calderon is an independent brand and culture strategist, consulting with entrepreneurs from all walks of life about business development, digital strategy, brand partnerships, content, and more. At age 35, his career, so far, has welcomed colorful, multi-disciplinary experiences across organizational leadership, creating influencer partnerships, producing award-winning films, and, most recently, exploring the future of educational leadership.

The New York City native has emerged as a known change agent within the community, using his gracious energy to support non-profit initiatives, honor veterans, mentor young entrepreneurs, and uplift a number of LGBTQ+ youth community movements. Today, he’s busy applying his lessons in leadership and community to a new challenge. One that seeks to inspire the next generation to think strategically, ethically, and creatively about their goals in order to imagine new solutions that uplift marginalized communities through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Images Courtesy of Emil Cohen

Daniel Calderon talks with the Team Epiphany Times to discuss his personal leadership philosophy and how he’s applying its principles to manage through the unforeseeable, complex changes in the “new norm.”

The “new norm” has entered the chat.

Rapidly and drastically, the world as we know her has changed. In the past two months, the speed and scope of the novel coronavirus has forced extraordinary challenges on communities, businesses, and leaders in today’s most vital institutions. Many are left feeling broken, unsupported, unessential, and with little to no hope or trust in our nation’s leadership.

Now, the already unprecedented pressures faced by our marginalized communities have now been magnified to new heights, leaving them to navigate the paralyzing effects of the pandemic, with insufferable living circumstances and very limited resources. What will this all mean for the future? To put this in perspective, a telling stat from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Roughly 15.5 million Americans—more than 10% fo the workforce—rely on independent work as a primary source of income.

It’s no secret that entrepreneurship is a hard journey to navigate for Black, brown, and minority communities. When you pile on the layers of long-standing racism, classism, and institutional oppression onto that challenge, it positions the next generation of entrepreneurs to always be behind the curve and, as you can imagine, the global COVID-19 crisis has intensely heightened this reality for them.

Trapped inside his quarantine lair, Daniel realized that he had to build something. Something strategic, effective, and fast. Following some prayers, writing, and enlightening conversations with his partner, he manifested his new ideas into the universe and never looked back. Daniel picked up the phone and hit up around 50 of his closest friends and colleagues. After three long days of fruitful conversations, he tuned in for D-Nice’s first viral Club Quarantine live DJ set: A major cultural moment that celebrated culture and lifted up communities everywhere. That moment of joy was exactly the fire and clarity Daniel needed to move forward. It motivated and affirmed that his goals were right on track. 

Images Courtesy of Micaiah Carter

From there, the “Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow” founder set out to mobilize a brand new virtual fundraising and educational movement that would help bring light, love, and resources back into the vulnerable communities whose voices and needs had been silenced.

“Hey Ryan! It’s Daniel P. Calderon. I hope you are staying safe and sane amidst all uncertainty with the coronavirus. I’m in the process of rallying the troops for a virtual project we’re producing to raise funds for creatives/entrepreneurs negatively impacted,” he texted me right as we went into lockdown in New York. “Things are moving fast and wanted to get you in the loop and see if you are interested in learning more. I need a social media thought-partner.”

What he came to produce was #WFH, a virtual event series, fundraiser, and education portal created to mobilize resources for small business entrepreneurs, freelancers, and students navigating the paralyzing effects of the pandemic. “I wanted to create an intentional experience that my peers would want to be involved in,” he said in a more recent conversation with me. “But also people I aspired to be like would take interest in. A space that could truly motivate, inspire and help people.” 

Images Courtesy of Kameron Mack

Stimulated by his love for strategic partnerships, Daniel collaborated with a number of brands and community partners like Samsung Solve For Tomorrow, Driven Society, Too Fly Foundation, The Creative Collective NYC, and the woman-owned corporate catering service FoodToEat, to leverage additional resources, funding support, and reach for the launch of #WFH.

An army of friends banned together to help bring the first #WFH Virtual Fundraising Party experience to life on March 27th. Designer C.J. Robinson joined to develop the #WFH brand identity. Choreographer and performance artist Twiggy Pucci Garcon offered up her time to organize, book, and onboard the party talent and entertainment. Creative Kal Trevor helped bring Daniel’s #WFH vision to life with his video marketing skills, while storied author and Director of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, Darnell Moore, lent his time and experiences as a speaker during the event.

With DJ Kenneth Kyrell holding it down on the 1s and 2s, the first #WFH installment kicked off and inside the Zoom-hosted virtual experience, attendees had the opportunity to hear from and connect with top creative voices, business leaders, and performers in the nation.

#WFH raised around $3,000 USD in its first installment and has now received over $5,300 in donations from over 370 supporters. Their goal now is to raise $10,000 a month by developing an ongoing #WFH virtual series.

Image Courtesy of C.J. Robinson

“I’m excited to see how we grow in the coming months,” Daniel said following the event. “I'm sure we can find more kind humans to be ALL IN with us.” Today, #WFH is a livestreaming platform that supports entrepreneurs and students. Daniel’s team is hard at work to develop fresh, out-of-the-box ideas and partnerships that continue to mobilize resources. The goal is to offer more fun and interactive programming while diving deeper into Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow’s educational curriculum development and creating content that directly targets students and educators in marginalized communities. Coming this June, #WFH will partner with Samsung Solve For Tomorrow and  Shawn Larry Stevens, an educational leader, author, and principal in Newark, NJ, who’s work centers around social justice, school reform, youth empowerment, and Black male identity.

“His partnership with Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow and #WFH is going to be invaluable to really target the audiences and students that we want to support,” he told me. The two will be teaming up to raise money for Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow’s first 10-day entrepreneurial simulation program with students, where the group will partake in engaging challenges that teach them reading, math, and tech education. The simulation will also offer wellness activities that engage the students from a more holistic standpoint.

#WFH is also in the midst of planning two special collaborations to celebrate Pride Month. A live speed dating experiment with The Tenth Magazine and facilitating a series of virtual watch parties in partnership with Slay TV for HBO’s latest original series Legendary, the new performance competition program celebrating the underground ballroom community where voguing teams (aka "houses") compete in unbelievable balls in order to achieve "legendary" status. Judges for the installment including rapper Megan Thee Stallion, fashion stylist Law Roach, ballroom icon Leiomy Maldonado, and more.

For Daniel, “Activism, volunteerism, or any ‘-ism’ needs to be laser-focussed on love,  respect and solving specific problems. In all of the noise of COVID-19 updates and Instagram Lives, we've been able to grow an audience of #WFH supporters who are ALL IN for their community.” Love, respect, and specificity are the stronghold that’s helped Daniel’s tribe drown out the noise and focus on developing a community they enjoy growing alongside. When crisis arrives in our lives, it takes a disciplined, proactive group of leaders to move fast on their feet.

Images Courtesy of Emil Cohen

We often envision Leadership as a position of power. A status symbol. A new tax bracket. The ultimate flex. We fantasize about holding a position of authoritative “Leadership” with the selfish strive to be seen as the “shot caller.” Daniel’s trailblazing work with #WFH has broadened my perspective on what true leadership can look like. We’ll call these “The Big 3” in the game of Leadership:

  1. Leadership can shine through all of us and in many unique forms.
  2. Leadership is often stimulated by an uncomfortable, fast-moving response that requires us to think strategically about the unknown.
  3. Leadership often requires us to be available to feel, see, and empathize with the uncomfortable realities of living in another’s shoes.

If we decide to lead with intention and a community-first mindset, we can leverage leadership influence never imagined. Politics, sports, pop culture, fashion, advertising, community change, storytelling—they all need our collective leadership voices.

I think there’s so much to be said for moving distractions out of the way to do the uncomfortable, awkward, and at times exhausting work of looking inward. We can create space for more introspection and lead with intention and adopt a community-first mindset.

Speaking of #WFH, Daniel said, “I'd like to be a part of creating sustainable and equitable economies that benefit People Of Color. What we are building goes beyond a virtual party.” His point brought to mind questions of society and self, leadership and community. How can my day-to-day routine, creativity, or work today be of service to someone else in need? What does a world look like where a Diversity-and-Inclusion job doesn't need to exist? It got me thinking about a world where Black and brown people aren't always trying to catch up, survive and/or just be: These questions and self-reflections are what’s driving Daniel to want to find out what that world looks like. Or, at least, be a part of the change.

Like he told me: “When one is able to create space, virtual or IRL, they are, in fact, catalyzing creativity, which I believe leads to real solutions. That's what I want my life's work to be about.”︎