Olatunde Sobomehin is the CEO and co-founder of StreetCode Academy, a Silicon Valley-based non-profit that offers free tech classes to communities of color. It is one of the fastest-growing organizations in the region, growing from 20 students in its inaugural class in 2014 to now serving over 2,000 students annually with over 40,000 hours of free instruction. Back from a long overdue and life-changing sabbatical, Sobomehin is celebrating the new book he co-authored, Creative Hustle: Blaze Your Own Path and Make Work That Matters (Ten Speed Press and Stanford University d.school).
Sobomehin says, “Parents are the ultimate creative hustlers! It is innate.” He and his wife, Tamara, reside in East Palo Alto, CA, with their four children: Olatayo, Temilola, Tatiola, and Olataiye.
Tell us about your upbringing, where you’re from, and most specifically your relationship with your parents (mother and father)?
I had a wonderful upbringing. I was born in Los Angeles–in a car, actually. My mother went into labor and went to the UCLA hospital; they sent her back home. On the way back to the hospital, I started crowning. My dad was driving and speeding to the hospital. They finally got to the hospital parking lot and my Mom said, “it’s coming.” My father thought she was talking about the police because he had been driving so fast! She ended up having me in the passenger seat–my dad caught me. The hospital workers wouldn’t come out because they thought it was a domestic violence situation because my father had blood on his hands. But also my father is a black man. He’s Nigerian and my mother’s white. So they just didn’t know what was going on. The police finally arrived to assess the situation, and that’s when they could finally take care of us. That’s my crazy introduction to the world.
When I was really young, we moved from LA to Nigeria, and lived in Nigeria for a year and a half. Then we moved to Houston, and we eventually landed in Portland, Oregon, where I spent my entire childhood. Portland has a beautiful black community, and my father served on a multicultural commission in the city. Through his work, my father visited the prisons. As you know, African Americans are drastically higher represented in prison populations. And so my father went to the Oregon State Penitentiary and saw all these black men and he decided to work toward keeping black men out of prison. He started a nonprofit that would do after school programming, tutoring, mentorship, and community building. My Mom joined him in that effort. And so I grew up where we all, with my Mom and my Dad, helped in serving the African American community. And that’s how we were raised. We were raised with a spirit of, you give what you have, and you serve your community. You do your part.
How did your upbringing and relationship with your father impact the man you are today?
My father was my first role model, and he remains my role model in many ways. I’ve always wanted to be like my father. He was bold. He was charismatic. He was caring. He was principled. And those are all the things I wanted to be. He was very disciplined and focused on what he wanted. And he lived by his extremely strong convictions. He was a vegetarian; I’m not. He didn't have a TV in his house; I have six. But I admired his level of conviction. I try to have that same kind of conviction. My father has six kids and all of us have a similar heart for other people and for serving other people. We very much get that from our father.
Who are you as a Father?
As a father, I see myself as a protector, as a visionary, as a model, and as a nurturer. I have four children. I have two boys, two girls; three in high school and one eleven year old. I see myself as a protector because I feel like I very much need to protect them from the things that detract them from their purpose. I very much feel like I need to protect them from that, and provide a space where they feel safe and can grow. I feel like a visionary because I’m able, as their Dad, to see things in them that they may not see for themselves. I want to be able to speak to the vision of who they are and what they could be. I see myself as a model. I don’t just want to speak at them, I want to model my values. I want them to see how much I love their mom, see how much I love God, see how much I love and am willing to sacrifice for others. I want them to see that I follow my convictions. Finally, I see myself as a nurturer. I want to love them, I want to have time to hear them and be there when they need me. I want to be able to give them the stuff they need, at the time they need it. And that includes my time and words of affirmation, and that includes fun times and enjoyment.
How do you balance your career as an artist/entrepreneur while also trying to
show up as the best dad you can be? This is one of the problems that I’ve wrestled with since the time I’ve had kids. My relationship to work has been largely unhealthy because I’ve often put work over my children, not necessarily on purpose but because I've associated providing for them with providing for them financially. And so I’ve had to check that. Last year, I took the whole year off from my day-to-day job at my organization as a way to try to find a better balance between being an entrepreneur chasing his dream and living my purpose as a father. There’s no better role than to be a father and to be a life partner with somebody. And so those were things that I wanted to shift. I want my children to know that they can have a dream they can chase, they can have a purpose that they love, they can have something that they’re building on their own–but that their commitment to their family, and their commitment to their partner or to their children, can benefit that work when it’s prioritized. The work is actually better when you’re a whole person. I’ve found that I’m a better entrepreneur, when I’m living into my role as a father and as a partner.
If you could write a short letter to your dad starting with “Dear Father”, what would you say?
I would say, Dear Father, you are the best father that God could have ever given me, and I cherish every moment that we’ve had. I’m glad that I carry so many of your qualities. You’ve taught me how to love God, how to love others, how to be unselfish, and how to live within. Most importantly, you’ve been my father. And no matter what, nothing will change that, and I’m so happy about that.
What’s next for you? How can people follow you?
I have three kids about to go to college, so I’m going to be chasing them around their campuses. I’ll likely be trying to find work as a guest speaker in their cities. To learn more about the work I’m doing and where I’m speaking, hit up my social (@coachtunde on Instagram) or go to creativehustle.org and streetcode.org.