Goodbye Homeboy: How My Students Drove Me Crazy and Inspired a Movement

Goodbye Homeboy: How My Students Drove Me Crazy and Inspired a Movement


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One sunny afternoon in 1982, a young businessman experienced a terrifying mugging in New York City that shook him to his core.

Tortured by nightmares about the teens who roughed him up, Steve Mariotti sought counseling. When his therapist suggested that he face his fears, Mariotti closed his small import-export business and became a teacher at the city’s most notorious public school--Boys and Girls High in Bed-Stuy.

Although his nightmares promptly ceased, Mariotti’s out-of-control students rapidly drove him to despair.

One day, Mariotti stepped out of the classroom so his students wouldn’t see him cry. In a desperate move to save his job, he took off his watch and marched back in with an impromptu sales pitch for it. To his astonishment, his students were riveted. He was able to successfully lead a math lesson for the first time.

Mariotti realized his students felt trapped in soul-crushing poverty. They saw zero connection between school and improving their lives. Whenever Mariotti connected their lessons to entrepreneurship, though, even his most disruptive students got excited about learning.

School administrators disapproved of Mariotti discussing money in the classroom, however. He was repeatedly fired before receiving one last-ditch assignment: an offsite program for special-ed students expelled from the public schools for violent crimes.

The success Mariotti had with these forgotten children—including coverage in the Daily News, The New York Times, and World News Tonight—inspired him to found the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to bring entrepreneurship education to low-income youth.

By turns tragic and hilarious, Goodbye Homeboy shares Mariotti’s flaws and missteps as he connects deeply with his troubled students, and woos the most influential people in the world into helping them--saving himself in the process.

Today, Mariotti is widely recognized as the world’s leading advocate for entrepreneurship education. More than one million young people from Chicago to China have graduated from NFTE programs, and NFTE counts Sean Combs, Chelsea Clinton, Diana Davis Spencer, and many more business, entertainment, and community leaders among its staunchest supporters.

As Goodbye Homeboy powerfully illustrates, a spark of hope really can empower us to overcome life’s greatest hardships.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948836005
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 08/06/2019
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,249,706
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Steve Mariotti is the founder and former CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), and an advocate for entrepreneurs worldwide. His previous books include the Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting and Running a Business and An Entrepreneur’s Manifesto, which makes a convincing case for the power of entrepreneurship education to combat poverty, terrorism and totalitarianism. Mariotti is also the author of award-winning junior, high-school and college textbooks on entrepreneurship and small business management. He is a popular Huffington Post blogger.

In 1982, Mariotti left a successful business career to become a public high-school teacher in tough New York City neighborhoods like East New York, Bed-Study, and Fort Apache in the South Bronx. Frustrated at first by his rowdy classrooms, Mariotti discovered he could motivate even his most challenging students by teaching them how to run a small business. This experience inspired him to create NFTE in 1987 to bring entrepreneurship education to low-income youth, and empower them to create pathways out of poverty. Today, NFTE is widely considered the leading provider of entrepreneurship education to low-income youth worldwide.

Debra Devi is an award-winning author, journalist and musician based in Jersey City NJ. She has co-authored numerous books with Steve Mariotti, including The Young Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business, How to Start and Operate a Small Business, winner of the Golden Lamp Award for excellence in educational publishing, and An Entrepreneur's Manifesto. Devi's book The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu (foreword by Dr. John) received the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. As a journalist, Devi has written for Investor's Daily, American Banker, Crain's New York, The Village Voice,, Guitar World and more. An accomplished guitarist and singer, Devi performs internationally and received a proclamation from Jersey City for her contribution to the arts.

Read an Excerpt



"If the Martians ever find out how human beings think, they'll kill themselves laughing."

— Albert Ellis, Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy (1962)

I can't say I wasn't scared. It was September 1982, and I was headed to my first day as a teacher at Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Boys and Girls High generated newspaper headlines like:



The headlines were only the tip of the iceberg. The school had been in serious trouble for years. In just one semester in 1977, forty-eight teachers and staff members were physically assaulted. Once, a teacher had a heart attack on the school grounds. As he lay dying, his watch and wallet were stolen. Students were regularly robbed and assaulted on school grounds.

I was amazed that Boys and Girls High was still open, let alone functioning as a learning institution. It was considered the most dangerous high school in New York City, if not the nation.

As I walked from my Greenwich Village studio to the West 4th Street subway station wearing my favorite Brooks Brothers suit, I felt intense fear. Nothing in my background had prepared me for this challenge.

What had I gotten myself into?

* * *

In 1977, while teachers were being beaten up at Boys and Girls High, I graduated with an MBA from the University of Michigan. Upon graduation, I was awarded a scholarship to study economics over the summer at the Institute for Humane Studies in Menlo Park, California, thanks to my paper "A Statistical Test of the Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle."

I was overjoyed to be one of twenty young economists selected nationwide. Our reward was three months of theory, discussion, and research with F. A. Hayek, the 1974 Nobel Prize winner in economics. I was in geek heaven.

At the end of that magical summer, I began my career on the tenth floor of Ford Motor Company's sleek world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. I had the best job a young MBA could dream of landing. I was an analyst for the legendary Ford Finance Staff developed by the "Whiz Kids," ten young army officers, including Robert McNamara, hired by Henry Ford II in 1946 to revitalize his company after World War II.

Ford Motor Company would hire twenty young men per year to work at world headquarters and only expect to keep one. This extremely competitive environment had produced more Fortune 500 CEOs than any other organization except Harvard Business School.

I was a financial analyst for two Ford divisions: South Africa and aerospace. I survived by also leading a team that devised strategies lowering Ford's interest payments on its corporate debt by several million dollars annually. My youthful enthusiasm and knack for international finance earned me the nickname "Stevie Wonder."

At twenty-four, I was leapfrogging over career hurdles and getting an inside look at how one of America's largest corporations operated. It was thrilling!

I soon learned, however, that speaking one's mind on controversial subjects went over like a lead balloon in the corporate world.

I had become a fan of civil rights leader Reverend Leon Sullivan. In 1971, Sullivan joined the General Motors board of directors, becoming the first African American to serve on a major corporation's board. Sullivan helped expand GM's employment of African Americans and creation of more African American — owned dealerships.

During a trip he took with GM board members to tour the automaker's facilities in South Africa, only Sullivan was detained and strip-searched at the airport by South African authorities. This humiliating experience galvanized Sullivan into fighting apartheid. In 1977, he published the Sullivan Principles. These were guidelines for American companies operating in South Africa under the white minority government's apartheid regime, which was severely oppressing the country's black majority.

Sullivan argued that American companies had a moral obligation to treat their workers in South Africa as they would be treated in the United States. American companies should, therefore, desegregate factory floors and company cafeterias in their South African factories and provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of race. Sullivan also lobbied GM and other large corporations to disinvest while apartheid was still in effect.

I began corresponding with Sullivan in my capacity as an analyst for Ford's South Africa division. I disagreed with him about divestment, because I thought closing plants would only take jobs from South Africans who needed them, but I wrote Sullivan that I supported his other initiatives and would seek to promote them at Ford.

I began openly questioning in meetings and memos whether Ford should continue selling surveillance equipment to a racist government. The National Party was cracking down on any opposition with brutal force, including the death by torture while in police custody of anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko on September 12, 1977.

When you were hired at Ford, you signed an agreement stating that if you witnessed any employee make a political statement in writing, you would report it immediately to your higher-up. I still remember my poor supervisor running down the hall to the assistant treasurer's office, waving one of my many memos about South Africa and shouting "Code 728!"

I made enough of a stink that it reached the board of directors, and Henry Ford II created a thirty-person committee to study Ford's dealings with the apartheid regime. Ford Motor Company did eventually reduce its business with the South African government. As international outcry against apartheid grew, Ford divested from South Africa entirely in 1988.

I had been on the fast track at Ford, but now I heard my colleagues whispering to each other when I walked by them in the hallways. When I entered the cafeteria for lunch, a thousand people would turn and stare at me.

One day, my supervisor told me I was simply too controversial. After twenty-five months at Ford, I was sacked, with eighteen months' severance in recognition of my financial achievements at the company.

I had grown up in Flint, Michigan. My dad was a professor at General Motors Institute, and I had always dreamed of a career in the auto industry. When I was fired, I cried in front of my supervisor. I was twenty-six and convinced my life was over.

I was allowed to finish that awful workday in order to avoid further humiliation. As I walked through the parking lot for the very last time, I looked up toward my old office on the tenth floor. Around thirty of my colleagues were standing at the windows, solemnly waving goodbye.

In 2000, a year before he died, Reverend Sullivan came to visit me in New York City. He brought fifty letters I had written to him during my tenure at Ford. He told me that he had always wanted to meet me. I was deeply honored to meet him.

* * *

Burned out on corporate life, and with zero prospects in Flint, I decided to move to New York City. I needed a fresh start far from home where no one would know how badly I had flamed out.

I thought maybe I would open a small business. I had always loved entrepreneurship. I started a golf ball resale business when I was eleven. I mowed lawns, did home repairs, and even ran a laundry service. All told, I had seven businesses from age eleven to twenty-one.

New York City was the perfect place to lick my wounds. I loved walking the streets and meeting wonderful people from so many different cultures. I made a Jamaican friend who told me he was having a tough time finding someone to represent him and other Jamaican artisans who wanted to sell their products in the United States.

"Gee, there's an opportunity!" I thought.

I traveled to Jamaica with a few contacts he had given me. I was searching for simple artisanal products like wood carvings, pythonskin belts, handmade jewelry, textiles, and pottery that might sell well in the States.

I named my new business Mason Import-Export, after my maternal grandfather, Lowell B. Mason. He was a libertarian lawyer and Illinois state senator appointed to the Federal Trade Commission by President Harry S. Truman, serving from 1945 to 1956. Soon, I was meeting fascinating people from all over the world looking for someone to represent their products to American stores.

I brought these entrepreneurs to New York City one at a time. Each would stay with me for a month and help pay my rent. In return, I would take him around town and introduce him to contacts I had developed at wholesalers and stores, earning 7 percent commission on whatever we sold. Every month someone new and exciting would come stay with me. I was having a blast!

Becoming an entrepreneur had an immediate beneficial effect on my self-esteem and outlook. At Ford, I was near the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. In New York, I was making less money, but I was the boss. I didn't have tons of capital or thousands of employees, yet I felt on top of the world.

I also felt really good about assisting my fellow entrepreneurs from Jamaica, Kenya, Bangladesh, and other distant places. I was helping them make money and improve their lives, too. I loved being self-employed, and started thinking about expanding into other ventures.

But then I learned another life lesson — about the dangers of living in a large city.

* * *

One sunny September afternoon in 1981, I set out for a jog. I had been a high school state wrestling champ back in Michigan and still liked to keep in shape.

I cruised down East 11th Street until I hit my favorite stretch, the wide paved walkway that runs along the East River and offers glorious views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, and Manhattan Bridge. Lots of people were out enjoying the cloudless bright blue sky and warm weather.

I passed some Latino and African American boys around fourteen years old, lounging against the railing that ran along the riverfront. They were looking at me rather intently, so I nodded and grunted, "The water's down a bit," as I trotted past them.

"Get him," one of them said.

Next thing I knew, someone had grabbed me from behind and wrenched my right arm behind my back. Stunned and in agony, it took me a moment to realize I was surrounded.

"Give us your money," a stocky boy with curly hair shorn into a high fade demanded.

I was shocked by their brazen attack. There were people everywhere. I was in so much pain, though, that I feared if I screamed for help the kid twisting my arm would break it. Six teens were surrounding me, and since I'm five foot six, they were effectively blocking me from view. I craned my neck, desperately trying to look past them to see if I could signal for help somehow. All I could glimpse was a nearby soccer field where a game was in full swing.

Somebody punched me hard in the chest. Someone else shoved me. Metal glinted in the afternoon sun. They had knives. Large knives.

Panicked, I fought with all my might, broke free and ran. They chased me and cornered me again.

"You better give us your money, you sonofabitch, or we're gonna slice your dick off," one of them snarled.

I had a ten-dollar bill in the pocket of my running shorts. I handed it over with trembling hands and tears streaming down my face. I couldn't believe this was happening in broad daylight. Rage poured off these kids. They waved their knives in my face, punched me, shoved me around, and taunted me. They backed me up against the railing. Two of them picked me up and lifted me over it, laughing and threatening to throw me into the river. I kicked and struggled, feeling utterly powerless and humiliated. Luckily, one kid signaled for the others to put me down.

After knocking me to the ground, the teens sauntered off. The attack was over as suddenly as it had begun. Dazed, I got to my feet, blinking in the bright afternoon sun. No one seemed to have noticed a thing.

As I stumbled out of East River Park, I nearly fell headfirst into three policemen.

"I've been mugged!" I gasped, pointing in the direction of my attackers. I put my hands on my knees and tried to catch my breath. I did my best to provide a useful description of the boys, and two officers bolted into the park. The third took me to the station to file a report.

Afterward, the entrepreneur in me wondered why these boys would mug someone in broad daylight and risk prison for ten dollars. If they had been able to sell me something, or ask me to invest in a business, they could have gotten a lot more money and it would have been a win/win situation for everyone.

* * *

Becoming an urban statistic was traumatic. I was plagued by flashbacks and nightmares that became more stressful than the experience itself. I was afraid of any tough-looking teenage male — and that described a lot of kids in New York City. I also felt a deep shame that I had been unable to defend myself against attackers half my age.

My sleep patterns were a wreck. I was struggling to keep my import-export business going because it was hard for me to wake up for the appointments my clients and I had with store buyers.

I knew I had a serious problem, so I dug out one of my favorite books: psychologist Albert Ellis's cognitive behavior classic A Guide to Rational Living.

I had read this book many times because it really helped me. My mother gave it to me when I couldn't stop moping after I failed to qualify for the varsity baseball team my junior year of high school. In two years, I had gone from being one of Flint's best shortstops to not making the team at my own school. Not a week would go by without some friend shouting at me in the school corridors, "Steve, what happened! You used to be so good at baseball!"

I knew why I hadn't made the team: While my former teammates had grown like weeds over the summer, I had barely grown at all. It seems silly to me now that I was so upset, but at the time I was inconsolable. Then, I read A Guide to Rational Living.

Ellis argued in his book that one's feelings could be changed by consciously changing one's thoughts. I couldn't feel any worse, so I decided to give his method a try.

The first step, I learned, was to identify and write down the thoughts disturbing me. That was easy: "You tiny little shrimp, you let your lack of height and strength get the better of you and you lost your seat on the team. If you're not good at baseball, what are you ever going to be good at?"

These caustic words were constantly running through my mind, making me miserable. Following Ellis's next instructions, I wrote down new, positive sentences designed to change my thoughts, and, hopefully, my gloomy teenage feelings: "I am a great wrestler, and in wrestling size does not matter, skill matters. I was AAU Michigan State Champ in 1969. Leaving baseball gives me more time to focus on wrestling!"

I felt better immediately! I wrote those sentences down over and over, said them out loud, and repeated them in my mind, as Ellis recommended, until I truly felt free of the pain of not making the team.

Over the years, I used Ellis's self-help method many times. It saved me during the breakup of my first romance, whenever I got poor grades in college, and when I lost my job at Ford.

Maybe it could help me now, I mused. Then, I had an exciting realization: Albert Ellis practiced psychotherapy in New York City! I wondered if I could possibly obtain an appointment with this legendary therapist. I just knew he would fix me right up.

I phoned the Albert Ellis Institute, located at 45 East 65th Street, and was told the doctor was not taking any new patients. Luckily, I had an ace in the hole. I knew Ayn Rand. Rand and Ellis were not exactly friends — they were more like intellectual sparring partners. But they ran in the same circles.

I actually had a meeting coming up with Ayn Rand, arranged by my grandfather Lowell Mason. He had been Rand's lawyer and friend for decades. Maybe she would help me connect with Albert Ellis.

I was not hugely hopeful, because I had already discovered on my previous meeting with Ayn Rand, also arranged by my grandfather, that she was rude and imperious. She was also extremely charming and charismatic. Ayn Rand scared the crap out of me, frankly, yet I also had a massive crush on her, even though at seventy-five she was nearly fifty years older than me.

When I was fourteen, my grandfather sent me Atlas Shrugged. It took me two months to read all 1,069 pages of Rand's famous novel. Atlas Shrugged was the first work of fiction I ever read that talked positively about entrepreneurs and the wealth they created. Today, I disagree with many aspects of Rand's philosophy, but back then, as a mini-entrepreneur, I loved Atlas Shrugged!

My first appointment with Ayn Rand was at 11 AM on Memorial Day, 1980. I was overdressed for the weather, and sweat streamed down my face as I paced around the block at 34th Street and Lexington Avenue several times, too freaked out to enter her apartment building. I could barely breathe. I was both exhilarated and terribly nervous. She was a great hero of mine. I had memorized many passages from Atlas Shrugged and The Shrugged and The Fountainhead.


Excerpted from "Goodbye Homeboy"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Steve Mariotti.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xiii

Preface 1

Chapter 1 Give Us Your Money 6

Chapter 2 Mr. Manicotti Goes to Brooklyn 24

Chapter 3 No More Mr. Nice Guy 37

Chapter 4 Fort Apache, The Bronx 56

Chapter 5 We Can Be Heroes 67

Chapter 6 I'm Sorry About Your Mom 83

Chapter 7 The Broken Typewriter Room 101

Chapter 8 Can You Hit Me Again? 118

Chapter 9 They Don't Pay You for That 133

Chapter 10 Now for the Upsell 152

Chapter 11 Mrs. Spratt 168

Chapter 12 Tough Like a Mother 179

Chapter 13 Scott La Rock 196

Chapter 14 It's Not About You 213

Chapter 15 The Have Fun Game 226

Chapter 16 To Serve Is to Rule 239

Chapter 17 Every Child Needs a Victory 252

Epilogue One More Day 266

Additional Credits 280

Acknowledgments 281

About the Authors 286

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This is an important, compelling story. Readers interested in the reality of extreme poverty and violence will find it well written, terrifying, and finally uplifting."

—Blue Ink Review

"A story that combines Steve’s depth of knowledge and experience as an entrepreneur with his exceptional humanity, and he brings his concepts and achievements to life in this personally charged memoir, a ‘novel’ in essence that is rich in relating the lives of the street youths of New York as well as a fine sense of humor."
San Francisco Review of Books

“Steve Mariotti’s moving memoir is a call to action for anyone who dares to dream, and dream big! Steve’s entrepreneurial spirit led him from calming his contentious classroom and nurturing his students’ ‘street smarts’ to becoming the founder of a booming nonprofit. Goodbye Homeboy powerfully illustrates how Steve went from reaching one student to reaching millions with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE).”

—Erin Gruwell, teacher and author of The Freedom Writers Diary

Goodbye Homeboy truly captures Steve Mariotti’s amazing journey as a teacher and an innovator. It’s engaging, heartbreaking, hopeful, and ultimately triumphant. This is the story behind the entrepreneurship-education revolution!”

—Jimmy “Mac” McNeal, founder of Bulldog Bikes Worldwide

“Steve Mariotti is one of the great teachers of our time. In this deeply personal memoir, he describes how a bunch of high-school dropouts in the South Bronx helped him discover the power of entrepreneurship education. Goodbye Homeboy is a page turner—once you open this book, you won’t be able to put it down.”

—Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up and founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organization

“I’m so inspired to finally read the inspiring, intense, and hilarious story behind the organization that helped me so much as a high schooler. NFTE taught me entrepreneurship skills that I still use to this day, as the CEO of a company that employs thousands and is transforming the real-estate industry.”

—Robert Reffkin, founder and CEO of Compass

“So many personal stories today are described as 'inspiring,' but Goodbye Homeboy is the rare true story that genuinely transcends the word. Steve Mariotti’s memoir conveys the heart, soul, and determination that has catalyzed the lives of so many young people.”

—Ray Chambers, World Health Organization Ambassador for Global Strategy

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