Dasawn Gray, 15, is one of the most talented and versatile young men that Joey Hebner, who heads up the RAGS Block Club, ever remembers meeting.
RAGS, which represents residents of Renova, Aluvian, Glenwood and Sunnyside streets, is one of the many entities in Hazelwood with a mission to enhance the quality of life for residents and the community. It is also one of the places where Gray is heavily involved as a volunteer, which includes cooking a good deal of the food for their fundraising events.
“His skills and talents are so many that it is hard to keep up with them,” Hebner says. “Not only does he do them, he does them all well. We recently held a chili dinner for a fundraiser, and he cooked all of the chili.”
Gray has made a profound impact on those who know him. His confident demeanor, mature sensibilities, superior entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to excellence in service makes him a standout.
Connie Denio, one of his English teachers from Pittsburgh Mifflin Pre-K-8, gave an exuberant overview of his qualities.
“This young man, who has been through so much, has demonstrated a mastery of entrepreneurship that I have never witnessed in my 31 years of teaching,” Denio says. “He is always open to learning new things and has never backed away from an opportunity to grow. Once, he entered a hoagie-selling contest to raise money for the students to go to on an end-of-year trip. Dasawn sold so many hoagies that he not only made enough money for his own trip, he was able to make contributions to other students who needed more money.”
His penchant for business began at an early age.
“I was in fifth grade when I began baking, and selling chocolate chip and sugar cookies in my school,” Gray recalls. “I was making 12 to 15 dozen at a time and every day I sold out. My brother was a rapper and I would take his CDs Downtown and sell them for $5 —and he would give me $2 of each sale.”
Gray’s abilities provide him opportunities to serve his community. He works on a variety of fundraising projects that support the development of Hazelwood’s new vibrancy.
Among other things, he is a member of the Hazelwood Youth Media Justice Program, which teaches photography, audio, journalism and social media to youth in the Hazelwood area. Driven by the principles of social justice, participants learn basic journalism skills and how to use digital equipment, social media platforms and create podcasts.
Gray is involved in the photography portion of this and is fully on track to begin doing photo journalism. He also fundraises for the group.
His current ongoing enterprise is his Flicker Candle Company, through which he sells candles, soap and jewelry. The unique aspect of this business is that he makes all the candles and soaps from natural products—and his mother makes the jewelry.
His customers come by word of mouth, from the schools he has attended and the neighborhoods where he volunteers. His products are also carried in a local grocery store on Hazelwood Avenue.
The technology-and-business-infused curriculum at City Charter High School, where he is a sophomore, helps Gray cultivate his business development practices.
“I learn a lot about running a business at school, but I do my own research as well,” he says. “I read up on the best way to make candles with natural products, and I watched a lot of YouTube videos to get instructions that way.”
His accomplishments and his efforts have special meaning after prevailing through the tragic loss of his older brother, Raymond, who, along with a first cousin, lost their lives to gun violence.
“We’ve had our struggles and heartaches,” says his mother, Louise Gray, “but I’ve seen Dasawn keep on moving in a positive direction—helping others remains his way of getting through it.”
Gray’s mother explains that she tried to teach her children to work hard, treat people the way you want to be treated, embrace and learn what you can from all people, and learn by your own mistakes to make your life better.
Gray is very clear in his goal to go to college and graduate with a degree in business. After college, he plans to begin culinary training so that he can ultimately open a food truck, where he will offer organic food.