I had the pleasure of speaking with Elijah Shaw, personal security to the who’s who. A man who grew up in an Ida B Wells projects in inner city Chicago. He didn’t succumb to his environment/his community. He knew there was more for him in this world and had to get out of the projects. Elijah attended college, majored in film and in order to pay for college, he got his first security job at a night club. While working during this time in college he really enjoyed it so much that it didn’t feel like work. Based on the jobs discussed he really started from the bottom now he’s here. In 1998, he started his company – ICON Global which has grown to be a leader in the personal protection industry.
Elijah’s clientele ranges from top executives to celebrities. His time is split nationally and internationally which has allowed him to travel around the world five times. Elijah also trains security professionals and civilians. If he didn’t have a ton on his plate, he also finds the time giving back. One of his latest charity endeavors is the creation of a site called Life Up There. Life Up there is a website where people can buy the pictures that Elijah’s taken during his travels. The proceeds from those sales are used to purchase cameras for youth to explore the world around them.
Here’s what Elijah had to say.
Where did the idea “Life Up There” stem from?
“I get to see a lot of places which is a byproduct of my job. What I noticed over these years was that I will be in these amazing places and was so consumed with work that I didn’t get to see these places. I remember thinking that I’ve been to Paris France like four times and never saw the Eifel Tower. This was my inspiration to start taking the pictures (note: I am an amateur photographer). So what I implemented was that I would go to an assignment a day earlier or stay a day later (after completing my assignment) and explore the cities or countryside. I figured that I needed to host the photos on a platform other than Instagram or Facebook. When I started hosting them on a website, people would reach out asking if they could buy the pictures. I then thought it would be cool to get others who maybe couldn’t afford a camera that opportunity to take pictures.”
What was the atmosphere like in the projects you grew up?
“I grew up there in the late 70s. I was there in the 80s. It was interesting because we were very poor but everyone around us was poor. So we didn’t know we were poor. I had a very strong family structure. My mom was involved. I actually lived with my grandparents at the time. They made sure that I didn’t stray too far from the path. That was also the time of the introduction of crack cocaine to the inner cities. I was actually there to see people spiral downward. It was this weird mix of seeing a neighborhood and a community in decline. I made a decision that I needed to get out.”
What has been your most honorable assignment and why?
“I can give you one of my most honorable assignments. A lot of times, I am put in the situation to facilitate things – to help people to get from point A to point B safely and to help them do something they always wanted to do. People equate what I do to working with celebrities but I work with a number of high profile individuals. One of the other things that I do, I have a program called the ISC Safety -Net. In this program, we volunteer our security services (the same services we offer to politicians and CEOs) to women who were victims of domestic violence. We do this pro bono because they can’t afford the service. This is another way that I give back to the community from the success I’ve been fortunate enough to experience over the years. The response was overwhelming, so much that I scaled it down and started working with shelters. I eventually was offered an opportunity to sit on the board of directors for six years for the Women’s Advocates, Inc. This definitely ranks up there in my top 10 of the most honorable assignments.”
What would you tell the youth and adults in the inner cities to inspire them?
“I would say to them that you are more than your current circumstances and the world is a big place. That is kind of a mantra that I say around the people who know me. You don’t have to be defined by just where you are in that moment. If you can think outside of the box (look beyond the corner, look beyond the neighborhood, or beyond the city), there are other opportunities and you kind of have to create them. I think that’s what holds a lot of people back is fear. It’s the fear of the unknown. It’s the fear of failing. Fear of having to try something new and that not working out and they have to go around their peers. However, if we can put that aside for a second and take that risk/challenge, with that risk could come rewards.”
What advice are you giving to young African American men in this society to be strong entrepreneurs?
“I try to make sure that I am a walking example. With television and social media you have the opportunity to have many images thrown before you. If all of the images are negative or poor reflections of how we want to be and seems to be the majority, then the majority would be cool. So I try to present an alternative by how I carry myself, how I act, and the image I portrait. I try to live the way I would want somebody else to live. When I am talking to the youth, I try to figure out what they want to do and how they can be inspired. A lot of times kids are yearning for something but they are not really sure what that is. I tell them to look at the cool things that I do and you can do them too because we come from the same type of environment and background.”
What are three words to describe your security firm and why?
“Contemporary – A lot of my peers who own security firms on the same level as ICON Global have been in the business for many years. Sometimes they are missing the contemporary piece because they have been in it for so long. However, in security you have to stay up to date on what’s going on. When I speak to these guys at security conferences and the topic of social media comes up, and they have no idea of what Twitter is. How could you not know about this because this is what people use (good or bad)? You have to know these things.
Experienced – again this is the only thing that I’ve ever done. Where someone may have joined the military and been overseas for two or three tours or been in law enforcement for 20 years then they come out and start a security agency. All I’ve done is on the job training since I’ve been in college. So while they were doing a different type of career, I was doing this type of business – that’s real world experience.
Thinks outside of the box – when people think of security they think about these knuckle draggers who want to get into a fight or something from TV where people are doing Kung Fu and jumping in front of bullets. The reality of what we do is to problem solve, we do logistics. My job is to get the client from point A to point B safely as possible, protecting them and their brand. In order to do this, you have to think outside of the box without intruding in their lives as little as possible. “
What is your perspective of the current state of society?
Part of what I do is risk analysis. I look at a situation and read between the lines to filter out the data that doesn’t matter and pay attention to the data that will help me accomplish whatever task I have. What I see is that whoever shapes the narrative sets the agenda. What I mean by that is if you pick a place and based on whatever someone tells you about the place (good, bad, or in between). People have been telling you that the inner city is full of deadbeats and drug dealers, then that becomes the narrative. I would love for there to be alternative voices which would offer different perspectives so people can be informed that there a nuances to everything. I think people are lacking because of ignorance. They are ignorant because they don’t have the right information because they are getting it from one source. In today’s society, there are many sources of information and you have to look for the information. You can’t just go to CNN and expect it to be the truth because they have their own agendas. People need to be able to read between the lines.
As you have read, Elijah is an inspiration. I too come from the projects like him and appreciate all of his inspiring words to make people realize that there is more to life, more to this world. Join me and support Elijah on his journey. Stay connected via the following avenues:
- Link to Elijah’s company website, ICON Global: www.industry-icon.com
- Link to Elijah’s Bodyguard Blog giving you a look behind the business: www.bodyguardblog.com
- Link to view and purchase Elijah’s photos captured during his world travels. ALL PROCEEDS GO TOWARDS PROVIDING CAMERAS FOR INNER CITY YOUTH: www.lifeupthere.com
Best wishes and continued success Elijah! #lifeupthere #ICON