Dana Dennard does not look like the everyday CEO. From his cornrows to his African garments, the Florida A&M University psychology professor’s style is draped in culture and self-awareness.
“Dr. Dennard is a doer; he really goes out there and makes whatever he wants to do happen,” said FAMU alumnus John Baxter, 25, who is from Fort Lauderdale. Dennard has used these elements to build a portfolio of successful businesses.
By concentrating on filling a void instead of making a dollar, his enterprise has created an outlet for the community and allowed him to receive a superior economic return on his investment.In 1990, Dennard founded the Ahket Center. The center began as a black cultural center where people could be enriched by lectures, public discussions and other culturally stimulating activities.
Dennard thought a center with this mission and purpose was paramount to the future success of black people.
“I was trying to do something to help the community,” Dennard said.
The building’s initial setup had Amen Ra’s Bookshop in the front, a social room behind it and a private office. There were many challenges in starting the center, mainly finding funding for the center. Dennard decided to finance the center with his credit cards.
Despite its rough beginnings, the Ahket Center served as a model for other black entrepreneurs who wanted to open similar centers to educate black people. Many visitors stopped by for inspiration to begin their own cultural centers.
“The Ahket Center is a real relaxing environment where you really get a chance to enlighten yourself,” said Jessica Noel, 19, a freshman general studies student from Fort Lauderdale.
“A lot of other minorities that live here in America are able to be strong-willed and become successful because they still have a strong cultural presence,” Dennard said.
“In the black community, we have lost our culture. If we can get that back, we can solve a lot of our problems,” Dennard continued.
Dennard made his first expansion in 1993 by moving the Ahket Center to 812 S. Macomb St.
He started the Sakara Youth Institute from this new location. It initially began as a summer program geared toward teaching kids about black culture.
The institute grew from 45 kids the first summer to 145 the next year.
When it was time for Dennard’s daughter to start school, he created his own kindergarten. He officially changed the Sakara Youth Institute from a summer camp to a school.
“As psychologists, we are often called after the problem is too big,” Dennard explained.
“A lot of what’s wrong at the schools is not what happens in the classroom, but the hostility of the learning environment,” Dennard said.
His first class consisted of three students, two of which were his daughters.
By 1995, with the school’s population reaching 30, he purchased another building for the school.
Today, the Ahket Center and Amen Ra’s Bookstore are located on South Macomb Street. The center still hosts community events and gives residents a chance to showcase their skills. “It’s a very inviting environment that encourages you to seek knowledge,” said Florida State University English literature student Shamilia McBean, 20.
Dennard still teaches psychology at FAMU, but he is expanding into the film industry with Ahket Films. His first film, “21 Doors,” will be released in December.