Award-Winning Business Entrepreneur With a Community Focus
Rodney Gullatte Jr., is one of six honored with the Mayor’s Young Leaders Award. Every year, the city of Colorado Springs accepts nominees across a wide range of respective fields. Mr. Gullatte won this prestigious award in the Technology and Sustainability category. He is the owner of FIRMA IT Solutions. Mr. Gullatte is very successful as a businessman, but he is also an impactful member of the community. Here’s his perspective on winning this highly coveted award:
Why did you start your business?
My business was birthed out of necessity. I joined the Air Force, in 2001, with hopes of landing a job in cybersecurity. That did not happen, but I performed the job I was given to the best of my ability. After leaving the Air Force in 2004, I became a military spouse. This requires the sacrifice of frequent moves, and sometimes not to the communities of your choice. I’m thankful to have worked in a multitude of positions where I could really showcase my talent as an IT specialist. I was grateful to be recognized by leadership, and this helped me be promoted above my peers. It is also fair to mention there are not a lot of people of color in these positions. The opportunities, I have been given to excel, comes from strong mentorship and giving my best to every job or position I hold. Being great at what you do, is a choice.
After losing my job, due to contract negotiations, I was able to land a job with the Department of Defense. I had come full circle back to the Air Force. I was now doing the job I signed up to do when I enlisted. This time it was as a civilian. That particular job held a lot of weight within the Air Force hierarchy and came with a lot of incentives, responsibilities, and privileges. There was a lot of freedom that came with that job. I was able to excel in my position, and I was also able to authentically be myself while doing it. I had a huge office with Biggie, Pac, and Marvin Gaye art hanging on my walls. The fact that I didn’t have to diminish myself, or my love of my culture, is not an opportunity that everyone gets in their career, and I do not take that for granted.
After this, I was given a chance at a very lucrative position, but the contract offer was rescinded due to the downturn of the economy. At this point, I was very confident I could branch out and be a successful business owner in the IT field. Taking the initiative to create my own wealth vs. putting that in the hands of another establishment is very powerful. I knew it was the right move for my family and myself.
What fuels your desire to be an impactful community member?
While living in Key West Florida, I was able to head the Goombay Festival. It is the only event of its kind in that area. It is the only showcase for the local black community to display their heritage. The festival had been suffering and was on the verge of closing. Personally, I saw it as an opportunity to be the change I wanted to see. It was an eye-opening experience. I realized that success is not just your own. I used my skills, my training, and entrepreneurial spirit to benefit my community. Everywhere I have lived, I have become affiliated with those local organizations that are affecting change. I want to better any community I live in, but also when it is my time to leave, I want it to be better because I was there. I brought that mentality with me to Colorado Springs. I got involved in the local community as soon as I could. Not too long after joining the Rotary Club, I was chosen to be the president. I was the first black president in the 104-year history of the organization. It is nice to be recognized as a community leader, but my goal is not self-gain. My drive comes from how I can use this position, I have received, to help others. I believe in making connections with people to help them grow. I think the people I surround myself see that in me, too. I’m constantly meeting new people, and I am always asking, “How can I help you? What are your aspirations? What’s your next plan?” I consider it an honor to not only ask the questions, but to truly be able to help people meet their next goals, especially, within the black community. 2020 is a time where we can really step into our own lanes of greatness, and a time to lean on each other to create the future we want.
Tell us your thoughts when you found out you were nominated for the Young Leaders Award.
It was somewhat of a shock because I didn’t go out seeking this award. I heard of the Mayor’s award about two years ago, so to be nominated was a great feeling. I was happy to be a finalist. It does feel good to know that I’m just out here doing things to the best of my ability, and there are people out there who consider me worthy of recognition. When you are being a blessing to your community, people see that and appreciate it.
Being at the event itself was somewhat surreal. Of course, there was social distancing, and this year, the in-person gathering was smaller than normal. However, my parents and others were able to attend virtually, so it felt good to have them “there with me.” They had a city of Colorado Springs Olympic City USA pin on the table. Honestly, I would have been honored to walk away with that. Hearing them call my name as a winner, felt wonderful. I had some amazing competitors within my category, so it is truly an honor.
What change do you hope to bring about in the future?
I would like to use the recognition I receive to recognize others. The city of Colorado Springs has so much potential. I know my part in seeing this city thrive. I want others to see that their contributions matter as well. That’s why I continue to do what I do. I grew up in Marietta, GA, and the black community was very strong. I was involved in a lot of activities, so participating and building in my community is truly what I am used to. Growing up in Metro Atlanta, shaped my thinking as far as community involvement.
I believe Colorado Springs is on the rise. As a father, I want to make it that type of town for my kids, and for other people’s kids, as well. If our generation does this right, we can raise up the next generation to be community influencers, as well. That was my reason for starting the Black Business Network. When I watch “Black is King” by Beyonce, and hearing her say: “Our brothers and sisters are walking around with crowns in their back pockets.” That really resonated with me. Does my success really count if I’m not using it to help others succeed?
I’m excited about what the future has in store for all of us because I believe there’s a lot of greatness coming our way. Our people are getting into positions of leadership and influence. There is a light being shone on our achievements. There is definitely more media coverage of our wins. In addition, we are creating our own media coverage with avenues like My Black Colorado. The more we can positively impact the images in the media, the more we can share with the community, and then the more pride we can have in our community. It’s good for our people to see ourselves in public doing great things. It’s easy to see ourselves in public doing not-so-great things. But how can we get those stories to reverse and show people that the negative things said about us, are not our whole story?
How do you see executing change within our community?
Cooperation, communication, and consistency. There are threats and dangers specific to every community, but the black community faces some pretty unique and quite literal threats to our success, and honestly our existence. As a people, pulling together to face those threats is important, and that’s the beauty of networking. Everyone using his/her specific skill set, talent, or influence for community growth. Putting all of our pieces together to make a strong whole is how we win. There are a lot of different ways to do it. We’re starting to see it be done now, and we have to stay consistent. Yes, it’s going to take a lot of work, but with consistently focused effort, we will make the change that we want. The goal is to find some like-minded people and just do it. John Maxwell said, “Sometimes you win; sometimes you learn.” Adopting this philosophy reminds us that there are no losers, only winners. It’s our duty to recognize and draw out the winner in each other.