Thirty-five-year-old Atlanta entrepreneur Ray Mills has given back to the elementary school that he says helped keep him safe and influenced his successful path as an entrepreneur and youth mentor.
The businessman, real estate investor, and author who was brought up by his grandparents, was educated at Love T. Nolan Elementary School during his first- through fifth-grade years in the early ’90s.
“It was good for the type of community that we were in, it helped us,” Mills told Atlanta Black Star. “It definitely shielded us from, you know, the gang violence and the shooting, it was a safe haven for me.”
Outside of the classroom, he worked hard to cut grass throughout his neighborhood. However, as a student, Mills says his temper and misbehavior often landed him in trouble.
Love T. Nolan first opened in 1975 as a K-7 school in the Atlanta suburb of College Park. Now located within the borders of the new city of South Fulton, over 800 students are enrolled from pre-K through fifth grade, according to Fulton County Schools.
Mills says he learned that last October that the school’s wooden marquee sign had broken and fallen down. “My grandparents still live five houses down from the school, so I’m over there literally every day to check on my grandparents, and I’ve seen it down,” Mills said.
South Fulton City Councilman Khalid Kamau reached out to the entrepreneur asking if he would be able to contribute to replacing the sign. The school’s goal was to reportedly raise $35,000 to upgrade the broken sign to a new digital marquee.
“The councilman called and said, ‘Hey, Ray, would you be interested in helping [replace the] sign?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve seen it down, it’s been down for a while,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, they need X amount of dollars to finish it,’” Mills said.
‘That’s OK, count me in, whatever they need, let’s count me in,’” he’d agreed.
In February, Mills presented Love T. Nolan Elementary School an $8,000 check toward replacing the marquee. Mills says he feels fortunate to have been able to help.
“It was an honor to even be in position to be blessed enough to be in position to give back to the same school that gave so much to me,” he said.
Before becoming the man he is today, Mills says he came from a rough neighborhood ridden with gun violence. “We were actually the murder capital of the country two years in a row, College Park,” he said of his hometown.
In 2019, the city’s crime rate was 2.7 times greater than the national average and higher than the crime rate of 98.7% cities in the United States, according to City-Data.com.
Mills says he sold drugs and got into trouble with the law in his early 20s, but his turning point came when his now 11-year-old daughter was born and when his grandfather stopped coming to his rescue. He sat in jail for three months.
“One day I called from jail, he said, ‘I’m not coming to get you,’ he said, ‘You know better,’” Mills recalled.
Today, Mills says he’s become a self-made millionaire. The father of three continues to give back to the neighborhood in which he was raised.
“I tell people all the time, ‘The streets are undefeated. There’s two ways: death or in jail,’” Mills said. “They’re undefeated though, you won’t win.”
The new digital sign will be erected by the summer.