Hello! I'm Michael Oteka, the guy behind the "It's Good" bar. Not pictured is my wife, Jessica, but I wouldn't be behind the bar without her. Together, we are "It's Good."
We create healthy beverage products that are good for the body and do good for the community, existing to bring communities together and to offer unique life giving products and experiences while also inspiring youth to become leaders and entrepreneurs.
My wife and I have been working with youth for over 15 years. In 2019, we co-founded a private school in the inner city of Atlanta where we also provided student housing for up to 15 youth at a time. These youth had families who were struggling with housing stability, making it increasingly difficult for the kids to stay steady in school.
As we began to live our daily lives with the youth we housed, we came to realize that the majority of the kids in our community already had major health issues. They lacked the proper nutrients their bodies needed to grow, to develop properly, and to mentally be able to focus on school. In the first few months of housing students, there were numerous 911 calls regarding health scares for kids who were too young and too loved for that.
After doing further research, we found that the life expectancy in the neighborhood we were working in was, on average, 14 years less than the surrounding middle class neighborhoods. To the lack of our surprise, the primary cause was poor health conditions.
Our community was a food dessert and the title 1 public school district, which is where most of the kids were getting their primary meals for the day, served the same food as they did in prisons. Fresh fruits and vegetables were rare to find in a school lunch meal. Our community was surrounded by the cheapest fast food places, liquor stores, and dialysis centers. There was no healthy grocery store in sight.
The second problem was that our community was extractive, meaning money and resources would come into the community but would quickly flow out again because those sources didn't have the necessary businesses within the community to thrive. As community members got paid, they had to leave the community to get what they needed, which has fueled the cycle of poverty for generations.
During this time of gaining new understanding and knowledge about what our community truly needed, my wife and I were already on a health journey of our own. We decided to include our student family by teaching the kids about health and nutrition and began implementing fresh and healthy meals with the student housing.
Plowing along on our big health journey, we discovered one of the most nutritious foods available on planet earth: a mineral packed seaweed known as Chondrus Crispus Sea Moss. This potent sea moss has up to 92 of the 102 vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to both survive and thrive. The majority of people's bodies don’t take in a fourth of the vitamins and minerals they need daily, so we found this miracle seawood to potentially be an excellent way to boost nutrition quickly.
This became a convenient and affordable solution to make the bioavailability of nutrients and minerals available to the youth! So, at the student’s house, we began to experiment with different drink recipes where we could incorporate the sea moss and other nutrient packed ingredients.
We wanted it to taste good so that the kids would love it while also preserving the sole purpose of providing the much needed nutrients for them to start living a healthy lifestyle. The recipes were such a hit, the kids would beg for the drinks everyday after school. They also got to be a part of creating the recipes, which made them excited to learn more about health.
Eventually, our sea moss beverages and fresh fruits and vegetables were replacing hot Cheetos and ramen noodles without any complaints! The kids were starting to see and feel the benefits of eating healthier and being active in their own health journeys. They didn’t feel like they were missing out because some of the beverages tasted sweet like a dessert.
This led us to think about how we could help solve the nutrition deficit in and around our community as well as provide entrepreneurship opportunities to the youth, helping to solve the generational poverty issue, while providing an excellent and life giving product to the world around us. The kids and I started selling small batches of our drinks to the local barbershops, surrounding businesses, and even selling batches door to door in the community. To our surprise, everyone loved the product with us, and we sold out every time!
We came up with the concept of mobile health bars where youth have the opportunity to become franchise business owners after they have gone through a leadership, service, and business training program.
The mobile health bars can easily be moved to different locations and events and have much lower start up costs and greater flexibility than a brick and mortar store.
We learned quickly that the kids we were working with were highly intelligent and natural born entrepreneurs. They have learned how to survive and hustle to make it through extremely challenging circumstances in life. We believe that if we give them a vision with a system and opportunity to break the cycle, they will stay off of the streets, out of trouble, and become who they were creating to be, changing their communities and the world.
And it's just the beginning!