Jamal Holloway and his mentor Ryan Willis back were just beginning a journey in 2012 that would have a large part to play in Holloway’s future.
This six-year friendship began at the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in East Tennessee and both big and little brother realized even then the true blessing of this friendship.
“He treats me like I’m his real little brother and I take care of him and make sure he’s doing right so I’m like his little brother,” Holloway said in 2012.
Willis, an ad executive with Ackermann Marketing and PR in Knoxville, said at the time,”One of the things with Jamal is, every time we do something, we talk about school, we talk about life at home, not just for him but me as well.”
The two enjoyed getting together every few weeks; Willis always with an eye toward preparing Holloway for his future.
“Every time we talk, Jamal’s really big on getting a scholarship for college and we talk about ways he can meet that goal as he gets older,” said Willis.
The future as they alluded to, is here. WATE 6 On Your Side met with Holloway and Willis this week and noticed that Holloway is still learning from Willis, the partnership preparing the now Central High School senior for college, through a T-shirt project called “Positively Knox.”
“We basically came up with the idea to have him create a shirt from the beginning then take it all the way to the end, production, and market it,” Willis said.
Wills showed us the T-shirt up close, featuring Jamal’s favorite Knoxville landmark, the Sunsphere, and a list of words meant to inspire.
Holloway said with a smile, “Ryan knows how much I love the Sunsphere, so he was like, wow, that would be a great idea, and, for the words of it, we were like, think what we could symbolize for just, ‘positive’?”
The two are busy in Willis’s garage, folding and packing shirts to ship to customers through their online store at positivelyknox.com. All of the proceeds are going to Holloway’s college fund. For the senior, it’s a lesson in working for a goal.
“You have to take a step back and say wow, this is actually happening,” said Holloway.
This is all in thanks to a man who has become a friend for life.
“We’re family now,” Willis said, “Jamal and I will always have a connection with each other long after he’s 18 as he gets older and maybe he becomes a Big Brother.”