From Super Bowl to CEO: Garry Gilliam’s Path to Entrepreneurship

As a young boy, Garry Gilliam was raised by a single mother in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a city that exemplified the meaning of systemic racism, and still does to this day. During his childhood, Garry’s mother was working 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet, but she never complained or made excuses. In fact, Garry didn’t even realize at the time that his family was poor because of how hard his mother worked to provide for his family. Through her character and resilience, his mother instilled within him the notion of “perseverance through adversity,” with the hopes that Garry would embody that motto in order to overcome the struggles he faced at an early age. 

At just eight years old, Garry was sent away to Milton Hersey School, a boarding school for children below the poverty line. In order to avoid thinking of his homesickness, Garry put all of his energy into athletics and academics, which eventually led to him earning a full ride scholarship to play football at Penn State University for coach Joe Paterno during a time of extreme uncertainty for the football program. 

During his time at Penn, Garry’s journey only got more difficult as he endured five knee surgeries and a last minute position switch from tight end to offensive tackle during his last season at Penn State. These struggles led to him declaring late for the NFL draft and failing to receive an invite to the NFL combine. Despite these struggles and the fear of a career-ending, and almost life-ending, injury, Garry still managed to complete three degrees while at Penn State. After missing the NFL combine, Garry went undrafted, however, he didn’t let this defeat him and instead worked harder and eventually signed as a free agent to the Seattle Seahawks. 

Upon going undrafted to the Seahawks, Garry fought his way onto the team only to lose a Super Bowl on the 1 yard line. He bounced back from this defeat, however, by earning a starting spot for the next two years on the Seahawks before going on to earn two contracts with the 49ers. He encountered another heartbreaking journey upon joining the 49ers as he won only ten games before getting released the year they went back to the Super Bowl. 

Immediately after his difficult football career ended, Garry founded The Bridge, a company that acquires old buildings in inner cities and turns them into sustainable community hubs. He has channeled his energy, and ability to overcome adversity, into this company and into assembling a team of like minded individuals to take on their mission of conquering systematic oppression with tailored solutions. The Bridge aims to conquer the challenges of systematic oppression faced by Black Americans through the creation of a system of empowerment that focuses on cooperation, collaboration, and community. 

While Garry no longer plays professional football, he mentioned that the values, systems, and processes that he learned throughout his football career taught him how to be a great man and how to lead his company. Garry presents his company and his vision to his team as if he is a young quarterback, and he needs to build a well-rounded team around him in order to win the “Super Bowl” meaning they complete an eco village from start to finish. Garry explains to his team that they must “know their role because each of them is 1/11th of a team. If everyone else does their jobs, but one individual doesn’t then only 10/11ths are complete, and the play fails.” He also stresses that as much as you can’t win the Super Bowl in training camp, his team needs to take development building one step at a time. 

With regard to The Bridge’s development, Garry’s objective is to have eight bridge locations within the next six years. He aims to do so through their public and private partnerships, and is confident that these will prevail because there is a large need for The Bridge. Garry explained that “The Bridge provides a solution, not a band-aid” to tackling many of the issues that plagued 2020, including the pandemic, the racial crisis, the financial crisis, and the ongoing environmental crisis. With a clear vision and path to achieve his objectives, Garry is confident in The Bridges ability to transform inner cities one development at a time.

Aside from his work at The Bridge, Garry spends his free time giving back to the community through working closely with young athletes, especially from Pennsylvania and Milton Hersey School, in order to help them follow in his footsteps and escape their current life by embodying “perseverance through adversity” and focusing on academics and athletics. Throughout his life, Garry has overcome hardships and taken the road less traveled, and now he uses his platform and business to give other people the same opportunities he was able to receive through his hard work and perseverance.

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