Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Stevie Williams of DGK Is Helping To Change Our World

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Too often everyone focuses on a cause rather than giving tools to improve problems. One of the blessings that skateboarding gives everyone is autonomy, it alters how you deal with problems and giving kids the knowledge of how to use the tools is everything.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stevie Williams.

One of the founding partners of DGK, Stevie Williams came from meager beginnings on the east coast. After hitchhiking from Philadelphia to California at 14, Stevie became a phenomenon within skateboarding, creating one of the most iconic brands in skateboarding/youth fashion ever. After being crowned one of the “Most influential” skateboarders of all time by Transworld Skateboarding to being a featured character in Tony Hawk’s video games, Stevie turned his focus on giving more in-need youth a chance.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started as a young skateboarder with a dream, unfortunately in my environment multiple peers and authority figures did whatever they could to stop that dream. I ran away from home in Philadelphia at 14 to be homeless across the country with virtually no support from anyone. Even with that strife, I knew I was destined to create something that could help people in the same circumstance, and that’s how I created DGK. It was the only black-owned business in the skateboarding industry for decades, and we were fortunate enough to expand into a whole fashion line worn by everyone who is anyone in pop culture. We’re a global movement, and I don’t use that word lightly. Go anywhere in the world, and you’ll find a skateboarder or cultural influencer who has heard of DGK, purchased one of our products, or supported our causes.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Creating a business, especially one in as fast moving as Fashion & Action Sports yields new and interesting challenges daily. When DGK started, I feel like everyone was planning or hoping for it to fall quickly. We had manufacturers and vendors shutting us out because other companies out leveraged us because we were new. We also had stores telling us they wouldn’t carry us cause they didn’t see the market needing it. Everything you could throw at a business to make it fail, we had it hit us, but here we are… 2 decades later and stronger than ever. Challenges still come, but I’m proud that we have a business ready to take on whatever comes.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Wow. Yes. Well, I can. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and none of them were that funny to me at the time, but they definitely were learning lessons. I would say just understanding the core values of the industry I was in. It takes a minute to learn the landscape when everything’s new and you’re ambitious, so you could make some people upset in the process. Of course, paying for it and sticking to the rules no matter what until, you know, things can eventually turn successful. But everyone should take the time to get a good look at the industry you’re in, it could save you years.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

A big goal from the start was to create an outlet to give kids tools to improve their life. For me, a skateboard literally saved my life and I believe when applied correctly, it can do the same for others globally. We created “Saved by Skateboarding” as DGK’s philanthropic cause. We take a large chunk off our profits annually and give underprivileged kids a brand new, free skateboard. DGK believes that skateboarding contributes to a better world and helps in building essential life skills like independence, discipline, and confidence. By providing skateboards to the youth, we’re able to build healthy relationships with our community and make better citizens for the world. Saved by Skateboarding partners with artists & athletes to give back to their communities and inspire positive change.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One was Marcos Greer, a 14-year-old skateboarder born with Cystic Fibrosis. Make-A-Wish contacted us with Marcos’ story and how he was a huge fan of the DGK brand, so we knew it was only right to give him a life changing experience of meeting our professional athletes and developing a unique, 1-of-1 custom skateboard with his name on it. Seeing lives Saved by Skateboarding impacted and given hope through the act of skateboarding changes not only how these individuals see the world, but also the paths they pick in the future. We take a portion of our profits every year and make sure those who are in need of the same tools to change their life can get them. Get anything from DGK, a pair of socks, stickers, you can know that the support is being put forth to the next generation.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity to help the next generation. I support training and getting some state support. Of course, local support for the other kids that want to get into skateboarding. I want to support skateboarding and just set up programs that allow certain young individuals to afford the skateboard equipment because they already have skateparks and they may be like, you know, a skate center where people can actually go in and learn about the art and the culture. The history of skateboarding is bringing people that are more aware to the culture and not looking at it more as a sport, but as a lifestyle that allows you to move in the next generations, for the kids to see the world through a different set of eyes.

Like I say, a young sport for a kid, some older people might think of it like a yo yo. But skaters and people that have been influenced by skateboarding know that it is something deeper rooted and it’s more of a cultural thing, you know, an understanding of the core values of the culture to even teach the kids how to, I want to say behave, but be involved in the right ways. You know, because you can always have fun as skateboarding brings joy to the kids’ life, and especially if they’ve been in some type of crazy circumstance at home, skateboarding can bring them into a whole new lifestyle. If the people in positions of power could extend more resources for kids to utilize, it can change their whole life.

Too often everyone focuses on a cause rather than giving tools to improve problems. One of the blessings that skateboarding gives everyone is autonomy, it alters how you deal with problems and giving kids the knowledge of how to use the tools is everything.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I’ll lead by example, I’m not like the leader that tells you what to do and then go do something else. I’m also like a coach, an influencer to the team, a big brother and listener as well. I like to reflect on my own career on other people, not the pressure, but just to let them know that you can fulfill a certain situation to take up on top if you do it correctly and you have some type of patience. Business is a game of patience and being fluid through all the ups and downs.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

One will be licensing and distribution. That’s one thing that I didn’t know about from the beginning. Like, I knew about it, but I didn’t know the details of two. The second I’ll go back to the core values. Three I will say, effort in applying the knowledge from the mistakes. Then I would say community as well. Being able to understand your community, what their wants and their needs, what they expect from you. And then also culture as well. I would say the cultural community, being a part of the service to the community and its effect on overall sales. Being able to understand your brand in sales that it can accumulate globally so you have more of a universal brand as well. Having a brand like DGK in an industry like we are, being around and relevant this long doesn’t happen. Or at least it hasn’t happened until DGK.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That would be another question I would say, just peace and balance, really. It’s a balance of living a harmonious lifestyle. Everybody kind of being on the same page for the same causes. We all live with the intent to preserve what we all care about and love the most, which would be the planet Earth and our community, and also living in a harmonious way of life without any fear or worry. Empowering the people who feel powerless. I did it with DGK and Saved by Skateboarding. I’ve been around the world, hit nearly every country globally, and to see the inspiration that the brand has given kids has been invaluable to my life. Kids like me who never had a voice know they’re heard and seen through my company.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Never go against your core values. The things you stand for is our everything; trying to be everything to everyone isn’t the way to move forward. It’s relevant to me because everytime I went against my core values I lost time, trust of people, just taking a wrong path when I knew what was right from the start.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

One of the main people I would meet with, I would love to talk with Jay-Z. He’s been a huge influence on my career from just watching and following his career and just to try to get some pointers and tips on how to be as successful or dialed in as him for my culture to community.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you want to support DGK & Saved by Skateboarding, you can visit or follow us on all social media platforms @dgk. We’re consistently posting our Givebacks and letting viewers see the lives changed by their support of the brand.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Stevie Williams of DGK Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.