How Charles Okine is using inspiration to empower others
Charles Okine ’18 has a personal brand that could be described as: always be inspired.
“Everything around you is inspirational,” Okine said. “I try to take the best of everyone around me and try to use that to become a better me.”
Thanks to his experience at SUNY Morrisville, Okine becoming a “better me” helped bring out the best in those around him, as well.
Okine, who was born in Ghana, West Africa, and immigrated with his family to Mount Vernon, New York, in 2004, was initially hesitant to consider SUNY Morrisville as his college choice after being accepted into the institution’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). Then he met someone who inspired him.
Lakeisha Armstrong, then an EOP counselor, changed his perception of Morrisville and was “very passionate in helping us become better students.”
With her influence, Okine decided to enroll in SUNY Morrisville’s entrepreneurship & small business management Bachelor of Business Administration degree program. He developed an entrepreneurial appetite in high school, where his idea of using positive messaging through branded apparel helped numerous friends successfully sell a variety of products through their upstart design businesses.
Okine’s own advice eventually birthed his own inspirational clothing line. The young entrepreneur launched High Def NYC in 2011 and created a collection of brands, including the aptly named Be Inspired Collection. Motivated by the Black Lives Matter movement, the apparel features a quote attributed to one of Okine’s inspirations, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” To drive that point home, Okine uses only vibrant colors for the collection’s clothing.
Okine’s altruistic spirit in his business endeavors is no surprise to SUNY Morrisville associate professor Sharon Boyce, who got to know Okine well as a student in multiple courses.
“Charles has a most infectious personality, wherein his presence seemed to have brought an aura of positive radiance, regardless of the mood students may have been experiencing,” Boyce said. “I found that Charles would get along with anyone whom he came in contact with, without having to be asked.”
Okine was a regular in the EOP office, always willing to assist new students coming through the program. He was active in the college’s African Student Union Black Alliance (ASUBA) all four years he was on campus. He took on the role of public relations representative, where he helped drastically increase event attendance, before ascending to club president for a two-year term and helped increase the club budget. During his senior year, he also helped create the Culture Gala — now an annual event on campus — to provide students with the opportunity to represent and highlight their cultural backgrounds.
“All the work I did with ASUBA really helped shape me,” Okine said. “It taught me how to become a leader, how to manage time, and to hone my team-building skills and deal with different personalities.”
Tyler Wheelock, a SUNY Morrisville EOP counselor who met Okine as a junior, credits him for recognizing and developing the current ASUBA leadership.
“Charles was and is goal-oriented and knows exactly how he can accomplish his goals,” Wheelock said. “He was one of the best students I have had at using his resources successfully.”
Okine credits many of his professors for helping him exceed even his own expectations as a student, namely the aforementioned Boyce — “She was a very understanding professor who cared for your well-being and cared what was going on with you mentally.” — Phyllis Tucker, who “was always willing to listen,” Thomas Kimber — “He helped me a lot and helped motivate me.” — Al Muss and Chris Scalzo.
During the spring semester of his senior year, Okine landed an internship with FILA North America in New York City. He impressed the company so much that he was hired fulltime as a footwear account specialist, a position that also entails working with the product line management team and helping manage product development.
Just like his high school days, he continues to provide those close to him with ideas as they begin their various business ventures. “I want to have my hands on everything, not for the money, but to make a change,” he said.
One of those changes remains Okine’s ultimate goal: to help give back to his homeland of Ghana.
“The country has grown, and I want to be the guy who brings back technology and management skills,” he said. “It means so much to me; I want to empower men and women and just be able to help people.”