EDUCATION: University of Massachusetts (BA in International Business)
WORK: Director of Corporate Development at Gateway Development Liberia; President at Bishop John & Irene Innis Foundation
Bleejay (meaning “for the sake of my home” in Bassa) was born on January 14, 1989 to John G Innis (current Bishop of the Liberian United Methodist Church) and Irene J. Innis in Buchanan, Liberia. Bleejay is the seventh of eight siblings and the youngest of four boys. In 1996 during the peak of Liberia’s civil war, Bleejay and his family nearly lost their lives but managed to escape to nearby Sierra Leone, where they lived for several months. Separated from most of their family members and unsure of who was still alive, Bleejay and his immediate family left Sierra Leone for the United States in late 1996.
For Bleejay, coming to the United States was a dream, but also a difficult transition. He was away from everyone and everything he knew. Teased for his accent and teased about ignorant misconceptions about Africa from his peers, Bleejay became angry and held a lot inside. Bleejay remembers his parents telling him that regardless of what was going on, education should be his focus, and that the knowledge gained would be something no one could ever take away. Bleejay learned to block out the negativity and excelled academically.
Most of Bleejay’s confidence grew when he started to use sports as a means of channeling his energy. As he started to excel athletically, he was put into positions of leadership, and he attributes that to the beginning of his leadership skills. By the time he reached high school, Bleejay was expected to use his exceptional abilities on the football field to get him a free college education and a path to a career as a professional athlete. In his senior year in college, Bleejay experienced a career-ending knee injury that devastated him and ended all hopes of him playing football competitively again. Bleejay found strength in his faith and used it as a means to really find out what his calling in life was. Bleejay entered the University of Massachusetts Amherst, focused on his education, and while in college, he joined cultural groups that allowed him to fall in love with his African roots all over again.
Bleejay realized that the meaning of his name (for the sake of my home) was a clue to what his calling was, and an obligation to his country. His obsession became Africa and his native Liberia, he felt challenged to give back through the education he had received. Bleejay focused on building his network with people who could mentor him and help him lay out a plan to use his passion for Africa and his education to be of service back home. Upon graduation from UMass, Bleejay moved to Los Angeles for a year and worked with Apollo Jets, a private jet charter firm. There he further concentrated on building his network with more successful individuals who could guide him. Bleejay launched his first project the Sponsor One Foundation in 2012. Sponsor One focused on helping with the education of children in rural Liberia, specifically the rural areas where his parents were from.
Bleejay then moved to Washington, DC in early 2013 to work with the Costar Group, a commercial real estate firm, where he continued to grow his network and tell of his passion for Liberia. As one of his mentors looked to break into Africa with his company, Gateway Development International, Bleejay boldly asked for an opportunity to help with the project. Bleejay was crucial in helping the firm break into Liberia, opening their first African extension called Gateway Development Liberia.
Gateway Liberia is an infrastructure development firm that focuses on sustainable and cost effective technologies that improve infrastructure. Bleejay is tasked of returning to Liberia to aid in the development of the firm as its Director of Corporate Development later this year. Bleejay also helped to recently launch the Bishop John & Irene Innis Foundation, a non-profit named in honor of his parents, tasked with helping to rebuild Liberia. The foundation’s focus areas are Education, Health, Employment, and Hunger.
Through his network, Bleejay has partnered the foundation with major political and international business groups, who have come on as partners to help build better US-Liberia relationships through the work of the foundation. Bleejay also privately consults firms and individuals looking to break into Africa with their businesses, a hobby he hopes to build into a company in the near future. With all on his plate, Bleejay says he is driven by his desire to live up to his name (for the sake of my home), and to play a role in helping Africa return to greatness. “It is not about the money”, he says, “it is about leaving something behind that will outlive me”.