I like Black Greeks who take risks. Show me someone who steps out of the box, with a plan, and I'll show you your next leader. So when I heard that Alpha Phi Alpha brother Alex Sanchez was appearing as a contestant on HGTV's popular show, The Next Design Star, I had to know more.
"I left corporate America in 2009, and worked various odd jobs as I searched for my passion," said Sanchez, a 26 year old with an engineering degree from North Carolina A&T. "I was a nightclub concierge, lounge guest services host, a model and a waiter. And all that time of struggling to make ends meet led me here. I love the arts and I made the decision to make a career of doing what I love most."
That decision was to start Renaissance Design, an interior design and photography firm that specializes in decorating townhouses for bachelors and bachelorettes. This specialization in small spaces has given Sanchez a nice niche in the Washington DC housing market, where most designers work with larger spaces and homes.
"I started Renaissance with thirty seven cents to my name and built it up through hard work," the St. Croix native said. "My style is definitely urban contemporary with an eclectic accent. I think my strong point is creating dramatic focal pieces and creating untraditional designs through an unconventional design approach. I think my experience in other artistic media definitely enhances my interior designing skills."
And that led to him applying to The Next Design Star as a contestant.
"I was watching season 4 of design star and decided that I wanted to do it the next year. It was long process that included an audition tape, a few interviews, and months of evaluating and waiting. I found out that I was on the show in February, just shy of my one year business anniversary."
The Next Design Star, which started Season 5 last Sunday, is a design competition where up and coming designers travel to New York City to compete and impress judges with their interior design skills. The challenges may involve working as teammates, different materials, or in different styles. It's fast paced and according to Sanchez, much harder than how it appears on television.
"As hard as the challenges looked on TV last year, they felt ten times as difficult. The very first challenge set the tone for the wild ride that was ahead for all the designers. Not only is it creatively demanding, it's physically and mentally exhausting.
"If it's one thing that Alpha has taught me, it is to operate under pressure. My four years in the Fraternity has left me with a standard of excellence and a mentality that anything less is unacceptable. This not only allows me to challenge myself, but also to continue to improve."
One crucial element of the competition is the fan voting. If Sanchez is to stay on The Next Design Star, he'll need his fans to, in the words of an anonymous Chicago politician "Vote early and often" by going to HGTV and voting for him.
"Many of my first clients and biggest supports are frat brothers," Sanchez said. "I value the brotherhood and its endless generosity to my personal and professional life."
So far, Sanchez's risk has paid off. And if he gets enough votes, who knows how far he can go?
HGTV's The Next Design Star airs every Sunday at 10pm EST/9 Central.
Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.