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By Stephen Wilson

From poverty to drug pusher. From prison to Princeton. From entrepreneur to educator. Yusuf Dahl, Bradbury Dyer, III ’64 Director for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who once shied away from sharing all of the details of his story, just broadcasted those details to the nation thanks to Good Morning America.

It all started when Jolene Cardassi, marketing coordinator for the Dyer Center, had a day off from work and saw a segment on Good Morning America called #ThriverThursday. Hosted by Robin Roberts, the series “spotlights ‘thrivers’—people who persevere, achieve their goals, and even surpass them despite life-altering circumstances.”

She thought it would be a good fit for Dahl. When she came back to the office, she mentioned the series to him and Lauren Dow, director of major gifts, who promptly looked it up and submitted his name.

A few weeks later a producer for the segment emailed him some questions. His answers prompted a phone call. That conversation prompted an invitation.

“I was humbled and thankful to be selected,” he says. “I watched many stories from the series and am in awe of being included with such incredible people.”

Filming His Story

Roberts’ production company, Rock’n Robin, soon was planning trips to Easton, Princeton, and Milwaukee. 

Yusuf Dahl being interviewed for Good Morning America Thriver Thursday segmentIt was a bittersweet walk down memory lane for Dahl, who grew up on the streets of Milwaukee. By age 14, he was in juvenile detention for a three-year sentence where he learned the best path to wealth was drug dealing. Soon he was operating a network of drug houses. By age 18, he was sentenced to prison for 10 and a half years. 

This is where his transformation began. He taught himself computer programming. Upon his release at age 23, he began a career as a software engineer. 

Soon he embarked on a different entrepreneurial venture. With limited capital and experience, he founded Milwaukee Metro Management (MMM), an award-winning affordable housing development and management company, with a vision of creating high-quality affordable housing. From a single two-family property in one of Milwaukee’s poorest ZIP codes, MMM grew to over 200 residential and commercial units.

After that moment, Dahl earned coveted fellowships with Google and Tata Consulting Services, and graduated from Princeton.

The production began in Princeton. “I love it there,” says Dahl. “I learned so much, and it is such a special community.”

His time in Milwaukee was bittersweet. “It has been five years since I have invested in the neighborhoods there,” he says. “Some buildings around my properties have been foreclosed and are boarded up. If I was in town, those buildings would be in use positively contributing to the broader community.”

Lafayette was the culmination. “I am so proud of my work at Lafayette and the community that helped make it possible,” he says. “The crew filmed in the new Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center, and we were able to showcase all that we have done in two years.”

The segment included interviews with several people, none more important than his daughter. “I’ve endured many hardships along the way so that she would not have to. This effort is dedicated to her, so including her makes it feel more complete,” he says.

Dahl was in the studio audience on the morning his segment aired. He hopes it inspires others to see that thriving means “leveraging your adversity for the benefit of others.”

“The adversity I faced has created a unique perspective,” he says. “I’m thankful to be at an institution like Lafayette that values it.”

Watch the video.

Yusuf stands with Good Morning America host Robin Roberts

Categorized in: Dyer Center, Faculty and Staff, Featured News, FirstYear-Dyer, In the Media, Innovation and Research, News and Features