AUSTIN (KXAN) — When self-made billionaire John Paul DeJoria invited KXAN’s Sally Hernandez to his home, it was easy to see just how green the grass is on the other side.
DeJoria has lived in Austin for 22 years, and his story is as rich as his past.
“Tell me how you see Austin today versus how you saw it back then?” asked Hernandez.
“Well, 22 years ago, the biggest building in town was the Frost Bank downtown. Today, you can’t even see it,” said DeJoria, describing the city’s changing skyline over the years. “What we’ve seen here in this time and 22 years, is all of a sudden, the inner city grew. I mean, it really, really grew.”
Austin housing didn’t seem to keep up with the growth, so DeJoria donated tens of millions of dollars of his own money to help.
“Do you have stories that you see people that you have helped who were homeless under bridges and tents, and then see them and then just grow into this new person, because they got a chance?” Hernandez asked.
DeJoria smiled as he quickly answered the question pointing to one example.
“I happen to know of a homeless guy that was homeless twice in his life, that believed in himself and believed in the American Dream and actually even started a business homeless in his car,” he said.
“But yet, because of the American dream and other good people, this person was able to end up owning the world’s largest privately owned salon haircare company, and that’s Paul Mitchell, start the number one brand of tequila, Patron and many, many other things. That was me. I can talk about it, because I was homeless, I know what it’s like,” DeJoria said.
The tequila tycoon and hair product philanthropist helped start the Community First Village, 51 acres of land in east Austin dedicated to housing Austin’s homeless population.
“We already have almost 400, I believe, homeless people now in houses, and by the time we’re done, there’ll be 2,000,” DeJoria said.
Austin Mobile Loaves and Fishes helps run the community that also provides jobs for the homeless through an onsite entrepreneur center built with DeJoria’s $1.5 million donation.
“In the last 18 months, these homeless people, homeless people that were under bridges, in tents, sold almost $200,000 worth of things out of our entrepreneur center and earn an income,” DeJoria said.
It’s that same entrepreneurial spirt DeJoria used to get off the streets that provides hope for so many. From donating millions to organizations that help veterans enter the workforce in Austin to supporting sexual assault survivors with the creation of the Eloise House.
DeJoria is encouraging his friends to do the same and give back to the city that has given them so much.
“Even celebrity friends of mine that are jumping, and we look at Matthew McConaughey. That’s my buddy. He wants to change Austin, and he’s doing it with his own money, as well as with his time. Of course, Willie’s been doing that for the longest time. So, when you get to a status where you can help others out, the greatest reward, the greatest ritual ever is ‘yeah, take care of yourself, but take care of your community along the way.'”
Learn more about DeJoria’s family foundation online.