A new life path cemented: Hop 2 It: AJ Hopper


photo by Brian Peters Photography

A simple “hello” can change the trajectory of a person’s day, their life, believes AJ Hopper, owner of Hop 2 It Concrete + Remodeling.

“We’re here to help keep our community up; it’s our fault if the community isn’t up to par. We have to maintain it annually.”

This is a simple story, a reminder to always think about doing the next right thing.

“Show of hands, how many of you love your parents,” AJ Hopper asked a group of youth from the Boys + Girls Club. Everyone in the room raised their hand. “So guess what guys, you gotta be an example. An example. Let’s say that all together…one, two, three ‘example.’” Speaking to youth programs in Topeka is just one of the many ways AJ gives back to foster a stronger community.

But this article isn’t about the importance of youth mentorship.

“You know why I’m here today,” asked AJ. “Why I’m talking to you and not the adults? Because you guys are our future here. Because you know our world, we depend on our future generations. You’re gonna have to take the lead here.”

“Business owners bring promise to the community. They pick our town up. They grow a city,” AJ shared with seveneightfive. “They have a responsibility to support it and its youth.” AJ is a father of five and owner of Hop 2 It, LLC Concrete + Remodeling, a business he started five years ago at the age of 39. He comes from a military family and was raised in Topeka. His father was overseas much of his childhood and he describes running the streets / hood as a youth, interested only in girls, football and fast money. “The hood and the homies and the things you get sidetracked on…when it comes to you and your name and your family, you have to lead the way,” AJ told to the group of youth.

“What did you want to do when you got older,” someone from the audience asked. “Just a football player,” he said. “That’s it.” AJ was a good athlete, playing collegiate football. “but I had gotten in trouble a couple of times…” shared AJ “and so my mom sent me down to do manual labor, concrete work. I hated it. I hated concrete work. I didn’t want to do it.”

So this article isn’t about pursuing your dreams.

After college, AJ continued to pursue the hustle, looking for quick answers and fast cash, making money illegally more often than not and getting into the kind of trouble that goes beyond a mother’s punishment. He would spend the next 17 years incarcerated.

After prison, AJ returned to family and community rooted in the church and from varied walks of life. “Institutional guys [like me] – it’s so hard to come out of that mind frame,” said AJ. “It’s a hard switch. But I was raised to be better…I can be better.”

J Neal + Sons was the first company to hire AJ after prison as a laborer. It was a 9-to-5 and nothing more, but AJ felt like he was trying. Until one day, Ms. Cookie Neal “the toughest woman I ever met ” looked over at AJ and said “sure, this is a 9-to-5 job and being here is good, but that, gets you nowhere. Put the phone down. Get involved.”

When J Neal + Sons had layoffs, AJ went to work with Kyle Glasco at Lithko Concrete and then Bed Rock Concrete. AJ put the phone down and got involved. Then “one day, I looked down at my tape measure…and realized the power it holds.”

This isn’t a prison-to-success article, albeit true.

You gotta be an example, always remembering to do the next right thing.

“Show of hands,” said AJ “who in here wants to own their own company, be their own boss?” Once again, the youth group raised their hand unanimously. Music Artist, Hair Designer, Animator, Game Creator, Welder, Robotics Engineer Technologist, Photography, these where some of the future professions shared.

“I want to remind you,” AJ told the class “Each and everyone of you here is special. Each and everyone here is beautiful. You are intelligent. Believe in yourself. Everyone is an individual. It’s okay to fail but you have to get back up after you fall. And remember to always think about doing the next right thing. You guys are the next right thing.”

AJ’s greatest mentor, John Lowe, is an African American male who worked in a similar field for 40+ years. “As an African American in business, you have to make your mark. And you gotta be better year after year,” said AJ.

Entering his fourth year of business, AJ is proud to be someone who helps others put food on their table. This year, he is looking to be a smarter business owner investing in property versus renting to store large equipment and hoping to turn that profit. “I didn’t take out any loans or anything like that,” said AJ regarding the start of the business in 2020. “I had some nice vehicles, so I sold them and put the money into a skid street loader and other required equipment. It takes sacrifice to make it happen.

“I’m still a hustler, but now I get to be a legit hustler,” said AJ. Non-hustlers will wait for opportunities to fall into their laps. “Hustlers don’t just sit around and wait for opportunities, they get up and create them.

“You have to work hard,” AJ told the class. “Whatever you work for, whatever you dream of you can achieve with hard work. And when we all here, we get together, what do we create? We create our community.”

“Each of us has a special way of making a unique difference,” said AJ “I truly believe that.”

And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

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Kerrice Mapes

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