Proudly sporting a Temple T-shirt, Cory Matthews, Class of 2025, stepped up to the podium last October at a ceremony celebrating the university’s Cecil B. Moore Scholars Program and flashed the owl tattoo on his right forearm.
Matthews—a North Philadelphia native who grew up at 10th and Jefferson—has never shied away from the limelight, from the pressures of life in the inner city, or from the challenges he faced working to graduate from high school and earn an associate degree earlier than his peers.
Cory Matthews speaking to 6abc Action News during the Cecil B. Moore Scholars Program ceremony on Main Campus in October. (Photo by Joseph V. Labolito)
He completed his high school graduation requirements at the age of 16. And at 18, he received his associate degree from the Community College of Philadelphia in a dual enrollment program that allows students to earn college credits while they are still enrolled in high school.
Now a first-year student at Temple, he is committed to earning both a bachelor of business administration in business management degree and a master of business administration degree from the Fox School of Business by the age of 22.
“I come from a neighborhood that is gritty, hard-working and optimistic. Philadelphia is a city of toughness and to live here you have to be resilient. And many kids my age go through a lot of struggles at such a young age,” he said. “It’s about being able to overcome everything that you went through in your childhood and have that motivation to keep going.”
The congratulations began pouring in on March 2, when Matthews received an email from Temple informing him that he had been selected as one of the first Cecil B. Moore Scholars.
He first shared the news with his mother, Christine Redd, who has raised him in a single-parent, low-income household since the death of his biological mother when he was 3.
“When I told my mom she was so excited and jumping around the room and she told the whole family,” said Matthews. “I was so happy and felt emotional inside. I thought someone who has been through my experience is not supposed to be in this position. So, I am extremely grateful for and blessed with my support system.”
Named after civil rights activist Cecil B. Moore, LAW ’53, the program creates an academic pathway to Temple for students who live in the university’s eight neighboring ZIP codes—19121, 19122, 19123, 19125, 19130, 19132, 19133 and 19140—and attend high schools or charter schools in the School District of Philadelphia.
Matthews said he chose Temple not only because the university made him feel like family from the moment he began applying to colleges, but also because his interest in business management meant that the Fox School of Business quickly caught his eye.
“Temple has one of the best business programs in the country,” said Matthews. “I think studying business management will sharpen my entrepreneurial skills and help me pursue my career goal as a sports agent.”
Then again, the world of entrepreneurship is nothing new to him. In October 2020, while still a senior in high school, he founded his own sneaker cleaning business: The Sole Surgeon 215.
Since his senior year in high school Cory Matthews has dedicated time to his sneaker cleaning company, The Sole Surgeon 215. (Photos courtesy of Cory Matthews)
He said that the inspiration for a sneaker cleaning company was derived from his interest in collecting sneakers and keeping up with trends in the “sneakerhead” culture, in which acquiring and trading sneakers made by brands like Nike, Adidas and New Balance has been popular since the 1970s.
“I was interested in collecting sneakers and how to keep them looking fresh, so I started studying sneaker cleaning tutorials and researching different materials on sneakers,” he said.
He explained that due to the popularity of sneaker collecting, shoe companies often collaborate with clothing or other celebrity brands to give sneakers exclusive names or nicknames, like the Jordan 4 Retro Travis Scott “Cactus Jack” or the New Balance Stray Rats x 990v3 Made in USA “The Joker.”
At times, sneaker companies make only a limited stock for potential buyers. And, as with all markets, it comes down to supply and demand: If a rare pair of sneakers has a community of collectors and an active market, the price and the value keep increasing among sellers, retailers and collectors.
For Matthews, getting his company off the ground presented challenges like learning his audience and demographic and developing marketing tactics and pricing for his business. He built his company’s website on his own, and customers can book a cleaning appointment online or through direct messages on Instagram.
“There were challenges of trying to reach a bigger audience outside of just people my age and from my city and understanding marketing tactics that would bring more to my profile,” he said. “Also just setting a price that isn’t too high, but not too low.”
He noted that he uses cleaning materials from a Black-owned company in Dallas, ShoeCPR, that reached out to him on Instagram. Some of the cleaning materials he uses include a towel; a cleaning solution mixed with cold water; and a textured brush with either soft, medium, hard or brass bristles, depending on the type of sneaker he is cleaning.
While balancing time to complete schoolwork and run his own business, he learned to tackle the challenges of a busy schedule that included working both at Shake Shack and Foot Locker during the week and on weekends.
“I prioritized what was most important, which is school,” he said. “In my down time, I’d focus on my business whether it was cleaning sneakers, posting pictures on social media or thinking of new marketing strategies to help me succeed.”
“I became so used to my busy schedule that I adapted to it, never looked back and I continue to do the same routine with my schoolwork and classes at Temple,” he added.
In the future, Matthews said that he wants to open a sneaker cleaning store in Philadelphia’s Center City and continue to grow his company’s followers on Instagram.
“I want to design my own cleaning materials such as solutions, brushes and sprays. I currently have over 3,000 followers on Instagram and I am aiming to eventually have hundreds of thousands,” he said. “The best way I can obtain a good reputation is by not only doing good work on the sneakers, but offering the best customer service to my clients as well.”
A pair of Jordan sneakers before (left) and after (right) Matthews cleaned them for one of his customers. (Photos courtesy of Cory Matthews)
Beyond being a young entrepreneur and a Cecil B. Moore Scholars Program recipient, two of his main goals are to inspire people in his neighborhood and give back to the community.
“I come from the same background, a single-parent, low-income household. I lost my mother at a young age and I overcame it,” he said. “I think if they see someone earn a degree at Temple that came from the same background it can help motivate them into believing that they can do it too.”
Learn more about eligibility for the Cecil B. Moore Scholars Program and the first 22 scholars in the program.