Early mornings aren’t really my thing but I found myself bowing to a 7am alarm. Our first session started at eight and I was admittedly excited to meet Compton Mayor Aja Brown. So up I got. Dressing the trip was pretty easy—I’d decided to wear a different And Counting tee each day while rotating bottoms and shoes. Simple enough.
By 8am, I found myself sitting in an open room lit by LA’s Cali rays on the second floor of the Ace Hotel with a bottle of Fred Water in hand. Just a few moments later, we were informed that Mayor Aja Brown couldn’t make it due to an unexpected conflict. Instead, we met Halleemah Nash, an electric orator and entrepreneur. Compton-bred, the odds were against Halleemah. She shared with us that the prospects of attending college existed outside of the realm of her imagination but with the encouragement of a high school mentor, Halleemah went on to graduate from Howard and Duke Universities. While pursuing her masters degree at Duke, she created an impactful program that engaged Duke athletes with underserved communities in Durham. Just like her, many youth could not see a future past their block or their neighborhood. She also shared the critical realization that, “I knew it was going to take more than money to change my community. My community needed more than a check.” Her statement speaks so much truth. Oftentimes dropping money on a community in need does not actually work to address those very needs. It’s mismanaged, misused or mistaken as an means to jumpstart gentrification—further disenfranchising the very people it was intended to serve. I was thankful to be in the presence of her energy, her light and her wisdom because I learned so much from it.
Next up was THE Craig. Yup, that’s right, the founder of Craiglist, Mr. Craig Newmark himself. What resonated with me most was his very candid sentiment that, “You don’t need to make all the money you can.” I feel that way all time with GLOSSRAGS. Often I hear, “Well why don’t you make versions for black Greeks? Or switch up the names to positive adjectives? Or this? Or that?” What I’ve learned is that I’m quite satisfied with staying committed to The And Counting Collection as it currently exists because there is still a lot of work to be done. In my case, less is truly more. I didn’t start GLOSSRAGS to become a millionaire or fashion icon. I started it out of a true desire and belief that I could create change. Sure, I could be making more if I threw a shirt at a celebrity with every chance I get but to me, if that celebrity isn’t truly concerned on a day-to-day basis with the plight of black people, then I needn’t be concerned with them or what a picture of them wearing my shirt could mean in terms of sales. Integrity is key.
The last speaker of the morning was Scott Peterson of IDEO. Because of Scott, I now think of S.H.I.T. as super-high-intensity-thinking and meditate on the notion that, “In order to attach complex challenges, you need a diversity of disciplines to do that.” That definitely speaks to the complex challenge that is violence against blacks—it can’t just be marches and protests, it has to be legislation, community building, taking down oppressive systems, multigenerational efforts and more.
Yet, as much as I was enjoying the sessions, my mind was fast-forwarding to heading back to Passport to set-up for my very first pop-up shop. The materialization of a dream turned reality was less than an hour away and I was not willing to be late. I looked around and made eye contact with my friend and videographer, Othello that said, “Let’s go.”
There’s nothing light about lugging three bags across the city but hey, I needed my merch. About thirty minutes later, we hopped out the cab and began setting up inside the store.
This was it.
“Yooooo!” Brandon’s energy could turn clouds to sunshine on any day. “I had to put my hat on, you know, make sure I’m giving off the right vibes like the conscious sister you are.”
“Let’s have you set up over here,” I said, motioning to the stairs.
Within a few minutes, Brandon was mid-story about a negative experience he’d had with cops. After Brandon was Chase, then Anissa, then Mike, then Leah.
Before we knew it, it was already five o’clock and my stomach had an attitude about it. Erewhon quickly became my new favorite place to rave about. I’d been there twice in three days. It’s akin to Whole Foods but 1000x better.
“Yo,” I turned to Othello. “That was AMAZING.” (I wasn’t talking about the food). “Some of those stories were over ten years old and still resonated with them. Can you imagine?”
It truly was mind-blowing. A$AP Rocky’s manager, Chase Infinite told us the story about how he and three friends were randomly stopped by the cops in ’92. The story ended with an arrest, a beating and two left standing in awe. Yet we aren’t telling these stories. They’re buried in the back of our minds alongside the list of things to forget, scar tissue within our memories.
I was thankful for their candidness. For their willingness to go to those shelved, painful memories for the sake of my project. I was thankful for their blackness despite it having caused them moments of trauma.
What a start.
The next day was spent entirely on the train.
Tune in next week to read more about Randi’s Journey and catch up on what you missed in her first story here.