Go on a Journey with Randi CEO of Gloss Rags - Austin
June 25, 2015 at 9:10 pm
As I opened my eyes after my first night’s sleep on the train, I lifted the window shade to reveal a breathtaking mountain range. The sun shone brightly on the flat plains as we made our way through California into Texas.
Still, not a fan of early mornings, I lingered in my tiny train bed for a moment before getting up to head to breakfast—which I basically completely missed. All the sausage was gone and I don’t really do eggs made in bulk so that left me with a small bowl of yogurt and granola. Oh well. Brain food is better right? Our first session was set to start at 8am.
Building off our very first session back at The Ace Hotel, mentor Jeff Martin asked us to again think critically about our projects and purpose. What exactly are you doing and why? After just a few moments, he asked us to go around and share what we’d come up with. What came to me in that time is the notion that, “Black Lives Matter,” is more than just a hashtag. Through marches, protests, using our voices on social media and pushing for change, we are demanding that our full humanity be recognized by all Americans.
The train stopped in Tuscon. I was thankful for a few moments to breathe some fresh air and stretch my legs. One of the photographers, Corey, bust out some downward dogs on the sidewalk so I joined him. Maceo, artist and mastermind behind Citizens of Culture, took a beloved clichéd jumping photo in front of the train that inspired the whole group to do the same.
Within minutes, it was back to business.
Amy Wilkinson is the author of The Creators Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs. Aside from gifting us with her book, she talked us through the six stills. “Find the gap,” she said, “Creators ask questions.” At one point, she asked us to decide if we’re a:
- Sunbird: Someone who picks something pre-existing up, flies it over to a new place and gives it a twist.
- Architect: Someone who looks for an open space and fills it in the form of addressing a problem.
- Integrator: Someone who takes multiple ideas and combines them to produce a creative solution, concept or product.
I identified most with being an architect. There is an egregious gap in America when it comes to not only remembering our fallen brothers and sisters but also consistent storytelling of the black experience. Death should not be the criteria for a story worth telling—there is value in our every day experiences and struggles.
I’m not going to lie—I dug the sessions but I felt as though there needed to be more down time. I was learning so much and that was great but I’d barely been able to think about what I actually learned or even stop to check some emails.
There was one last session before dinner. Scott, another one of our mentors that had been with us since the beginning simply asked us how we can make a projects bigger. What’s next? He gifted me with the idea of hosting screenings in the cities I’d visited for the premiere of The Conscious Chronicles. It made perfect sense. I’d be able to reconnect and build further with the communities I’d traveled through.
We were supposed to arrive in San Antonio by 5am then hop on a bus to Austin. To say we were behind schedule was an understatement. There was extreme flooding throughout Texas—Othello called to say his flight was delayed in Houston. We saw the rivers overflowing as we rolled through Texas. My mind was already moving towards contingency planning. I reached out to Austin’s Black Chamber of Commerce to let them know we’d be delayed. The pop-up at Friends & Neighbors, a house turned eclectic boutique in East Austin, was originally scheduled from 11am-4pm. I tweeted out the delay on account of the rain. I was starting to get a little anxious. What if people showed up and I wasn’t there? Finally, around 12:30, the train pulled into the station in San Antonio and we quickly boarded the bus. Looks like realistically, we wouldn’t make it to the shop until 2pm.
It was go-time as soon as we got there. Othello was staying some friends and met us there right as my Uber was pulling up. A few of my trainmates, including Leslie Roberts, a writer for Fast Company, decided to come along. Within less than five minutes of being there, I’d sold a shirt to a white woman who engaged her curiosity and asked what the shirts were about. “Thanks!” she said, as she hopped into the passenger seat of her friend’s truck.
We set up in a rustic barn with lights delicately hung around the walls. It was hot. A sticky, Texas hot absent of any breeze. I grabbed the display tees and began putting them on hangers. A guy by the name of Tim came by looking to buy a shirt for himself and his girlfriend.
“Sooo,” I said, “Would you want to talk about your experience being black in Austin?”
“Welllll,” he said, “I don’t know, I’m kind of shy.”
“I promise it’s not that bad” I said.
He obliged. Maybe he identified as shy but Tim sure was a dynamic storyteller.
After about 20 minutes, we thanked Tim for his time and he left. By that time, the crew from Austin’s Black Chamber of Commerce showed up in full force, including Natalie Madiera Colefield and Virginia Cumberbath of HUX Storyhouse. Had we had enough time, we would’ve interviewed all of them but the two that we did get were awesome.
Both Virginia and Anthony were born and raised in Austin. Virginia attended a white private school growing up and Anthony is a music artist. In our time speaking with him, he shared that when some bookers found out he was black (he’s not a rapper or R&B singer), they would cancel his shows. Virginia dealt with being the only black student in her classes at Hyde Park Baptist School.
Before I knew it, it was five o’clock. We’d literally spent the past three solid hours interviewing and I loved every minute of it. Next up was a meeting at the Charles Moore Foundation. Charles Moore was a dynamic architect, teacher and author who is behind architectural wonders like the Sea Ranch Condominiums.
Kevin Keim now runs the foundation which focuses on facilitating educational programs and projects centered around the importance of good places and spaces. The foundation itself is housed in Moore’s former home, known as the Moore/Andersson Compound and welcomes artists to stay there for residencies up to a year. I was enticed by the nuances of East Austin and knew that if I had a place to stay, I’d be back. “Just email me,” Kevin said.
Dinner was too good. I’m talking tex-mex that made your tastebuds shout ‘hallelujah’! I found a ledge to sit and eat with Maceo. For whatever reason, I was surprised when Kevin pulled up a chair to join us.
“What do you do?” he asked rather directly.
“I make shirts that memorialize men and women who’ve been killed by police and vigilante justice citizens,” I replied.
He expressed that he didn’t think this epidemic was going to stop anytime soon because it has to deal with, on a much larger scale, gun control. I agreed. His remark brought to mind the conversation I’d had with Ms. Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom almost two years ago. One of the things the Trayvon Martin Foundation does is host a Circle of Mothers gathering where mothers who’ve lost their children to gun violence can come together to grieve and heal. “I’m not just meeting black mothers—there are mothers from Sandy Hook, mothers from Aurora,” she said. It really is a bigger issue. Bigger than but compounded by race.
I wanted to linger in Austin. The weather was amazing and there was such a serene nature about the house. But alas, it was time to go. Time to get prepared for San Antonio.
Missed the first leg of the trip? Read about Randi’s first stop here and here.