Interviews

Capital Empowerment Series #2: RANDI GLOSS

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Marcus K. Dowling


The Capital Empowerment Series highlights those within our Nation’s Capital discovering the “how” and “why” of leadership in the evolving Nation’s Capital.

Randi Gloss’ GLOSSRAGS clothing line and media brand that honors the memories of black men and women who are the victims of police brutality and public neglect is one the most striking visual (and audio) representations of the modern black civil rights movement.

In this Capital Empowerment Series interview, you get a sense of just how hard it is to be a revolutionary and keep the bills paid, plus at the same time keep your life together, too. Also, there’s a lot of conversation in here about self-awareness in the African-American community, as well as issues there that are also related to growing up in once African-American dominated DC, too.  For as much as Randi’s worth knowing as someone doing the right thing, the fact that she’s uniquely herself and from — and will always have roots within — a city that’s evolving as much as her life and business are as well is important, too.

One Love Massive: So let’s say that I called you one of the most important young and new black political voices in America right now. What would you think about that?

Randi Gloss: I would think that I’ve never heard that before! And well, I don’t particularly like politics, so I don’t know…I’d rather be called an activist, a freedom fighter, writer and storyteller.

OLM: When are the moments when you’re the most amazed by what you’ve accomplished with GLOSSRAGS of late?

RG: I think it’s the unexpected moments, like when Akai Gurley’s cousin reached out to me and she was delivering the news that his killer was convicted and that he’d be serving up to 15 years in prison. He’s the first NYPD officer to be convicted since 2005. Getting emails from people who have a direct bloodline [to the people memorialized on the t-shirts] and to hear that I’ve directly affected them are not unbelievable or shocking, but it still really hits home. [As well] the amount of gratitude that people express for the work that I am doing is really appreciated, and that keeps me going when the times feel like, “maaan this is just eating me up.”

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OLM: What’s the work/life balance like these days? I mean, it has to be insane?

RG: I actually have another job right now, which is hard. It’s been a back and forth. At one time I was substitute teaching and working for J. Crew. Then I dropped working for J. Crew because I was also substitute teaching, and then the summer came and I started waiting tables. Then the school year started again and I was waiting tables, subbing and [working with] GLOSSRAGS. Then, I technically got fired from waiting tables, which is unusual because I had been waiting tables since I was 19. That was actually just before the Mike Brown verdict was announced in 2014, and then we got almost 200 GLOSSRAGS t-shirt orders in a day which was insane because we were averaging 20-30 orders a week before that point. For most of 2015 I was only doing GLOSSRAGS, and in 2016, I’ve picked up a job, but we’ll see how long that lasts. I had a sit down recently where they talked to me about my attendance at work! I mean, GLOSSRAGS is becoming my life pretty much. Sometimes I feel like it’s hard for friends and family to understand everything that I have to do and how exhausting it all is. I don’t want them to worry about me.

OLM: So as far as your family, when was the moment that like, your mom really got on board with what you’re doing?

RG: When those 200 orders came in back in 2014. I was living with my mother and my grandmother at the time, so their whole living room was taken over by boxes. My grandmother wasn’t okay with that because she didn’t like all of the people coming in and out of the house to help me get the orders out! However, my mom saw it, and she was amazed by how many orders there were. That’s when she saw that people were responding to the message.

OLM: Thoughts about being born in DC and being a part of the city’s creative community at present?

RG: I think that DC’s creative community is really on the come up. [Me] getting involved in this community wasn’t intentional. I moved back to DC after my college graduation because my grandfather was dying. I put finding a journalism job (her degree from Northwestern is in journalism and Black Studies) on hold and then GLOSSRAGS presented itself. The shirt’s designs date back to 2013, and once I was home, I decided to start printing them. In DC, you can have so much more ownership in developing your work as opposed to being in New York or in LA. That’s special. In DC you can build something from the ground up.

OLM: As well, regarding DC, I wanted to ask you about your thoughts regarding “old” and “new” DC and how the residents of the city should navigate those differences?

RG: There’s a level of dissonance in DC that people aren’t hearing because you have all of this development and gentrification happening in neighborhoods where people have been living for generations can’t afford to live or eat there anymore. There’s a slow dissolution of old DC and old DC culture. It’s a little scary, because I have so many childhood memories of walking and driving through the city and there are places that are no longer there. It’s kind of shocking. Then I hear stories from my grandmother and my mother about DC. My mother grew up all over DC and worked in the Youth Employment Program at the Potomac River Festival. My grandfather would take me to the flea markets at RFK. I went to the old Union Market too, and would get my tube socks, a breakfast sandwich and my iron for college for $5. All of that is gone.

OLM: You’re doing a ton of travel these days, so I wanted to ask your thoughts about how OTHERS are perceiving the city, and as well do you envision yourself always having a tie to DC?

RG: I’m used to being the only person holding it down for DC. When I went to Northwestern, when I go to New York, wherever I am, I’m that one person from DC. People think that DC is cool and fun, and with Howard here, the inauguration, Congressional Black Caucus weekend, the city is very significant. As far as people noticing the city “changing,” I don’t hear about that as much because you have to have either been here or visited here in the past to know what the city was, and what it’s changing into. As far as staying in the city, I want to own a house and always have a home in DC. No matter where I am, DC will always be home. I want to get out of here to travel and see the world, but I want to raise kids here.

OLM: As far as the future, I know you’re thinking about diving into other forms of creativity from podcasts to writing, too. How is the evolution of the GLOSSRAGS brand progressing?

RG: It’s really just an every day process right now. The biggest thing on the horizon is reaching our second anniversary, and other than that, it’s ever evolving. GLOSSRAGS is now working on more media projects now to control the narrative of this movement and make meaningful media. One of bell hooks’ books has a chapter entitles “Loving Blackness As Political Resistance,” and she talked about how black people have been socialized into accepting negative portrayals of blackness. [Therefore], if I am going to be a creator of media, then I want to put out things that black people can be proud of not just now, but 10-20 years down the line. I want to challenge mainstream society’s view of what it is to be black in America.

OLM: Ah! Yes! Agreed. So then, I wanted to ask you about what facets of the classic era of black American consciousness do you think we need in the modern day?

RG: We’re having a rebirth of blackness in America. In the 60s and 70s it was cool for black people to read, write, put our feelings out there and be un-apologetically black. To me, there’s a rebirth and revitalization of that happening. Whether I’m listening to James Baldwin or reading bell hooks, I’m aspiring to be like them. Diane Nash and Ella Baker in the 1920s, I just want to be their friend! I want to get in a time machine and go back and hang out with them. Black people in those past eras were like, beyond dope. I’m just striving to have a nugget of their dopeness! A morsel! This idea of black expression is not new, it’s just moreso been suppressed. The explosion of media being at the forefront of everything that we see and create, from music festivals to blogs or whatever, is exciting.

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OLM: So, writing in particular has been a thing for you, as I’ve noticed you’ve opened a Medium account and are writing regularly. Will this continue? How has the process been for you?

RG: Man, writing is like my first love. I used to journal every single day. Short stories, raps… One time I wrote a rap about the Chicago Bulls winning the NBA Championship in 1997 after my parents took me to see Michael Jordan play at the United Center in Chicago. It’s good to get back to writing because it’s something I haven’t made a priority for myself recently, and I truly believe it’s one of my gifts and passions. There’s moments when I’m at the keyboard and I’m afraid to publish something because I’m fearful of what people might think. The post I wrote about misprinting Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ name on a t-shirt was terrifying because it was a mistake that I don’t think many people picked up on, but it was one of my worst nightmares.

OLM: How do we keep this revolutionary spirit alive in the black community, especially among the youth?

RG: A lot of this comes from what my parents did for me growing up including taking me to museums, constantly teaching me about black history. When you’re grounded in your history and your culture, it completely changes things. Being educated about who you are as a person is key. Black America is going through an identity crisis because we may have lost a lot of our culture due to [unintended] advancements that have come because of integration. Making sure that black people [still] know who we [individually] are as a people and more importantly how great we are as a people is inspiring because we’re significant in so many areas of society. Unity across the country and world is important because we as a people have to want each other to win. If we can get together, then it’s a wrap!

Check out Randi on Twitter here.
Visit GLOSSRAGS online here.

#STAYWOKE

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