Get To Know: CHRIS WISE Of BlackMarketWares!
BlackMarketWares is a community organization based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn created by CEO CHRIS WISE. We here at East Brooklyn spoke to Mr. Wise about his community, his organization, what he plans to give back to his community this year, and much more! Check out the interview below!
*What positive changes do you currently see in your community after being an active member in it with BlackMarketWares?
CW: One thing I love is that we have made a mark in people’s minds via the I AM PEACE Tournament. To all the young people that have participated in the event in its two year history, they feel that connection and understanding when they see us walking around. For some, they won’t remember our names or the BlackMarketWares brand, but they certainly remember the tournament, how they felt that day, and how special of an event it is. The I AM PEACE Tournament is literally the only youth basketball tournament that takes place at Jackie Robinson Playground.
One amazing outcome of the I AM PEACE Tournament was that we inspired a friend from Ebbets Field to forge ahead and create his own adult tournament, The Ebbets Field Invitational. This coincides with our third commandment: Lead by Example. By us picking up the torch and the bullhorn for community uplifting, that naturally creates an impact in other people’s lives. We had the courage to pursue entrepreneurship, so why not you?
Walking around the neighborhood and seeing people wearing BlackMarketWares is always an amazing feeling. I remember passing by the laundry room in the Ebbets Field basement and seeing my neighbor in his “Original 7” tee. That really boosted me!
An important note is that ZERO shootings took place in Jackie Robinson Playground during the summer of 2015. We do not take full responsibility for that, but we certainly know that our I AM PEACE work made a positive difference on how the community relates to the park. It’s for the kids! Not the guns.
*How do you hope to combat the violence in your community this year?
CW: Well – I believe that we can END gun violence. Specifically amongst Black people shooting and killing each other. Nationally! It is going to require a mass cultural movement. The way we see it, new products and ideas become ingratiated into the society all of the time. Why can’t we leverage popular people to promote the simple ideals of peace, love, and unity.
There was a point in time when no one had heard of Rihanna. Even more recently, who knew about Bryson Tiller in 2013? Who was using “facts” as a slang term a few years back? So, if we explore this topic of gun violence and present the concept of Black unity from a catchy perspective, I think we can stop the killing. Kanye West is down to sell adidas. Do you think he’s down to sell PEACE? No shade, just envisioning how we can utilize the media that exist around us to speak life into our people.
*What is the main goal for BlackMarketWares this year?
CW: Our year is always centered around the I AM PEACE Tournament on the second Saturday in August. Reflecting on the past two events and synthesizing those thoughts into a greater experience on August 13 is our main goal.
*What piece of advice would you give to the black/latino youth of Crown Heights this year?
CW: Enrich yourself. When we’re young, a lot of our activities are governed by groupthink. You’re more likely to hear “we out” than “I’m out.” Having strong friends is one of the major keys to success, but if people are leading you astray and you’re getting beside yourself or into trouble, then you have to know when to pull back and start enriching yourself. It takes time to get comfortable as an individual. Dressing in your style, pursuing your own passions, going to your own special places, but once you get there, you have power that no one can strip from you.
*What inspired you to be a positive, active member in your community? What shifted BlackMarketWares from a clothing line to a community organization?
CW: Every business is a community organization, whether or not it is conscious of that truth. In order to increase sales, you need to develop community. Businesses are about fulfilling customer needs. Our major turning point occurred on July 17, 2014. This was also the day that Eric Garner was murdered.
I was playing basketball in the evening at Jackie Robinson Playground. It was around 8PM, but the park was still crowded with dozens of children. It was the center of summer, and the park is our community center. Two shots rang off, and everyone had to run for safety. This was maybe the fifth or sixth shooting that occurred in the 2014 summer around the park, but being there in the potential line of fire was certainly the last straw. We had to take action.
Within three weeks, BlackMarketWares birthed the I AM PEACE Tournament. The kudos really go to the teens from the neighborhood for co-signing the idea, the funders whose last-minute support uplifted the idea, and the BMW team for orchestrating the details.
Moving forward, I felt bothered that our impact was limited to a one-day event in the summer. We knew that we needed to do more, and that we had the potential of doing so. Serving the community is not just a business pursuit for BlackMarketWares, but a mandate that pulses through our bodies each day. Of the four core working members, three of us were raised in Crown Heights, so making our community a better place now, is necessary so that our eventual children will be able to live in a peace zone, rather than a war zone. Furthermore, we have captured the attention of some really great young people via our work, so having them as younger brothers/mentees demands that we raise the level of our work and continue creating opportunities for them to grow.
*Are there any big events this year with BlackMarketWares that we should know about?
CW: The most exciting project that we’re working on currently is our 5th year anniversary celebration (April 25). We’re releasing a two-piece capsule collection along with a reflective photo book with flicks and stories from our history. It’s said that 50 percent of businesses fail in the first 5 years so to hit this level is just a huge blessing. We are actually at a point we’re thriving and have a clear vision of where we want to be in 5-10 years.
In addition, we’re expanding our I AM PEACE program into high schools with the PEACE CLASSIC concept. We want to reach more students, so we’re partnering with local high schools to screen the I AM PEACE 2 documentary (directed by yxxrs trxlyy) and conduct a special edition charity basketball tournament. Specific dates and schools will be available at BlackMarketWares.com.
Another dope concept that we’re developing this Spring with a partner organization, the Haitian American Caucus, is a youth open mic specifically engineered to explore mental health and wellness. It’s pretty much a taboo conversation and we want to shift that. What better way to start than with artistic expression, especially noting that a lot of artists use their work to heal issues in their lives.
*How can people contribute and be a part of BlackMarketWares?
CW: The easiest way to get involved is to start embodying the Ten Black Commandments. One of the causes of dysfunction in the Black community is that we have no accepted ways of being. Our shared culture may include Hip Hop, dressing jiggy, or fried chicken, but in terms of positive behavior patterns, we’re all over the place. The Ten Black Commandments are a set of guidelines that we hope are helpful for people coming up in the wild world. Commandment Number 10 is my personal favorite.
On the logistics side, we invite all concerned citizens to learn about what we do in the community by watching the I AM PEACE 2 Documentary and contribute funds to our upcoming programming here. Stay tuned for the April 25 release of our 5th anniversary collection and from there, we’ll just keep delivering flyness. Spread love! Peace!
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Image via blackmarketwares.com