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“Don’t Worry About Us—Worry About What’s Going On”: a Conversation With Union L.A. Owner Chris Gibbs

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How did that call come together?
The Undefeated team instigated it and reached out to their community, and thankfully I’m part of that and reached out to a couple of other business owners who were affected. Everyone was like, “What can we do? Short term, mid term, long term?”

Short-term: Let’s go feed the people that are cleaning up their stores today. One of the businesses was a restaurant, so they went, “Hey, I’ll cook up some sandwiches and we’ll go feed those people.”

Mid-term: How can we start to rebuild our community? Starting next week, what can we do to rebuild these relationships with our community, with people who potentially looted the store? What can we do to start the healing process as soon as possible?

And then long-term: How do we get behind these organizations that are like trying to stop police brutality and cause real change? And that’s what the whole conversation was about.

Was there an idea for how that might happen?
Yes and no: we all went home with homework to do on getting to that. But one of them was, let’s not only come out every time an innocent black person gets killed by police and do one “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt and then forget about it and go back to business. Let’s make it a constant part of our businesses. We want to come out and make a statement and have that statement be continued.

One of those could be, Hey, let’s, let’s make sure that on a regular and ongoing basis, just as a baseline form of our business now, X amount of our revenue is being dedicated towards solving these issues. Now we got to find who we want to earmark as the person, organization, or organizations that are getting these proceeds.

That help doesn’t only have to be money. We have a big Jordan launch coming at the end of the year, and we had already been pivoting to make sure that a really significant portion of our proceeds were going to help the community through the lens of COVID—something to help black businesses who’ve been adversely affected. And now obviously our target’s going to get bigger. We had already been talking about that for our Jordan launch and now we’re trying to figure out how we can make that a consistent thing.

The message you shared on Instagram about not blaming the looters was really meaningful in light of what’s happening. Why was it important for you to come out and make sure that you were really clear and direct about what your message is?
Because we’re even guilty of it in this conversation: if you go back and count how many times the word “looting” came up, it’s coming up more than “police brutality” or “protesters.” And I’m equally guilty. I really firmly believe that the conversation needs to be focused on ending police brutality. And I do think that, unfortunately, people are trying to distract from that to talk about looting and all the other things that are going on. So let’s keep our eyes on that. That’s the focus.

I don’t really want to talk about looting if it’s not very specifically through the lens of not blaming these people. You can turn to Fox News and hear a lot of blame going on, and they’re not talking about police brutality at all. But I want to talk about that—I want that to be the focus. I want that to be a reminder. Every time we see someone looting, I just want to refocus, like: “Oh, shit, I got distracted for a minute, police brutality, we gotta stop this.” And that’s what I was trying to say in that message.

I’m not a politician. I’m not an activist. I’m a humble store owner. A lot of people are reaching out—friends, family—and I feel the love and support and I thank everyone. But we’re going to be okay—there are people who are dying in the streets right now. Even if the worst case happened, which is our store could get looted, we’re going to be okay. Don’t worry about us. Worry about what’s going on.

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