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Designing Black Unity

When he was 10 years old in New York City, Lee Gordon’s mother knitted him a red, black and green hat that he would pull snugly over his Angela Davis-sized Afro. The colors symbolized a special and significant time in African-American culture. A time of emerging consciousness of heritage and self-determination. Gordon sported the knit hat with a great sense of pride, and remembers how others admired it and often asked where he bought it.

Some 40 years later, in a moment of nostalgia, Gordon recently tried to buy red, black and green clothing online. After hours of searching, however, he could only find a new set of wristbands and a headband that he purchased on eBay. “When I got the order, I was hoping the bands were manufactured in the U.S., only to discover that they were Made in China,” Gordon says.

This experience was disheartening for Gordon because he felt it indicated a deeper cultural loss. “When is the last time you’ve seen the red, black and green?,” he asks. “It seems that as our colors disappeared, so did our spirit of unity.”

Yet Gordon also felt that the experience presented an opportunity to revitalize a symbol of hope. Now living near Detroit, a city that is 85% African-American, he decided to start UniTee Design, Inc., to sell red, black and green designs on T shirts, and then expand into other clothing and merchandise.

Gordon worked with a graphic designer to create the “Blackzback Collection.” It features red, black and green designs silk-screened onto white and black T shirts. The T shirts are available through www.uniteedesign.com. One set of designs is spherical; another is pyramid-shaped. One of the most popular designs is also the most controversial. It shows a red, black and green sphere with the red dripping down like blood. Gordon says this design symbolizes the need to stop Black on Black violence.

Gordon also developed a series of designs called the “3P Collection” that incorporates red, black and green into the words PRIDE, POWER and PURPOSE. “I’ve always tried to apply the three P’s in my life, because I knew if I did that, I’d be alright,” he says. He offers a free red, black and green silicon wristband embossed with the words “PRIDE”, “POWER” and “PURPOSE” to all new customers, and says he hopes the “three P’s” inspire others.

Gordon perceives UniTee Design as more of a cultural mission than a business venture. A percentage of his net profits help fund Public Art Workz, a summer camp in Detroit that teaches creative arts to inner-city youth. “I hope that in some way by bringing back our colors, we can collectively redefine our purpose, reestablish our power and rebuild our pride,” he concludes. “Even after all these years, I still remember how proud I was in that beautiful hat.”

Note:  The colors red, black and green, in equal horizontal bands, originally represented the Pan-African Flag, also referred to as the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) Flag, Afro-American Flag or Black Liberation Flag.  This flag was the official banner of UNIA, as adopted by its members on August 13, 1920, at its convention held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The three colors represent red as the blood that unites all people of African ancestry, and shed for liberation; black as in black people whose existence as a nation (although not a nation-state) is affirmed by the existence of the UNIA Flag; and, green for the abundant natural wealth of Africa.

 

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