Brandale Randolph believes there is a budding Black cycling market, rife with Black cycling clubs, triathlon athletes and folks who just ride for leisure. There are also younger Black professionals who prefer to ride a bike to work or school.
Randolph, 40, a self-described social entrepreneur, was one of those people.
A former California stockbroker and Texas social advocate, he was faced with the dilemma of not being able to find a quality bicycle that he liked. So he decided to make his own and in October launched his Framingham, Massachusetts-based luxury bicycle maker 1854 Cycling, which offers a one-speed men’s model bike called “The Garrison” with leather bag and accessories (he hopes to have a women’s version available by Christmas).
But beyond owning a Black bike company, Randolph says he is committed to improving the quality of life of the formerly incarcerated, a struggling population that has difficulties shaking the stigma of having been locked up and finding gainful employment.
He spoke with EBONY.com about his company, social entrepreneurship, and the issues facing low-income people and returning citizens/ex-offenders.
EBONY.com: Can you give us a little bit of your background?
Brandale Randolph: I come from the nonprofit world. Primarily, I’m a poverty advocate. I ran a nonprofit for years called Project Poverty. All I did was study poverty and do research on its outcomes and effects. Basically poverty alleviation solutions. One of the things I believe about poverty is that we don’t understand it well enough to solve the issue. Part of it is about choosing poverty while they’re suffering and how we can tailor a unique solution to end their suffering, so that their kids won’t go through what they’re going through.
EBONY.com: What is social entrepreneurship, exactly?
BR: Some people think social entrepreneurship is just making money and doing good. Well, I believe there’s another layer. I believe that social entrepreneurship is making money and changing society for the better. You can do things that you think are good, but it doesn’t really change society. For instance, we can take money and build all the basketball courts we want, but how does that help the physical poverty that’s in that community where you’re building that basketball court. I mean, are you employing the people that live there? How diverse is your operation? How many people who are low income are you allowing to come work? How many ex-offenders are you hiring? A lot of social entrepreneurs are just doing it for the photo opportunities and not necessarily for the betterment of communities or their target populations.
EBONY.com: Why bikes? How did you arrive at this kind of company?
BR: It was really a process and it was random. It came out of an “a-ha” moment, as people like to call it. I wanted a bike and I didn’t see a bike that I wanted. I figured I wanted a bike that I could ride every day, that looked good, and that matched what I wanted to do in life and I didn’t see any that matched on the market. That kind of thing led me to think that if I’m here, then I may not be alone. So I started looking at the markets and it seems that there are a lot of people who import fancy…luxury bikes, from Europe and other places.
These are the guys who ride these bikes to their offices and park them in their offices where people can see them. They don’t want to ride a triathlon bike and they don’t want a cheap bike, because they don’t want to have to buy a new bike every few years. They want a high-end, high-quality bike and I was like, that’s me. So, I designed something, made it and a lot of people are interested in getting one just like that. Then my social advocacy, do-gooder person and I kind of wanted to see what i could do to help people [at the same time].
EBONY.com: What is the social component of 1854 Cycling that benefits returning citizens/ex-offenders?
BR: Right now, as we’re still building and starting up, a large portion of our early proceeds have gone towards paying fees to help expunge the records of ex-offenders. A lot of people just want a clean record or have their record sealed. We’ve been in contact with several attorneys and we’re taking what we can and we’re putting it towards that. We’ve done pretty good. We’ve actually helped a few young men expunge their records. Once we start selling bikes and getting much larger–hopefully during the Christmas season we sell a lot of them–we’re going to start putting together a larger fund for setting up the factory. Once we set up the factory, we’ll be able to hire about 20 people and train them to assemble and do all these things.
In the meantime, we’re just doing record expungement, which is huge for a lot of ex-offenders. What most people don’t understand is that even if you’ve been exonerated from your case, you still have to go to the job and do a criminal background check, which is then reviewed by an HR person who may or may not understand what you actually did. You may not have a chance to explain what actually happened. It could be something as simple as getting trouble while you’re in high school and being sent to juvie for stealing a backpack or bringing a screwdriver to school for wood shop and it’s considered a dangerous weapon. All of his stuff comes up on your record until you’re 21, so from 18 to 21, you run the risk of not being employed every time they run a criminal background check. If you can have this sealed or expunged, then it doesn’t pop up on your criminal background check, hindering you from getting a job, which allows you to pay for any expenses you have.
EBONY.com: What is the significance of “1854?”
BR: In 1854 President Franklin Pierce wanted to show that he was a constitutional advocate. One of the things in the Constitution was to view slaves as property. Prior to that, when slaves had run away from the South into the free states, they were free, allowed to start a life and do whatever and they were protected. However, when Pierce came in, he enforced the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which allowed slave owners to hire slave patrollers to bring Black people back to slavery. They could walk into Philadelphia, kidnap a Black person, say he’s a slave and bring him back into slavery for ransom. In Massachusetts, they had to put them on trial, and you had to prove that this Black man that you’ve snatched up was an actual slave.
So, they snatched up a guy in 1854 named Anthony Burns and they found out he was a runaway slave from Virginia. During the course of the trial, they found that he was a slave and he had to be sent back into Virginia. So people, White and Black, were upset in Boston and they tried to prevent his recapture and [return] to slavery and they were in the streets with arms and sticks. So the federal government and the National Guard had to bring cannons and things to escort him to the docks and put him on the ship.
A week later, the Boston Police Department was founded, so you can see how this went. Their job was to ensure proper transport of slaves back into slavery. What happened is all these people who were already abolitionists gathered in Framingham, where we make the bikes, and they burned the Fugitive Slave Act. They thought it was hypocritical for America to say we’re independent from Great Britain, but we don’t allow our Black citizens to have freedom and that kind of touched off madness all over the country. It’s like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the National Anthem in 1854. People were p*ssed. But there were also people who saw this and joined the abolitionist movement, which eventually led to the Civil War. I thought it was great analogy how people are lured and enticed back into the prison system. When you’re talking about 76% of all ex-offenders being re-arrested in 3-5 years of their release, that means they were never really free. I wanted to do something.
EBONY.com: Had you ever designed bikes before this?
No, not prior to this. I had to go and study and do a lot of reading and book-learning. I’m scheduled to take an auto CAD class in the Spring. I’ve never been one of those people who’s been afraid of the unknown or discomfort or failure. I don’t mind all of that because there’s a learning on the other side. You learn who you are and you learn how to do things, but you become a better person for it. I can’t tell other people to conquer their fears or do something they’ve never done before if I’ve never done it myself. That’s one of the issues I have with people who try to teach entrepreneurship or business consulting or whatever. A lot of those people have never owned a business. They’ve never run a business, but they feel free to advise people on how to do it. It’s kind of like going to a trainer who’s never had to lose weight. I don’t want to be that person.
EBONY.com: When all is said and done and everything is accomplished, what is your final ultimate vision for 1854 Cycling?
If I hired a steady stream of ex-offenders and trained them with skills and surrounded them by support systems and other things, I could see a reduction in just the ex-offenders that I hire. Someone asked me during this panel I was on why I made luxury bikes; that’s not something people with lower incomes can afford. It’s really more about, I want my workers to look at something they actually did and have some pride in it. I want them to look at it and be like, ‘Yo! I built that. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and, guess what, I built that.’ It’s something people don’t understand, that tangible self-efficacy thing. They don’t get that idea of holding something of such value and quality that it’s unreal. It’s not like making a McDonald’s burger. More like, “I made that and people are paying money for it.”
That sense of pride is what I want to give my employees, because I believe that’s something that gets taken away from you when you become an ex-offender. I believe there’s a lot of shame that comes with that. So, they’re replacing that shame with pride. That’s something I really want to instill, but it’s also an indirect result of social entrepreneurship.
To check out more from 1854 Cycling, visit its official website: www.1854cycling.com. Brandale Randolph’s latest book, Like Cavemen & Quail: Poverty Beyond Income and Mindset, is in stores now.