By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP â€“ The coronavirus pandemic has hit businesses in various ways, particular Black owned businesses, but that has not stopped Kim Greene and Bases Loaded Authentic Clothing and Kaps (B.L.A.C.K.) from retailing and educating.
Greene and her business partner Anthony Robinson have been educating through clothing since 1998 and now they travel the country displaying Negro League-emblemed items. They have added lines honoring the iconic Buffalo Soldiers and Tuskegee Airmen as well, among others.
“We had [a building] at one point but then realized that there were people all over that were interested in the product and we were limiting ourselves by having a store,” Greene told Front Runner New Jersey. “So actually we are on the road about 40 weeks a year doing events such as jazz festivals, professional conferences, VA Hospitals, government buildings, military bases and trade shows as merchandisers.
“When COVID hit, the decision was to come back to Washington Township. Both of my parents are in their 70s and in the high risk category and I’m blessed to be able to do this business anywhere. So since travel has screeched to a halt, we just switched the focus to online with a base location in Washington Township,” she said.
Greene is a Washington Township native who attended Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. She and Robinson have traveled as far as California and Texas and numerous other locations with B.L.A.C.K.
“Jersey is just home and I knew that there was not anything like our product here,” Greene said. “Plus this would be a great way to be able to help out my parents and give the residents of this area the opportunity to experience our product.”
Greene said the business started in 1998 when she purchased items for her then fiancÃ©e from New York, later learning it was items he actually designed himself.
“What I didn’t know was that during the time when he was at North Carolina State’s College of Design, he had participated in a nationwide campaign that the Negro League Museum had to redesign the team logos,” Greene said. “Several of his designs were selected by them, but he never thought he could do anything with it so he just kind of let it go.
“Then he was re-energized when he saw the items that I had purchased for him. So he teamed up with the company in New York to assist in design, etc. We started doing small events on the weekends in addition to our jobs. As time went on we were able to see the lack of quality product available that represented our history. It was easy to find Negro League gear, but it would often be on low quality material.
So Much To Learn
“We saw an opportunity to change that. And we were blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with Negro League players which helped drive that determination to make sure that the history that they helped to create was well represented and accurate. We later advanced the line and added the Buffalo Soldiers and Tuskegee Airmen,” Greene continued.
Now, B.L.A.C.K’s product lines include the Triple Nickles (black paratroopers), 761st Tanks Battalion (Black WWII Tankers), Montford Point Marines (1st black Marines), Golden 13 (1st Black Naval Officers), Harlem Hellfighers (1st Black World War I Infantry Unit) and RedBall Express (Black World War cargo convoy).
“There is so much history out there that we want to make known and available,” Greene said.
Greene praised her parents, Robert and Marilyn Greene, in instilling and sense of pride and knowledge in the African American community while growing up, along with generation before her. Robert Greene is the parent body president of the New Jersey State Baptist Deacons Convention.
“My family is amazing,” Greene said when asked to tell FRNJ about her family and her biggest inspirations. “My parents have been married for 51 years. He’s retired software engineer and she a retired middle school administrative assistant. They are very active in the church and numerous other community organizations. I have a brother in Tampa and a sister in Alexandria, Va. If you had asked me that questions just a few years ago I would have just said my parents.
“Today, that is still my answer, but I would add to it anyone over the age of 60,” she said of her inspirations. “Doing this business has helped me truly recognize and appreciate the wisdom and contributions of the older generation. I have learned more from just sitting down and listening to them, NOT talking, then I would in any book, webinar or talk show. They have taught me pride in my heritage, the value of standing up for what’s right, the importance of picking your battles, the necessity of education and the power of unity. My parents instilled some of those things in me growing up, but you hear things differently from other people, especially when they have lived what they are speaking about,” Greene added.
Greene said she hopes people learn from B.L.A.C.K. is that we are just scratching the surface when it comes to learning African American history.
“We have been victims of HIS-story forever,” Greene said. “There are so many elements of Black History that have been erased or whitewashed that its mind-blowing. What I love most about this is that people are initially drawn to the physical aspects of the product and then intrigued by what they represent.
“We have some customers in their 70s that had never heard of the Negro League (especially on the West Coast) and others who just tear up when they see the product. And so many of us don’t understand how all of these elements tie into American history as a whole. While 85 percent of our customers are black, we do have white customers as well. And the fact that the product creates dialogue is extremely important.
“For example, most people don’t know that Jackie Robinson was not the best player in the Negro League. In fact most don’t even know that’s where he started. But there were many players better that he was. He just had the education, discipline and temperament to endure the challenges that would be put before him. In addition to that, he was a member of the 761st Tank battalion, the all-black tank unit that fought in World War II. I want people to learn a little bit initially and then want to learn a lot more because our history is fascinating,” Greene added.
Greene touched on other subjects in her interview with Front Runner New Jersey.
FRNJ: How serious do you take your role as a role model?
Kimberly Greene: I recognize as a black female entrepreneur that I could be considered a role model and, as such, I work hard to encourage other women who express interest in doing their own thing. I am available to bounce ideas off or to give advice. I didn’t really have that when we started and I think it would have helped a lot.
FRNJ: Anything else youâ€™d like to add?
Kimberly Greene: People always ask me, if you could give one piece of advice to someone, especially a young person, who was starting a business, what would that advice be? My answer is always this: Don’t take criticism from anyone you wouldn’t go to for advice.
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