D.C. public school psychologist Carllistus Obeng reveals how he created Chocolate City Tees (C.C.T.) to help end the harassment women face on a daily basis by men and to bring social awareness to the issue. “Sometimes it takes one person to make a difference and this is my turn at making a change.”
What was the inspiration behind Chocolate City Tees?
I tend to tweet a lot and I’ve always had the thought of “I should put my tweets on shirts”. My friend Dara is the true definition of “let a Black Women handle it” . One day I was talking about making my tweets into shirts and Dara says “let’s do it”. Our immediate Next thought was “how can we make an impact?” We are both educators working in the inner city. We noticed that Teachers are often forced to buy supplies for their classroom without reimbursement. So we thought, “What if we pay for classroom supplies, field trips, lunches, etc. C.C.T was born from there.
As cofounder of Chocolate City Tees what is your role within the company?
C.C.T. recently launched, in November 2017. Dara and I are amazed by the success we are having so quickly and are very thankful. We’re still developing our niche and designated roles in the company, but I do handle most of the social media marketing. We both design and come up with the shirts and make sure they each have a story to tell.
What are some of the challenges you are facing with C.C.T. and how are you overcoming them?
C.C.T. is a black-owned company that specializes in apparel for black people. Some of my friends were supportive and like “cool,” while others were like “it’s going to be hard to have a successful business only marketing to black people.” I get it: there is a huge stigma around our community and us not supporting others, but my response to that is “Black women rule the world!” If black women collectively say this is going to be the next big thing, it’s going to be the next big thing. If they say “Nah, this isn’t going to rock,” then it’s not going to rock. Black women have the power to make it hot or a flop. So I have no worries marketing to them because they are a great support system.
Another hardship we face is that both Dara and I are school psychologists at D.C. public schools, therefore our schedules are very demanding. We struggle on many occasions to find creative time while working the grind of a 9-5.
You created this company to bring social awareness to children of color. Why did you take this route instead of creating shirts for fashion purposes only?
Since Dara and I are psychologists we are ultimately critical thinkers. We wanted people to wear a shirt that makes a statement, not just wear it and toss it in the back of their closet the next day. We’re both passionate about what we do and believe in the words that are written on the shirts. For me, I was tired of seeing how men disrespect women and this is my part in making a change in how we treat our women.
Since we both work in the D.C. public schools we get a close look at the struggles teachers have, as well as at those of students in the inner-city schools. We wanted to be a voice and give back. Teachers personally have to pay for a lot of their own supplies so we decided to help them by giving 15 percent of our quarterly revenue to a teacher of the month.*
*Our chosen teacher doesn’t have to be African American, but does have to work in an inner-city school where the student population is 90 percent African American.
The Her Name Isn’t T-shirt is similar to Nola Darling’s poster message from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing Netflix series. What was your motivation behind creating such a bold message on a shirt?
In short, I really wanted to create a shirt for other men to wear that says what they shouldn’t say to and about our women. If I ever remixed this shirt, I would add “bitch” because of how common a word it is out of men’s mouths. I remember being on the yard back at Howard University where I went for my graduate degree, and the things you see and hear in terms of how men treat or speak to women will make you take a second look. Men, especially black men, need to take ownership of how we treat women and I created this shirt because sometimes it starts with one person taking action.
Outside of C.C.T. you’re also a writer and poet. Do you find that being in the DMV area it’s more difficult to become established vs. if you were in a bigger city?
I’m low-key in finding my niche for writing LOL. But D.C. is actually a great place for creative writers. I feel it’s just big enough. On any given day, I can usually find an open mic and I’m finding more events where I’m a headliner or doing features. In D.C. we have a great group of creative and artsy people. Plus weekends are the ultimate get-together for brunch!
How do you use social media to your advantage for your projects?
I recently just rebranded my social media. My thoughts are if you’re going to put out a picture or a tweet that’s going to be around for a while then it should make an impact, a statement. I have friends who have thousands of followers, and excuse my language, but they just put out bullshit. And it is random shit. Whenever I post I want to make sure I’m putting out content that not only impacts and improves my day but that of others as well. Being in a brand-new year, I’ve found that the more I love myself, the more I think deeply about my own thoughts, the more I can help others.
What is a typical day like for you?
I reside in Columbia, MD, but work in D.C. so I wake up at 5:15 in the morning to get my day started. I begin my day with three devotions, I thank God for three things that happened the previous day, I try and meditate, do some yoga, and read some scripture. I’m out of the house by 6:45 and once I get to school it’s a full-throttle day running on all cylinders.
As I mentioned, I’m a school psychologist and I work with all kinds of students, including those who have disabilities (i.e., bipolar disorder, schizophrenia), or even just some who have parents who aren’t always available, therefore they need a big brother to listen to them. Being that I’m so young, a lot of my students see me as a big brother or a friend they can relate to. After work, I try and make it to the gym. I train year-round for marathons that I run throughout the year. I take a meeting or two with Dara. Then I write a poem, maybe an article. I’m currently working on an article, “How I Almost Became a Fuck Boy,” that will be posted on my blog. Then it’s lights out between 10:30 and 11:00.
In five years, where would you like to be?
Great question. In five years I’ll be thirty-two. It’s funny because I’m twenty-seven now and never thought I would be a school psychologist. Now that it is off my list, I don’t know if I would still like to be doing this then. I do want C.C.T. to continue to flourish, possibly even open a store. Writing and poetry is kind of a hobby right now, but I want to continue writing and curate my own event. This summer I’m planning to do an open mic event. I want to start my own podcast discussing a variety of topics, definitely chat about black men in America. My biggest goal is to be able to give a teacher $1,000 and give 15 percent of our revenue to a teacher of the month each month, instead of every quarter like we are currently doing. The sky’s the limit, though.
We’re in 2018, a new year. What is something you would like to cross off your bucket list before June?
I want to buy a house!
the VIRGO GIRL FIVE THINGS TO ASK:
What would you tell your 21-year-old self?
To love yourself
I start my day with . . .
If you could invite any woman to dinner, who would it be?
Best advice you have received?
Life motto you live by?
“The only thing in life you have to account for is variable change.”