We had the good fortune of connecting with Red Summer and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Red, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I’m from the South Side of Chicago. I’m from one of those neighborhoods where you could see the big houses and nice cars 2 blocks away from our government housing. I didn’t know we were poor. I had everything I could think of, in my neighborhood. The families in our area worked together and shared resources and looked after each other’s children. I grew up knowing that we thrive in community. That is a methodology that I’ve used in every venture I’ve pursued. I watched my mom work tirelessly and move us to a high rise building with a swimming pool and tennis court, across from a golf course, with lakefront views. I understood that you have the seed of greatness within you and you are the one who determines how that seed will grow.

One of the seeds that was planted in me was the arts. My second grade teacher asked my mother not to reenroll me in the neighborhood school, and instead, recommended me to a school of the arts. I was a Theater major from third grade until my bachelors degree from Grambling State University. I was encouraged to try everything. I did Russian Ballet, Tap, and West African dance. I played the flute and drums. I was into acting and I couldn’t really sing all that well, but when you put me in a choir, I could blend right in. In undergrad, I met a group of students from my hometown at a Theater competition. During one of the breaks, I heard them doing Spoken Word Poetry. They told me all the best places to go when I went back home. That summer, I became a regular at all the poetry spots and eventually used my acting skills to make a name for myself on the Poetry scene. One thing I appreciated about Chicago is that they will not clap for you if you don’t earn it. All of the obligatory support that you see in other places is gone. If you want a clap at the end, you have to earn it. That made me understand that just good enough is not good enough. I need to put in the work, I need to do my best and I need to earn it, whatever it is. When I moved to Atlanta, I brought that same kind of drive with me.

I attended Georgia State University for my Masters in Museum Studies. At my graduate panel, an advisor (who was particularly critical of my work), asked what I planned to do with a Museum Studies degree. The true answer was “I have no idea, hope I can find a job.” But, I refused to give her such a weak answer. Instead, I said I wanted to open up a museum dedicated to the preservation of Hip-Hop history. The entire panel sat silently for what was probably only a minute, but, felt like 15. I initially interpreted the silence as confusion, and eventually, I took the silence as a challenge. I went to DC because I heard that they have people there who honor Black History and could help me with my mission. I found an amazing community of Hip-Hop Heads who put my little love of the culture to shame. In 2019, when we opened, I sent my entire graduate panel (Including my advisor) a picture of our mural and a thank you card. Had they not asked the question and seemed to not believe in my answer, I may not have believed in it either. That old Chicago upbringing came back to me. I connected with community, I shared resources and I worked as hard as I could to do something that hadn’t been done before. There was no blueprint to follow. I just wanted to earn my applause at the end of the show.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My career is a story ever-in-the-making. So many of us have a clear career trajectory. I start on fries and I work up to manager and eventually I can buy a franchise. For me, I am more of a wheel-creator. Yes, there are plenty of wheels. But the one I’m making, usually, hasn’t been made before. So, I depend on community support and good friends like Sia Stewart at Savvy Media Group to help me. Recently, my wife, Courtney encouraged me to relaunch my publishing company, Two Fingers Press. I started the company as a fundraising effort for my poetry students to travel to slam competitions. Now, we will focus on creating content that will give the literal playbook of how to start and scale in different entrepreneurial areas. I’m already working with several creatives and business owners who are ready to add an additional income stream by passing their wisdom on to the next generation of creatives and entrepreneurs. I started a business that I couldn’t manage, at the time, and it failed. Later, my support team and I looked at the business, analyzed what went right and what went wrong, and we are relaunching even stronger than before. My son is in Business School and he sends me whatever information I should know.

I’m an Educator at heart. As an artist, as the Curator for the Hip-Hop Museum, DC and as a Publisher, I want to always provide opportunities for people to walk away feeling encouraged and empowered to do something new. My biggest advice is to invest in yourself and your endeavors. Take the class, buy the book, order the workshop, do whatever it takes to build the mental muscle that will allow you to believe in yourself and your vision.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Friday, we are heading to Rock Steady for great food and a great vibe. Saturday morning I might go to Pure Bella for some spa treatments. That afternoon, we can go to Trader Joe’s and grab some snacks, then we will head to Piedmont for a day of people gazing. We might head over to Lakara With the Gift and get some cute things to remember the trip by. We could head over to The Wing Bar for some of their famous Vings or to Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen and hopefully find somewhere to catch some live music with my favorite Atlanta artist, Mionne Destiny (she’s amazing!). Sunday is always 10th and Piedmont for bottomless mimosas and, if we have time, we can go next door to Blakes for karaoke. A great weekend.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many people have poured into me and assisted me in doing what I’m doing now. Of course, my family inspires me every day to keep going and be great in real time. But, I think some of the most inspirational, are my high school staff, students and administrators. People are often surprised to know that I graduated from an alternative school. I dropped out of high school in my junior year and got bored of watching music videos all day. I enrolled in Olive-Harvey Middle College High School. There, I met Mrs. Helen Stanton-Hawkins. I often tell people that if they met me in college, it was because of her. If they met me as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, it is because of her. If they were my student as a high school teacher or college professor, it’s because of her. The staff she hired took us as wayward youth and gave us the tools to succeed. I came back to my high school to teach and she encouraged me to think creatively and to be a problem solver. I am forever grateful to Mrs. Hawkins, her staff and her family and I credit so much of who I am to them. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hawkins is one of the 500,000 souls that we lost during this pandemic. However, I continue to strive to accomplish all of my goals in hopes of making her proud.

Website: https://www.theredsummerexperience.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/anotherredsummer/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reddstsummer

Other: https://www.hiphopmuseumdc.org/

Image Credits
Tabia Lisenbee-Parker, Tiffany Stubbs, Teresa Dowell-Vest, Verbal Slick, James Young, Hip-Hop Museum DC

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