Nicole Bracey knows all too well racism is a public health crisis. The three-time cancer survivor and serial entrepreneur has experienced systematic discrimination throughout every phase of her life.
“Cancer is one of those things where anyone can be a victim and it is non-discriminatory, which means there is no one to blame for cancer. You know what I’m saying? Whereas when you’re talking about things like Black Lives Matter, there is absolutely someone to blame, right? You can blame the entire institution of racism,” she said. “You can blame the entire institution of white supremacy in this country and the entire thing that this country was built on.”
Bracey wanted to go beyond blame and move toward action so she created a t-shirt line to bring awareness and eventually lend significant financial support to a variety of social justice causes. She believes Black business can help propel change. The 31-year-old’s most popular item is a tee-shirt with the words “Legalize Melanin.”
“I really just wanted to create something that could become a mantra to Black people, to non-black people of color and to white people. Because if you can understand that simply existing as a Black person is regularly and unfairly criminalized, that really opens your eyes to all of the injustices that are happening to Black people in America,” she explained.
The young entrepreneur’s second t-shirt centers on feminist issues. “It says ‘anti-wage gap anti-thigh gap,’ and it’s about women being respected at all sizes and about women being paid equally in this incredibly patriarchal system that we live in. And so I want to kind of expand the realm of social justice issues that I’m tackling. I do want to grow beyond just a t-shirt business.”
Prior to creating her company, Bracey worked in corporate public relations. She also provided services for educational institutions, hospitals and non-profits in her native Baltimore. “The non-profits that I’ve worked with that have been focused on health have been extremely meaningful to me because health is just something that I think is not just personally important to me, but you know, we’re discriminating against those Black women in our healthcare system all the time.”
Though healthcare was somewhat a generational interest, Bracy wanted to have a more direct impact on the Black community.
“My mom is a nurse so I’ve always watched her advocate for me and that advocacy has just kind of been a part of my life.”
After completing a few spec projects, Bracey realized that the best way to ensure she spent her career supporting what she believed in was to venture out on her own. So she started an Etsy page and began posting pictures that reflected her values. She deliberately made sure that her t-shirts were gender-neutral and size-inclusive as well.
“I think I’m constantly looking for ways to combine all of those skills that I’ve learned together. And entrepreneurship is honestly one of the best ways I get to create a product, build a brand, and then also market that product and brand. So it marries my PR and advocacy experience.” She added, “Sometimes, you know, you have to create that space for yourself. It’s not always given to you.”
Bracy had attempted to create that space before with a sustainable jewelry line but it wasn’t until she dedicated her efforts to a larger cause that she felt empowered to think bigger. Her small business venture remains at the grassroots level for the moment but she is determined to make it a longterm success.
“I have a lot of opinions and thoughts on social justice issues and how we can really revamp America to work for the many and not the few. And so I’m still thinking through how I’m going to bring that to life, but I definitely plan to expand well beyond selling product and, and moving into things that are really benefiting women, benefiting people of color, benefiting immigrants, and benefiting indigenous people.”