“Proving the laws of nature wrong we learned to walk without having feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping our dreams we learned to breathe fresh air.” Almost two decades later, the prophetic words of hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur still work to personify the concept of transforming tragedy into triumph. His words remind us of the revolutionary power of hope in a world that is troubled by pain and loss. As communities across the globe continue to struggle against adversity, we bear witness to the beautifully persevering ways in which people adapt to a new and unfamiliar world. This is especially true for communities of color. The pandemic has written itself into an ever-growing list of issues that further exacerbate the systemic inequities faced by BIPOC communities across the nation. An increase in disparities and tragedies, such as losing a loved one, financial instability, and lack of access to proper resources are not only byproducts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but are also root causes of another public health crisis that has been ravaging communities of color for decades: gun violence. As the world adjusts to this new normal, frontline advocates and community leaders are facing increased challenges as they attempt to push for safer communities on multiple fronts. We had the opportunity to interview one of these courageous changemakers and gain insight into his journey of advocacy and activism as a young Black man.
RuQuan Brown is a 19-year-old freshman attending Harvard University. He is also the owner of Love1, a small business he started with the goal of “honor[ing] heroes like you.” A trailblazer for change, RuQuan has leveraged his experiences and voice to lift up the experiences and voices of his peers and create an environment centered around one thing: love!
To radiate love in everything you do is a feat within itself, especially for those brought up in an environment where love is scarce. As a child in the urban center of Washington D.C., RuQuan was exposed to a variety of traumas and hardships. He witnessed as family and neighbors fell victim to drugs and gang culture, while also dealing with the effects of under-resourced public schools and trauma of gun violence from a young age. In spite of these traumatic experiences, RuQuan remains intensely focused on personal goals. When asked how he maintains inspiration, he explained “In front of me, my role model is Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life for people… and that’s the type of life I want to live.” The selfless leadership that he aspires to is further backed by his support system and friends. He notes that “behind me are the people who look up to me and … those groups keep me encouraged.” With this, RuQuan continues to excel in all areas, making friends, completing high school, and going to Harvard University, while also playing on their Division I football team.
Alongside joyous successes, his journey is also marked by moments of deep loss, as when RuQuan lost his step-father and his best friend within months of one another. His best friend and teammate, Robert Lee Arthur Jr., was gunned down while waiting at the bus stop in late 2017. The loss of two integral people took a huge toll on the young athlete. “One night I was walking home, on the phone with my mom … and I’m crying to her, like I’m so afraid, like I’ve never been that afraid in my life.” Transforming his fear into fuel, RuQuan made an actionable plan to create an entity that would not only honor the legacy of his fallen friend, but also serve as a beacon of hope for other youth who felt the same fear that he did in that moment.
Love1 soon came into fruition. His motivation behind the business venture, as in his personal life, was to promote love. Community violence can rob families and neighborhoods of their sense of safety, care, and belonging, and repairing these bonds is an essential part of creating life-promoting communities. “You never know how your 1 act of Love might literally save someone’s life,” the company’s website explains. Brown made it his mission to touch the hearts of those most affected by gun violence and remind them of their power to be heroes and lifesavers.
Love1’s unique name pays homage to RuQuan’s lost teammate, who sported the number 1 on his jersey. It also reminds his supporters that love is the single force that can guide you to success, even in the darkest of times. A look through the company’s site shows a variety of eye-catching merchandise, including hoodies, t-shirts, posters, and face masks with messages like “Let love build your legacy” and “Black love matters.” In his most recent initiative, 20% of the proceeds from Love1’s merchandise sales will go toward Love100, RuQuan’s non-profit organization that pledges to sponsor therapy for 100 students in the D.C. Public School system. When asked why he decided to invest in mental health, he responded “Healing is one of the greatest gifts you can experience.” A gunshot wound does not just injure the body. Residual mental trauma on the victim and their loved ones can affect all aspects of life, and investment in mental health services is a vital part of the healing process.
The future is bright for RuQuan Brown and Love1. He plans to create curricula on financial literacy that can be taught in D.C schools and other low-income Black and brown areas. Being a teenaged business owner has taught him that he has to “keep his paper up,” and he would like to share this knowledge with other young people like him. RuQuan also plans to participate in more speaking engagements to spread his message of ending gun violence through love.
In our discussion, Brown recalled a quote by the late rapper Nipsey Hussle that guides his life. “The greatest human act is to inspire.” Through his ambition, humility, and compassion, RuQuan truly is an inspiration. He calls upon an experience that is universally human as his motivation, the desire to love and be loved. “With love in front of me and my village behind me,” he explained. “I am surrounded and can move the right way.”
Cierra Hinckson is a student organizer for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, and pursuing a B.A. in political science at Vanderbilt University.
Kaaleah Jones is a former student organizer for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and an undergraduate at Clark Atlanta University.