Self-Proclaimed: Darla Thompson
Self-Proclaimed (S-P) features Black, queer women of all ages who have declared her capabilities and strengths, and embarked on a journey guided by her passions, talents, and aspirations. Self-proclaimed women don’t wait for legal authorities to grant their title or status. She sets her terms and presses forward without the endorsement of others. Through S-P, we hope that you can find inspiration and passion in your journey too. This quarter, S-P is dedicated to 42-year old, screenprinter and barber, Darla Thompson. Born and raised in Louisville, she is first and foremost an artist. Naturally, her current businesses are an extension of her artist gift.
Fight the Power
In college, a friend invited me to a Public Enemy concert. I wasn’t a follower of rap music at the time, so I was like, “Who’s Public Enemy?” I listened to “Fight the Power” prior to attending the concert and loved the song. It inspired me to create my first t-shirt. I drew a fist busting through the continent of Africa. I took the shirt to the concert and threw it onto the stage. I was fascinated by it. From that point forward, everything that I drew and thought that people would like, I printed onto a t-shirt.
Entrepreneur in the Making
Eventually, I started to sell t-shirts for a local screenprinter. In return for my artwork, he taught me how to screenprint. I created shirts for several years before officially opening my screenprinting business, 2Bass6, in 2003. However, my first business ventures began in childhood. I cut grass, collected and sold glass soda bottles, and sold candy at school. These activities, along with the examples set by my grandparents and father, set the tone for entrepreneurial endeavors in adulthood.
I Fell in Love
Growing up, I’d go to my father’s house every weekend. He’d be in the mirror picking his hair out and cutting it with the clippers. I watched and watched, but one day I asked, “Daddy can I do it?” He was like, “Girl are you crazy?” That weekend, I had a “Dennis to Menace” moment and took my father’s clippers without asking. The following weekend, I asked my little cousin if I could cut his hair and he agreed. That was my first cut. I was around ten years old when I fell in love with cutting hair, and I’ve been cutting ever since.
Stepping Out on Faith
Working in corporate America, I often saw people in leadership positions bully their colleagues. I grew tired of seeing the same old stuff. Even though I could see where I was making a difference, I also knew that I couldn’t control that environment. Even if I was promoted to a higher level of management, I didn’t want to be any part of that. And to stay there silently, I would’ve been in collusion with it. So I decided to do it on my own. At age 34, I quit my job and my father sent me to barbering school. During the same time, I bought my own screenprinting equipment. I didn’t think about the financial adjustment or lifestyle change required from loosing a stable salary, or the time it would take to build clientele. Those were lessons learned. But, I also learned that to open a business, you have to step out on faith. It may be rough for a while, but it’s worth it.
I completed barbering school and went straight into the barbershop. When I first got there, I didn’t know the language. I felt like I was in a whole a new world. Being included in the men’s club, I heard all their conversations. For almost nine years, I’ve been a “fly on the wall” of their club. This led me to write The Female Barber: Your Fly on the Wall. This upcoming book will shed light on the lack of “village” in our community, and situations that I’ve encountered through comedy and tragedy. It contains anecdotes about how everything isn’t what it appears to be, and how things that I once wasn’t accepting of, I began to accept. It also involves some pain, because when people talk about gay people in the barbershop, it hurts. And it includes, for example, observations about times that I’ve seen females give other females suspicious looks. And I’ve seen men who are fathers never bring their sons to the shop. Because I had a good dad growing up, this book incorporates the personal too.
My auntie, Rosa Macklin, is the typhoon of my family. In elementary, when I had an assignment to write about my hero, I wrote about my auntie. Throughout the years, her positive qualities were embedded in me. She’s currently running for District 1 Metro Council. She’s been my mentor and continues to set the tone for what I do. •