Interview: Ebony Magazine

Entrepreneur Combines His Cycling Startup with Social Justice Quest

Brandale Randolph has found a way to link his new bicycle manufacturing business with his quest for social justice

Brandale Randolph believes there is a budding Black cycling market, rife with Black cycling clubs, triathlon athletes and folks who just ride for leisure. There are also younger Black professionals who prefer to ride a bike to work or school.

Randolph, 40, a self-described social entrepreneur, was one of those people.

A former California stockbroker and Texas social advocate, he was faced with the dilemma of not being able to find a quality bicycle that he liked. So he decided to make his own and in October launched his Framingham, Massachusetts-based luxury bicycle maker 1854 Cycling, which offers a one-speed men’s model bike called “The Garrison” with a leather bag and accessories (he hopes to have a women’s version available by Christmas).

But beyond owning a Black bike company, Randolph says he is committed to improving the quality of life of the formerly incarcerated, a struggling population that has difficulties shaking the stigma of having been locked up and finding gainful employment.

He spoke with about his company, social entrepreneurship, and the issues facing low-income people and returning citizens/ex-offenders. Can you give us a little bit of your background?

Brandale Randolph: I come from the nonprofit world. Primarily, I’m a poverty advocate. I ran a nonprofit for years called Project Poverty. All I did was study poverty and do research on its outcomes and effects. Basically poverty alleviation solutions. One of the things I believe about poverty is that we don’t understand it well enough to solve the issue. Part of it is about choosing poverty while they’re suffering and how we can tailor a unique solution to end their suffering, so that their kids won’t go through what they’re going through. What is social entrepreneurship, exactly?

BR: Some people think social entrepreneurship is just making money and doing good. Well, I believe there’s another layer. I believe that social entrepreneurship is making money and changing society for the better. You can do things that you think are good, but it doesn’t really change society. For instance, we can take money and build all the basketball courts we want, but how does that help the physical poverty that’s in that community where you’re building that basketball court. I mean, are you employing the people that live there? How diverse is your operation? How many people who are low income are you allowing to come work? How many ex-offenders are you hiring? A lot of social entrepreneurs are just doing it for the photo opportunities and not necessarily for the betterment of communities or their target populations. Why bikes? How did you arrive at this kind of company?

BR: It was really a process and it was random. It came out of an “a-ha” moment, as people like to call it. I wanted a bike and I didn’t see a bike that I wanted. I figured I wanted a bike that I could ride every day, that looked good, and that matched what I wanted to do in life and I didn’t see any that matched on the market. That kind of thing led me to think that if I’m here, then I may not be alone. So I started looking at the markets and it seems that there are a lot of people who import fancy…luxury bikes, from Europe and other places.

These are the guys who ride these bikes to their offices and park them in their offices where people can see them. They don’t want to ride a triathlon bike and they don’t want a cheap bike, because they don’t want to have to buy a new bike every few years. They want a high-end, high-quality bike and I was like, that’s me. So, I designed something, made it and a lot of people are interested in getting one just like that. Then my social advocacy, do-gooder person and I kind of wanted to see what i could do to help people [at the same time]. What is the social component of 1854 Cycling that benefits returning citizens/ex-offenders?

BR: Right now, as we’re still building and starting up, a large portion of our early proceeds have gone towards paying fees to help expunge the records of ex-offenders. A lot of people just want a clean record or have their record sealed. We’ve been in contact with several attorneys and we’re taking what we can and we’re putting it towards that. We’ve done pretty good. We’ve actually helped a few young men expunge their records. Once we start selling bikes and getting much larger–hopefully during the Christmas season we sell a lot of them–we’re going to start putting together a larger fund for setting up the factory. Once we set up the factory, we’ll be able to hire about 20 people and train them to assemble and do all these things.

In the meantime, we’re just doing record expungement, which is huge for a lot of ex-offenders. What most people don’t understand is that even if you’ve been exonerated from your case, you still have to go to the job and do a criminal background check, which is then reviewed by an HR person who may or may not understand what you actually did. You may not have a chance to explain what actually happened. It could be something as simple as getting trouble while you’re in high school and being sent to juvie for stealing a backpack or bringing a screwdriver to school for wood shop and it’s considered a dangerous weapon. All of his stuff comes up on your record until you’re 21, so from 18 to 21, you run the risk of not being employed every time they run a criminal background check. If you can have this sealed or expunged, then it doesn’t pop up on your criminal background check, hindering you from getting a job, which allows you to pay for any expenses you have.

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Brandale Randolph