Since he was a youngster growing up in Southeast D.C., in Ward 8, Charles Gussom always wanted to make a difference in the lives of his friends, family and neighbors.
Many Washingtonians know Gussom as a dedicated employee of Martha’s Table, the Ward 8-based social service agency that offers food, clothing and assistance to the needy, as the assistant director of community development.
While Gussom works to help others through the nonprofit, he has also embraced entrepreneurship. Gussom is the owner of the clothing firm Black Pawn Game based east of the Anacostia River.
“My partners and I decided to get into a different type of business,” Gussom, 36, said. “I have been involved in entertainment and have worked on U Street in Northwest in that field. But we decided to try a clothing brand. We want to try to unify people through clothing.”
Gussom is a graduate of Ballou High School and holds degrees from the University of the District of Columbia and Potomac College. He has worked for Grand Hyatt Hotel and participated in other entrepreneurial ventures.
Black Pawn Game was founded by his partner, DonVeto D. Premier, in 2020. The clothing concern was set up to design and develop products of quality to unite like-minded people, groups, and sectors. Gussom and Premier noticed many of the present leading apparel brands are made without consideration of the underserved, unrepresented and economically and politically disadvantaged in mind.
The name comes from chess, the game where black and white figurines with medieval titles are used in a match of wits and strategy. Gussom said in chess, as in life in America, white people tend to be dominant while Black Americans are often in a defensive position.
“The black figures are the pawns, and the pawns are the weakest in chess,” he said. “In the real world, we are the black pawns. We are counted out. We are the underdogs. But the pawn can also be the most powerful tool in chess if you know how to play the game. That applies to life, too.”
Black Pawn Game has joined the growing number of entrepreneurs selling streetwear, which got its start in New York City in the 1990s.
Streetwear is casual, non-designer clothing that can be worn at any time of day. Other Black-owned streetwear brands in the District include The Museum Store co-founded by LaGreg Harrison and Muhammad Hill and the Love More brand founded by Ward 8 resident Jovan Davis.
Black Pawn Game offers its customers polo shirts, hoodies, shorts, jogger track pants and outfits. The word “colored” is on Black Pawn Game’s clothes which has raised eyebrows given the contemporary view of the word, which many Blacks consider outdated.
Gussom said they have trademarked the word and seek to define it in their own way and not use society’s definition.
Customers can order merchandise through their website or visit them at the Black Wall Street pop-up that occurs on Saturdays at Check-It Enterprises in Ward 8, with other vendors. Gussom said his goal is to have a brick-and-mortar store within five years and branch out to other locations in the Washington metropolitan area.
Ron Moten, who owns Check-It-Enterprises, is pleased to showcase Black Pawn Game in his establishment.
“It is important for Black businesses to have incubator spaces,” said Moten. “These spaces give Black business owners the chance to network. I like the Black Pawn Game brand because they try to educate people.”