“All I want to do with my time on earth is make some nice things and support some brilliant people and combat institutionalized systemic evil.” That was a quote posted by Felicia Blow, this week’s portrait, and though the quote is not personal, it certainly fits. Felicia Blow is an activist and business owner, and the two of us spent one of last week’s gloomy days talking about positivity and joy.
I read that you’re from North Cackalacka, is that true and does anyone from there actually call it that?
[Laughing] Cackalacky, and sometimes, yeah.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Raleigh, NC. It’s a decent size city but my whole family is from New York so I was a little bit of the outlier. Like a lot of people, wherever they’re from, when I was young I always wanted to be somewhere else. But now I have an appreciation for it. I have an older sister and grew up in a normal kind of household. I was always interested in creative things; when I was younger I would write little books and illustrate them. All throughout middle school and high school I did theater and played a little piano. I’ve just always been interested in trying out different art forms and creative activities. Later, I moved to Asheville for college. It’s in the mountains and though it’s small it’s become very touristy. There’s a big art scene there. I went to a liberal arts college and lived there for about 6 years before I moved to Philly.
Were your parents creative too?
Not really; my mom does accounting for building companies and my dad is a carpenter. Though I think that’s creative in its way.
But my mom… no, she’s always like, “I can’t even draw a stick figure! I don’t know where you got that gene!”
So you were a theater geek?
What was a favorite show moment?
I started out trying to do some acting and then ended up on the tech side of things. We did “Seussical” one year and I did all the set design for that. I think that was the biggest scale production I ever did and it was a lot of fun to do.
Well, these days the doctor is in a little bit of trouble.
I know, this was back before all the negative stuff caught up with everything. I had no idea about social justice and all of that at the time.
What family traditions do you have?
The first one that comes to mind is that on Christmas Eve we were allowed to open up one present and it was a set of pajamas that we would wear Christmas Day.
I love that idea! I’m going to steal it for my nephew.
Yeah, it was a great idea. And we still do it! I mean I’m 28 now and my sister is 32 with a family of her own including a son who’s 10 years old, but it’s still a nice thing to do. The whole family wears a matching set, and it’s very sweet and makes it feel like Christmas every year. I love it.
That is really nice.
Yeah, we’re all embracing it now. What’s funny is that my sister is four years older than me and we have very different personalities, but my mom always insisted on dressing us alike for years, much longer than my sister would have liked. Well, she would have liked if it had never happened at all! I remember matching “Rugrats” outfits and red plaid outfits with little hats and little sparkly jelly shoes, stuff like that.
Awwww cute. What was the biggest fight you and your sister ever had?
Oh gosh, I was never a confrontational person, so we never really fought. That’s such an interesting question because I always think of us as being very different but looking back, I never really recall us fighting.
What’s something Southern about you?
Well, y’all is my FAVORITE word. I think it’s the best word in the English language. It’s the most useful and everyone should say it. A few other things? I don’t tolerate the cold super well. I’m getting a little better, but it’s definitely not my preferred climate as much as I love Philadelphia. I also love a good biscuit and barbecue and all that good southern food.
Do you cook and if so, what would you make as your specialty?
I bake pretty decent biscuits and sweet potato pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas are my things now.
Okay, I know who to hit up over the holidays for that Southern touch.
Yeah, though I used Patti Labelle’s recipes last year!
[Laughing] Patti Pies! Ok, I’ll accept that. I got to work with her on the film “Shadowboxer” and she was really sweet.
That’s so nice, you always like to hear that about people you admire.
Yes. But back to you, what did you study in school?
I majored in sociology and psychology.
Oh, so nothing to do with the creative arts.
I stopped theater after high school. Sometimes I regret that because I really liked it but I didn’t necessarily want a career in theater. I went to school thinking that I’d study art and then double major in business so that I’d have something practical to fall back on. But business is not fun, to me at least and I struggled with the art classes because it was hard for me to have art be a graded objective experience. So I did that for a year and then had to take a sociology class as a requirement and enjoyed it. Then I had a class on Queer Sociology and I was blown away by it, I was like, “Oh, this is what sociology is supposed to be like!” It sparked something in me. So my junior year I started a second major, but it was worth it because I got to study something I was really interested in.
And have you been able to use that sociology degree?
I feel like I use it all the time. I think just being a human being I tap into that background, but especially coming out of college I did a lot of community organizing and worked in the non-profit realm. I think it’s really informed the way I go about my life and the values that I have. I had those same values before, but it gave me the vocabulary to express them and the foundation to understand them.
That’s great. What kinds of things did you do?
I went throughout the South with a group called, “Campaign for Southern Equality” that did community organizing. Since I’ve been in Philadelphia, I’ve done different community and non-profit work in the area of social justice. And I’ve also tried to implement the things I learned in my personal life and non-work related endeavors.
When did you come out?
With my family, I was 24, or maybe 25? It hasn’t been that long. I mean I knew they’d be accepting but for a long time I was against the idea of “coming out.” I was just like, “I’m just going to be who I’m going to be and bring home whomever I’m going to bring home, and the family can just deal with it. I don’t have to make a big thing of it,” and then I realized that it was kind of a selfish way of thinking of it. So when I met my current partner and knew that she was someone I really wanted in my life, I wanted my family to know her too. So I decided to make more of a formal thing of it.
So when you took the class on Queer Sociology were you out at least to yourself?
Yeah, yeah. Honestly, since high school I was always like, [in a teen voice] “I’m not straight, I don’t know, I’m just I’m whatever.” I went through different iterations of thinking I was bi or fluid. I think I didn’t think I could claim a queer identity, somehow didn’t think I was legitimate enough, which I think was tied up in not having come out to the family and part of it was because at first I was still dating a straight cis man and so I thought I wasn’t queer enough. I managed to get over that hurdle.
What was the first non-profit you got involved with and what inspired you?
I interned at “Women at Risk,” an organization that did case management and support for women who were interfacing with the Criminal Justice system. I don’t remember how I got connected to them, maybe through one of my professors, but I was studying things like systemic dynamic oppression and wanted to apply what I was learning. I wanted to do something aside from just studying it.
What was the queer community like there?
In Asheville it was pretty thriving. It’s very artsy and the kind of city where if you’re not different in some way, you’re the outcast! It was a very insular but comfortable place to be. Though not in all ways, which is why I moved.
Care to expand on that?
[Laughing] It’s extremely white. My college was about 90% white, and even though it’s the capital, it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone. You can’t go to the grocery store without running into people who know you and after a while it’s just, “ach” enough already. I just wanted to be somewhere a little bigger with more diversity.
How did you pick Philly?
Atlanta was too sprawly, and I don’t like driving, New York was too much overall, and D.C. was too clean, but I had a friend from college who’d moved here and a few people had mentioned it. As it happened, I was invited to a conference in Philadelphia and they put me up in a hotel for a week so I basically blew off the conference and spent the whole time exploring Philadelphia! I discovered West Philly and fell in love with it, so I took the leap and that’s where I live today. And 5 years later I still love it.
And speaking of something you love, let’s talk about Two Minds Press.
Yes! I started screen printing in 2017, I took a workshop through the Park and Rec. department. There was a guy with his own studio teaching a 3 session DIY course. It was something that just popped up on my facebook feed and for $50, including materials for all 3 workshops, I figured why not. It was at DiSilvestro Park in South Philly and just a fun little thing to do outside. I got hooked and from there continued to teach myself new skills and different techniques. I started out in my bedroom and then shared a space with my roommate who was also an artist, we converted a room in the house for our work, then I had a dingy basement room and now I have a nice ventilated space that even gets some sun, so that’s lovely. In 2018 I started selling at markets and last year I finally got a webstore set up. I’ve realized that I’m definitely not a 9 to 5 kind of person no matter how hard I’ve tried, so in November I left my 9 to 5 and have been making my own way since then. It’s been challenging and exciting but definitely worth it.
Congratulations! What will we find in your e-store?
I create original hand-printed apparel, accessories, and prints around themes of emotionality, wordplay, social justice, and radical joy.
What was your first or most popular item?
The first thing I made was a shirt that I still have on the site and it says, “Here to Make Friends.” It was a response to all those competition reality shows where people declare, “I’m not here to make friends!”, well, I am and I put it on a shirt. The most popular would be the shirts and things that have a logo for the “Emotional Labor Union.” I’d have teachers or social workers or anyone with a marginalized experience come up and say, “I need that shirt!” It seems to resonate with a lot of people.
What’s the core of what you do?
In addition to the printing, I also do design. I also do a lot of custom printing and sign work. I like to do things that revolve around wordplay and emotionality and social justice. Mental health is a big part of my life and I try to bring that into my work. I try to emphasize finding joy as a radical endeavor. It’s something I strive for, even when I’m struggling myself. It’s the background for the name of the company, “Two Minds Press.” It reflects the duality of experiences. As someone who deals with depression and can feel one way one day and be of a different mindset the next, I’m leery of the sometimes toxic positivity that’s a trite, “No bad vibes, don’t be sad.” I try to tap into the vein of acknowledging emotions fully but trying to center joy and positively when you’re able.
Nice, so fun question, when you were a kid did you have any posters on your wall?
Yes, in different phases. When I was young, I had a Tweety Bird themed bedroom, as a preteen I had a lot of CD insert posters, TLC and Britney Spears and as I entered high school I was more into punk music so I had pictures of different artists torn out of magazines and stuck up all over the place. They’re actually still there at my mom’s house along with paper cranes that I made before I left for college that are all suspended from the ceiling.
Ever have a Swiss Army knife?
No, but I had a rainbow colored pocket knife that used to get confiscated all the time because I’d forget it was in my backpack, “we’ll just hold this until you leave…”
Did you play any sports?
I tried to play volleyball in 10th grade. It was the cool sport at my school. I even went to volleyball summer camp, but the next year I didn’t even make the team. I knew I was bad when I told my mother I didn’t make the team and instead of saying something uplifting like, “You’ll make it next time!” or “Yeah, our family’s just not athletic.”
Some people call me Fel (pronounced fell) but as a kid it was Fifi, which I really try to keep people from calling me as an adult, but some of my family still does.
Ever been birdwatching?
I’ve been to the Audubon Discovery Center where they give you a pamphlet of what birds you might see as you walk around, but that’s about it.
A bad habit you’ve broken?
Biting my nails. It used to be bad, my mother was constantly, “Get your hands out of your mouth!” Thank goodness, I managed to stop.
If you started your own podcast what would it be about and what’s the title?
I actually did one just for fun with a friend of mine and we called it “Snack Chats.” I think we did one about Pop Tarts and one about Cheetos. And how I like the edges of the Pop Tarts more than the middle! Maybe it’s time to revise that!