Maryam April Pugh , 37, Co-founder, Owner, and CEO of Philadelphia Printworks.
By Melissa Simpson
On my right arm, I have a tattoo that reads, Araminta. I got it in 2017 after leaving my corporate job. I worked there for 10 years. It was a huge milestone for me to step out on faith and work on my business full time. I felt Araminta was fitting because it’s Harriet Tubman’s real name and, for me, leaving a corporate job felt like I was leaving a plantation or a plantation mentality.
I started Philadelphia Printworks in 2010 with my business partner at the time, Ruth Paloma Rivera Perez. We were both two very excited, ambitious young women who were interested in making an impact in our community. We were also very interested in the DIY aspect of screen printing.
Ruth left in 2012, two years later, but I continued to do it on my own. The idea was to bring awareness to certain social justice issues that were going on out into the world. But as things have developed, it kind of evolved. I would say now that the mission is to bring awareness to the issues in the community from the inside out.
I have to pause to define activist in my mind — what that exactly means to me. I know that there are organizers and other roles that play into movement-building. I am definitely not an organizer, so I am probably at the level of activist where the things that I do through Philadelphia Printworks have the goal of supporting the movement. We do that by bringing awareness and amplifying marginalized voices. For me, the mission for Philadelphia Printworks is to support the movement in any way that we can.
My definition of activism is partaking in your civic duty of democracy. Being a catalyst for change, as Shirley Chisholm would put it. I would say that I first came across her work and became familiar with her about six years ago, which was probably late.
A lot of my work involves excavating and making our own heroes. That includes a lot of Black women who have done work in different movements, and women, in general, and making sure that they are not forgotten. For me, Shirley Chisholm is one of those people along with Fanny Lu Hammer, Ella Baker - a lot of the people who were a part of the Civil Rights Movement who may not have gotten the same notoriety as some of the men who were involved.
I think that throughout history we've been taught to heroify certain figures: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. And this is not without warrant, but I still think that a lot of people did a lot of work that isn’t necessarily given exposure.
For me, part of the mission is to go back and unearth these people. This is important because as we start to define what we want the future to look like, we need to consider the points of view of these people so that we are not just recreating the same systems — the same patriarchal systems.
Womanhood — I think this is still developing for me. As we are being confronted with this question of gender, I am still developing what that means to me. I think that in my most recent iteration of that answer, it would be some kind of cultural idea.
There are certain gender constructs that I don’t subscribe to, but I also think that when you peel away those layers, there is an essence of what it means to be a woman. I think that is where womanhood comes into play. For me, I would equate it mostly to a culture of femininity.
I am not sure what that essence is. It’s really hard to define it. We’re still exploring that. Once you strip away all the constructs. It’s very similar with Blackness. What do we look like once we strip away the pain and the oppression?
As the culture moves forward, we get to define the narrative of Black culture. I would say that for Philadelphia Printworks, we focus a lot on heritage: civil rights heritage, social justice heritage.
I am also very interested in exploring Blackness outside of struggle and pain. I think it has a lot to do with our traditions: Our solidarity with one another, the way that we have thrived despite the things that are going around us and what that looks like — the radical self-care that we have learned how to do. My daughter is 14 years old and from the time she was born, I always felt a sense of responsibility to never use her as an excuse as to why I couldn’t do something.
Instead of using her as a reason that I couldn’t do something, I wanted her to be the reason that I should do something. She always pushed me to be a better person.
I see that having a business and being a woman business owner sets a really powerful example for her and is an alternative to corporate mentality.
I think that the future of womanhood looks strong. I think that we are very strong and any oppressed group is going to fight for their freedom and liberation — that is just the nature of humanity.
Everyone wants their liberation.
How that morphs and how the conversation changes are yet to be seen. I appreciate that it seems that more people are interested in an intersectional approach as we continue to articulate the importance of such.
The first thing people can start with is identifying their own privileges, which is difficult. I do the same thing. I look at ways that I am privileged and try to find ways to utilize that privilege to amplify or pass the mic to someone who is less privileged. I think that is a great start.
Saying “I didn’t know” or staying within the comfort of your own bubble isn’t a good enough excuse anymore.
Maryam’s Revolutionary Picks:
“On my right arm, I have a tattoo that reads, Araminta. I got it in 2017 after leaving my corporate job. I worked there for 10 years. It was a huge milestone for me to step out on faith and work on my business full time. I felt Araminta was fitting because it’s Harriet Tubman’s real name and, for me, leaving a corporate job felt like I was leaving a plantation or a plantation mentality. “