Robert Burston, hip-hop artist and owner of Proud Detroiter, harnesses his passions to give back to his community.
By Cassie Kunze
Photography by Hayden Stinebaugh
Loyalty means a great deal to Robert Burston Jr., a lifelong Detroit native and CEO of the clothing and accessories brand Proud Detroiter. Through its best and worst times, he believes in Detroit and has dedicated his career to uplifting the community.
Burston, 44, explains it is a challenging task trying to change the stigma surrounding Detroit, but he believes the perception will change as more people see the pride that exists here.
“One fact that I know about Detroit is, no matter what, the city is going to have your back,” he says.
Burston aspired to develop a business that embodies his passion for his hometown. While recovering from a serious car accident, he realized he could do exactly this with Proud Detroiter.
Growing up a musician is something Burston credits for making him the man he is today. He says immersing himself in music was an important outlet that allowed him to speak his truth in his formative years. He explains he knew little about running a clothing company before starting Proud Detroiter this year, but he found that fashion is another form of art that allows not only himself, but also others to express themselves.
Detroit native George Cook, co-founder of Proud Detroiter and Burtson’s childhood friend, says Burston uses his platform as a musician and entertainer to connect with youth in a way many cannot.
Apart from his work with Proud Detroiter, Burston also volunteers as a motivational speaker with Key Way to Kids, a local nonprofit that provides computer literacy, financial awareness and self-enrichment development. He says he believes it is imperative to connect with Detroit youth.
“The youth is our future,” Burston says, adding that his goal is to inspire kids to grow into the best versions of themselves. He shares the best way is for children to understand where they come from.
“Being a black person, there are a lot of misconceptions represented in the media,” Burston says. “The image of an impoverished African child is often shown on TV, and a lot of children don’t understand that kings and queens come from Africa too.”
Burston explains his desire to be involved in the community came from his experiences growing up on the east side. As a father of three, having children influenced him to take on a greater role as a mentor to youth. “You don’t want to see your loved ones going through the things I’ve seen,” he says.
Along with writing a book and producing more music, Burston aspires to one day set up a nonprofit to support children without parents and those living in unfortunate circumstances in Detroit. He also plans to expand his Detroit store on West McNichols Road to more locations.
Cook says Proud Detroiter is more than a T-shirt — it represents where he and Burston were born and raised. Their goal is to invest in Detroit through creating jobs and building a strong pillar within the community.
“We were here in the bad times and the good,” Cook says. “And in the midst of that we were still proud of our city no matter what the world was saying about us. We represent Detroit no matter what.”
Burston explains everyone experiences hardships at some point in their lives, and this city and its people are no different. He says he has never been afraid of the challenges because he knows the community’s strength.
“Detroit has deep roots. It’s not going anywhere,” he says, “And neither is Proud Detroiter.”