When Darryl Sharpton started his football career — a career, it should be noted, that spanned several years and saw him go from the Houston Texans to the Arizona Cardinals — he already knew that he wasn’t going to be an athlete forever. But his entrepreneurial spirit compelled him to start other businesses while he was still playing on the football field — which, he said, was more in line with what his family expected of him.
“When I first joined the NFL, people were surprised that I actually did so,” he told AfroTech exclusively. “Throughout college, I owned a lot of websites — some I kept, some I ‘flipped’ — and one of the websites I owned was a furniture website. For me, that was more in line with what I wanted to do, because I always like selling people things that they need in everyday life. So I maintained the sites while I was playing ball, but I really only got back into it after I was done with the NFL.”
Darryl Sharpton — the nephew of the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom the former NFL player says made him feel like “he had a family name to uphold” — is the owner, along with his wife Jessica, of the Albany Park furniture line. Commenced after he retired from the NFL in 2015, Albany Park had a banner year in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, with projected sales of over $100 million.
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But for Sharpton, the most notable collection from his beloved line is the Ekaabo Collection, a collection of African-inspired furniture that still has a contemporary design for all to enjoy. Sharpton says that everything about the collection — from the name to the prints chosen — has its roots in his newly-discovered African heritage.
“One of the biggest things for me — like most Black men, today, looking for their roots — was to know where I came from,” he said. “And I pinpointed my ancestors to West Africa — and, specifically, Nigeria. I wanted to honor those ancestors with something more than just wearing a dashiki once in a while. I wanted to bring the glory of my heritage to the public. And, also, understand that the United States has the largest Nigerian population outside of Nigeria — so this is something that would resonate with a lot of people.”
At the moment, Darryl Sharpton is fielding a few different things for Albany Park in the near future. Because of the spike in sales due to the pandemic, investors have come calling — but Sharpton said he’s not interested in parting with too much of the company’s ownership because there’s a chance that someone else may acquire the business from him. But whether Albany Park is sold to someone else, obtains equity investors, or some combination of both, Sharpton says that the Ekaabo Collection is something he will always be proud of.
“It was important for me to connect Black people to their African heritage, no matter where in Africa their families originally came from,” he said. “As Black Americans, we were separated from our heritage for so long — and while this seems like such a small way to feel ‘reconnected’ with our ancestors, the connection is still the same.”
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.