Thurman and Torrence Thomas, known to music fans as the production duo THEFRESHBROS, are the founders and creative visionaries behind Tankproof, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing swimming lessons and food security to those who need it most.
Leveraging their skills as musicians, storytellers, photographers, videographers, community organizers, and all around dope guys, the duo have turned Tankproof from a “what if?” idea into an immersive lifestyle brand that artfully blends creativity with activism and helps thousands of kids every year.
In support of Tankproof and its mission we will be donating 10% of the in-store profits at our Austin location to them in the month of April.
We recently sat down with Thurman and Torrence to talk about how they were able to “bring water to the desert” and get others to start riding the waves their upstart NGO has created. Here’s what came back.
Bring us into your world. What does Tankproof do?
We got the idea for Tankproof in 2011 when we were watching a replay of Live Aid on TV. As musicians and producers, we wanted to transform the creative energy in our hearts into meaningful community service.
We started out with the goal of bringing swimming lessons and access to aquatic activities to communities that are traditionally underserved in those areas. We wanted to challenge the stereotype that “Black people can’t swim” and change the statistics in regards to that.
In our very first year, we gave over 60 kids in Baton Rouge the gift of swimming. After our fourth year, things really started to pick up and we became an official 501c3 non-profit organization so that people could feel good about directly supporting us financially.
From there, we’ve been able to hire our own instructors and expand this work to Austin and San Francisco, with many more cities to come in 2021 and 2022. Since COVID, we’ve also been very active with creating food security in rural communities and working with restaurants and distributors to ensure that kids can eat even when they are not going to school.
How do your skills as creators and musicians impact your community work?
Communication is central to everything we do, whether we are doing that through a conversation, or a song, or a video, or an event. We want to give others as many opportunities as we can to catch the wave and be a part of the community. Art and design is a great way to do that.
We always knew that if Tankproof was stylish and inviting, people would want to get involved. From the jump, we started with the creative tools at our disposal and designed some really cool tank tops to draw attention to the cause. Merch has always been a very big part of how we spread the message. If it looks cool, people will want to learn more!
What’s your process for creating impact? How do you get things done?
We start by having conversations. If we get a good response to our ideas, we go deeper and do lots of research. It doesn’t have to be complicated. As two Black musicians getting into the world of aquatics, our first move was to connect with someone who taught swimming in our area. Simple, right?
We also look to fill gaps. We don’t own a pool, but what we do have is creativity and an artistic spirit that can get people talking. We always want to create a win/win and bring value to the community. It is always a group effort.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your ten years of running Tankproof?
Don’t worry about “selling” anything, just make your idea understandable and keep welcoming people into your vision. As independent artists, we knew that it would be hard for us at first to give up some control. We had to really work at that. But once we started to hire other people and trust them, we started to flourish. Do what you do best, and let others handle the rest.
Mostly importantly, focus on how to create community and awareness around an issue, rather than how to create an institution around it. It’s not about saying “I want to start a non-profit.” It’s about saying “Kids are drowning and I want to fix that.”