Education, Creativity + Authenticity: How Glucose Gang’s Founder Thrives
This interview was published August 25, 2021.
Diabetes isn’t just about checking blood sugar and counting carbohydrates; it’s a complex health equation that requires multiple practices to make sure you stay not only physically healthy, but mentally and spiritually healthy too. Over the course of our spirituality and wellness interview series, we’re speaking with just a few members of our diabetes community to learn what they do to stay well.
Michael Roberson, aka Glucose Gang Mike, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7 and has lived with it for over 20 years. As a current diabetes mentor, model, public speaker and entrepreneur, he uses the words and lessons of the late Nipsey Hussle to fuel his values of ownership and community. With his business reaching new heights, Roberson recounts his experiences with therapy, getting more in tune with his spirituality, and his goals for the future.
Beyond Type 1: Thanks for speaking with us today. If you don’t mind, can you tell us about the foundation and roots of Glucose Gang?
Michael Roberson: Glucose Gang started as an idea, like everything else. For a few years, I was considering doing something with diabetes, to really embrace this part of me and show everyone what it really means.
I didn’t really think too much about pushing through with it until a gentleman by the name of Nipsey Hussle passed. I was a huge follower of him and his ideologies behind community, family, entrepreneurship and ownership. I’m not from California, I’m from Michigan, but it resonated with me.
So when he transitioned in 2019 abruptly, I took that as a sign and I didn’t want [his death] to be the last thing I thought about when I thought about him. It was a sign. This was my time to push. This was my time to really solidify Glucose Gang and make it something.
I remember printing off one t-shirt and talking with my mom; I thought about going live on Instagram and talking about diabetes. She told me to do it and we had a conversation on [Instagram] Live; we had never talked about my diabetes prior to my diagnosis. That started the Glucose Gang aspect and I started going live every week with different diabetics.
I went live with diabetics who were mothers, diabetics who were caregivers, those who had it over 20 years, those who had it and rode motorcycles, those who had it and did pageants…. I wanted to highlight those individuals, especially since they don’t get that light as much as they should.
I like to think that Glucose Gang is built on three pillars:
- education: educating others on T1D, what it is, how it affects us and the future of it
- creativity: art, music… as long as it invokes some kind of emotion within you
- authenticity: being authentic to whoever you are as an individual. For me, this means that if you like Star Wars, throw that Storm Trooper flag in the air. If you like music, play your music. If you like natural hair, rock your natural hair.
That’s the ideology of Glucose Gang, as well as our merchandise that we just launched.
When it comes to spirituality, what does that look like for you?
I definitely believe in a higher power and that permeates my life. I grew up in a church and have always known God. For me, I’ve always been driven and aligned spiritually. It’s incorporated within Glucose Gang, along with similar aspects of Nipsey Hussle’s [mindset].
Meditation is something I would encourage a lot of people to and tap into. You don’t have to be a monk. My goal daily is to meditate 10 minutes a day; I pray for 3 minutes, I focus on my breathing for 3 minutes, and for the last 3 minutes, I visualize what I want my life to look like.
My therapist is also a weekly part of my routine. We meet at a certain time, but if I ever felt the need to reach out, I could definitely do that and he’ll be there to listen. My mom recommended therapy years ago in reference to the death I had seen in older folk in my family. I blew it off for a couple years, but in 2020, right before things started to get crazy, I went ahead and reached out to a therapist, specifically a Black man, because I felt that only another Black man could relate to the things I had seen. It really helped me keep a level head during such a tumultuous time.
In relation to diabetes, I can pick up when I start to feel burnout. So much of my life revolves around diabetes, and I can feel it because I’ll start to form judgmental opinions, and I know that’s not me. My therapist taught me a technique where you keep your eyes open and dart you eyes from side to side and it helps relieve tension.
I’m a huge believer in self-care, so if I’m stressed out I’ll grab a CBD bath bomb, turn on some music and sit in the tub and chill. I’m a huge fan of environmental therapy, as well. If you’re in Michigan and there’s snow outside, go outside in the snow. If you’re in Cali, walk by the water. It’s a great way to decompress, so for me, a lot of the ways that I cope show up with my mental health coming first. If you don’t put yourself first, nobody else will.
When you need to say “no,” how do you stand by it?
For a lot of things, if it’s something I believe in, I’m willing to say yes. If I have to fake the funk for it, I’m not doing it. For example, if I receive a request for a collaboration with a sugar-free candy company and I don’t really believe in the values or the ideals of the company, then I’m going to turn that down. I don’t want anybody, especially Glucose Gang itself, to feel like I sold them a dream or that I’m faking the funk.
One of the pillars of Glucose Gang is authenticity, and what’s authentic to me is utilizing products and services that I actually use. For example, I use the Freestyle Libre and I live by that, same with insulin. Saying “no” and staying focused on your mission just has to do with values.
Ask yourself if your values align. If they do, let’s talk. If they don’t, I most likely won’t be as involved in something. If you say yes to everything, then you’ll be drained.
If you could talk to your younger selves, what would you tell them?
I would tell 7-year-old Mike that everything happens for a reason and this is one of the reasons why you were put on this Earth.
I would tell 12-year old Mike that he’s coming into his own, but don’t let the idea of being grown overtake you being a kid. Enjoy the teenage years because when you look up, they’re gone.
I’d tell 16-year old Mike not to go out and drive recklessly and to be smarter with his money. Save and invest into Nike stock because your 29-year-old self could be retired by now. I would also tell myself to believe in yourself and believe in what you’re doing and move forward.
The marathon doesn’t stop. You gotta keep pushing. Everything you want is within your grasp, you just have to remain consistent.