John Legend gives a boost to Hamline prof’s social-justice work — and hoodie

Jason Sole wins a $10,000 award and recognition for his campaign to humanize people of color

Minnesota Governor's Residence protest
Jason Sole criticizes police on their use of riot gear on peaceful protesters outside the Minnesota Governor's Residence in St. Paul in July 2016. He has recently received a major shoutout from Grammy Award-winning artist John Legend.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Hamline University professor and activist Jason Sole has received a major shoutout from Grammy Award-winning artist John Legend.

Sole has been recognized as one of several change-making activists featured by Legend’s Can’t Just Preach initiative, which highlights community leaders around the country.

On Tuesday, Legend introduced Sole to his 12.8 million followers on Twitter and encouraged them to donate to Sole’s project, which also offers implicit-bias training to organizations and others interested in improving the lives of black people.

“I’m just grateful that John Legend chose to use his platform for somebody like me and support this movement,” Sole told MPR News.

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Sole was awarded $10,000, which will go towards his Humanize My Hoodie campaign, which was designed to destigmatize the stereotypes associated with clothing worn by black people.

“I wanted to lift up Trayvon Martin. I always think that appearance, the hoodie on a black person, just makes us automatically criminal, and I wanted to pipe back against that,” Sole said.

For one semester, he wore the hoodie, emblazoned with the words “Humanize My Hoodie,” while teaching his criminal justice course at Hamline. Soon his message started to spread when he wore it out in the community.

“It started as a project, but it became a movement pretty quickly after we launched it,” he said.

Sole said his co-founder, Andre Wright, wore the hoodie at New York Fashion Week earlier this year. It ended up getting attention from various celebrities and people in the fashion industry. Now this fall, they’ll have their own show at Fashion Week.

“I don’t even think I’ve ever been to a fashion show,” said Sole, a former Minneapolis NAACP president. “I’ve dreamed a lot of dreams, but I’ve never dreamed anything like that. That’s beyond my imagination.”

He said even though the hoodie has gotten attention from Legend and other household names, the acknowledgement he receives from his own community is what means the most to him.

“People on campus and little kids, people sending us pictures saying that they feel empowered by it, it just really blew up from the people on the ground more so than the celebrities,” he said.

Sole said he ultimately wants to ensure that black people will no longer be seen as a threat because of what they wear.

“My goal is that we’ll be humanized when people see us and not think the worst of us, or think that we’re going to do something or we’re stealing something in the store,” he said. “My vision is that we won’t even need these hoodies in a few more years because everybody will see our humanity and we won’t have to proclaim it.”