GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Black History Month t-shirt designed by a Grand Rapids teenager and a professional artist is now in hundreds of Meijer stores across the country.
“It’s not just a piece of art hanging on a wall,” said Jasmine Bruce, one of the t-shirt designers. “It’s able to be on your clothing, and that in and of itself can be able to spread it across for all the people to see that normally wouldn’t go to a gallery or even on the Internet at all.”
In November, Bruce and Elijah Brown, a University Preparatory Academy junior, joined with West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) and Meijer to create and print the shirts.
“When someone looks at a t-shirt, they only have like a couple seconds to grab your attention,” said Bruce. “We really wanted something that just was powerful, prideful, and also artistic in that way.”
“I wanted to create a shirt for what’s going on now,” said Brown. “I wanted to make a shirt of our history now.”
Bruce and Brown say they drew inspiration from last year’s police brutality protests and Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird.”
“We went with the quote ‘This isn’t just a month for us; it’s everyday,’” said Bruce. “Elijah really pushed the imagery behind having the bird out of the cage. I think in this sense, the bird stands for this aspect of freedom and being freed from oppression and inequality and all of these injustices.”
According to Meijer, nearly 4,000 t-shirts will be sold at 220 Meijer stores in six states in February or while supplies last. The company says this initiative is part of their goal to represent the people that their stores are located in.
“It’s really about the connection you want to make with the people that you are serving,” said Shawn Colley, division merchandise manager at Meijer. “We at Meijer really take pride in that. We want to make sure that we’re focused on the community; we know the community in which our stores are in, [and] we support the community and its members and team members.”
Bruce says other large businesses should provide similar opportunities.
“Minority communities, and Black communities, were never given the opportunities or the resources that white communities were,” said Bruce. “If you have one up here and the Black community down here, for example, when you offer these opportunities and resources, it allows you to climb up the bar and actually have the boots to be able to do these kind of jobs.”
“What I think these partnerships are able to do is give students, again, a platform to share their ideas, but then also a vantage point of like, ‘Oh, this is something that maybe after high school is something that I like to pursue,’” said Trudy Ngo-Brown, director of arts and tech at WMCAT. “They get to see this as a work that people want and potentially a career path or inspiration for ways they can be creative in their career too.”
Brown hopes the t-shirts encourages other people to support one another.
“We should all come together like we is [sic] and support it,” said Brown.
WMCAT’s own custom design and screen-printing business was also contracted by Meijer to print all 4,000 shirts. Each one was hand printed in Grand Rapids and helps support the mission of WMCAT to provide equitable access to opportunity in West Michigan.