ST. LOUIS – When it comes to early school year shopping, most young boys have their personal style already figured out. They’ll buy jeans, belts and the latest sneakers. But for so many young men, no outfit is complete without a hoodie. For Pam Hornsby-Irvin, this is the case for her grandson, Elijah.
“He had to have a hoodie with every fit,” she said. “He would go to the bus stop, and if he didn’t have his hoodie, he’d run home and grab it, then go back to the bus stop.”
After the 2012 shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, Hornsby-Irvin had the idea to write a book entitled “Hoodie.” Although her grandson initially inspired the book, Hornsby-Irvin took a closer look at the ways in which young black men may be criminalized for wearing hoodies. At the time of his death, Trayvon was wearing a hoodie.
Hornsby-Irvin’s first children’s book chronicles the life of a young black boy named Hoodie, who wears his garment of the same name as a fashion statement, to protect him from weather and to surprise his friends with new hairstyles. As the book progresses, Hoodie learns that to some people, his appearance evokes fear and suspicion. The book aims to teach children about prejudice and how to accept people from all walks of life in society.
After the book was published, Hornsby-Irvin took her idea further. She collaborated with Idris Weekly of ZeroTribe Productions, to film “HOODIE The Movie,” which made its debut in September at 24:1 Cinema in Wellston.
Viewers filed in to the theater to watch Hornsby-Irvin’s first documentary, in which the history of the hoodie was explained further, offering commentary from scholars, lawyers, religious leaders, children and young men in the St. Louis area.
“Audiences need to know about Hoodie because our black boys and men are being victimized and criminalized and thought of as being menacing,” Hornsby-Irvin said. “A hoodie is just a garment, and other cultures need to understand that when they come across a black man or black boy, it doesn’t mean they are going to cause them harm.”
After the screening, audiences were able to discuss their thoughts on the movie, as well as give feedback. Many expressed their dismay with hoodies’ being seen as a “polarizing garment,” citing that when people such as Mark Zuckerburg wear hoodies, it a sign of success, given his wealth. When black men and boys wear hoodies, however, it can be seen as a threat.
“If you’re going to be afraid, be afraid of everybody,” one audience member remarked.
Hornsby-Irvin said that after receiving what she saw as an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience, she was inspired to keep going. As of now, the documentary has had one public screening. She’d like the opportunity for more people to see her film, get it into schools, film festivals and maybe picked up by Netflix.
Hornsby-Irvin acknowledged how much work needed to be done but said she was excited about what may come next.
“There is a lot more work to be done. This is not the last one,” she said.