:: In the News :: ‘Halloween Hoodie’ campaign spins off of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death

hhcOctober 12, 2012
By Arelis R. Hernández, Orlando Sentinel

If a young man walks by wearing a sweatshirt with a hood tight around the chin, face somewhat concealed and hands tucked inside the pouch pockets, what comes to mind?

Thug? A mugging is imminent? What’s in his hands? Trayvon Martin?

More often than not, Rochelle Oliver and Gauis Benbow believe, its a negative stereotype that emerges. That’s what they are trying to challenge with their “Halloween Hoodie” campaign — an effort to have Americans of all shades don hoodies on the one day of the year when fear is supposed to be fun.

“The hoodie is this ubiquitous piece of clothing that everyone wears but when black people wear it, it’s interpreted as a symbol of criminal activity,” Benbow said, a 30-year-old Miami-based graphic artist. “There are a lot of stereotypes that get thrown around and we need to be aware of them to deconstruct them.”

He teamed up with Oliver, an independent producer in South Florida, after a conversation about Halloween festivities turned into a discussion about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

“This isn’t about being pro-Trayvon. It’s about being anti-stereotyping,” Oliver said “Seeing someone wearing a hoodie on Halloween will hopefully allow people to examine what they are feeling if they are scared or why they may be judging the person as a threat.”

Oliver posted a short film on YouTube and created a Facebook page hoping to attract attention like the thousands of pictures posted by celebrities and athletes mimicking Trayvon’s iconic hoodie image in the wake of his shooting death. That, she said, was about solidarity. This is about discourse.

Trayvon Martin’s uncle, Ronald Fulton, appears in the film because he said he supports the campaign’s premise: Stereotypes keep people from understanding one another and that, he said, leads to conflict.

Seated in his wheelchair with a black hood over his head, Fulton said that as a quadriplegic and a black man, people make ill-informed assumptions about him every day.

“People think that because I’m in a wheelchair that I’m stupid or slow but when you get to know me, you’ll realize how wrong that is,” he said from his home in Miami Gardens. Fulton did not offer his opinion about the criminal case.

“I think this can lead to constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding my nephew’s death,” he said.

But not everyone is convinced.

The Martin family’s non-profit, the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation, has tweeted about the campaign but has stopped short of lending its full support. The family did not respond to requests for comment.

Bob Harbour, a Miami photographer who heard about the campaign, said he thinks it is a waste of time.

“The issue with the hoodies is way bigger than just a garment being maligned. It’s a whole lifestyle for a lot of people,” he said. “It’s noble but its really not practical.”
Harbour said he is not afraid to admit that if he walked by a group of men in hoodies, he’d switch to the other side of the street.

If misinterpreted, the Halloween hoodie campaign could cause harm, said Sanford community activist Francis Oliver. But, the idea has merit if the effort reaches across racial and ethnic lines, she said.

“You need to tell everybody that this is a positive thing and a move toward un-profiling young blacks as to their hair and the garments they wear,” Oliver said. “It’s their attitude and how they carry themselves, not what they are wearing that matters.”

Benbow, who identifies himself as a Southern black man, said stereotypes are not just wrong — they are dangerous. He said he felt vulnerable after Trayvon was shot.
“What better time to ask people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes than on Halloween when people are supposed to pretend to be something they are not and face their fears?”

arehernandez@tribune.com or 407-420-5471



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The Producer

I produced and directed two commercials that aired online and nationally on Current TV. I produced and booked national guests for Miami Herald’s leading online show, The World Desk with John Yearwood. Through my production company, I developed online public service announcements including the Halloween Hoodie Campaign, which became a viral sensation and gained global attention. I have also worked for ION TV – the largest broadcast company in the world – where I wrote scripts for radio and TV broadcast.

The Journalist

Rochelle Oliver is a Journalist with nearly 10 years of experience in creating captivating cross-platform storytelling. Among her many successes, she has successfully launched four news Web platforms for Tribune, one of the country’s leading multimedia companies.

The Company

Rochelle Oliver Publications and Productions LLC., aims to create entertaining content with journalistic integrity.