CEDAR RAPIDS — In 1841, Boston boot-maker John Augustus became the country’s first probation officer.
In 1903, inventors Orville and Wilbur Wright, who spent part of their youth in Cedar Rapids, successfully launched the first powered, manned aircraft.
All three visionaries created history born of an idea and realized through passion, not expertise, Jason Sole, a co-founder of the Humanize My Hoodie movement, said during Thursday’s keynote speech launching The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas symposium at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex.
“You don’t necessarily have to have expertise in a certain field if you want to do something special,” he stressed.
This is the third year for the statewide conference organized by The Gazette to start conversations, explore key questions and brainstorm ideas to shape Iowa’s future. The day-and-a-half-long event is sponsored by ITC.
Friends since meeting at Waterloo East High School, Sole — now a criminal justice professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. — and Andre Wright — a fashion designer and graphic artist based in Iowa City — pooled their creative resources to create Humanize My Hoodie.
Also in its third year, the effort began with Sole’s idea to wear a hoodie while teaching, to help de-stigmatize clothing trends associated with people of color.
Wright saw a social media post about Sole’s initiative, then reached out to see if they could take it to a much larger platform through Wright’s Born Leaders United clothing brand.
Humanize My Hoodie now has grown into a far-reaching action-oriented movement with clothing, art exhibits and presentations to spread the word. It’s an idea not only endorsed by Grammy-winning musician John Legend, but recently presented during New York Fashion Week, with its own show and its hoodies donned by such notables as supermodel and Cedar Rapids native Alanna Arrington.
“It went from an idea to a brand really quickly,” Wright said. “An idea led to us being in front of people that we’d never think that we’d be in front of.”
Citing their own success story, the duo issued a challenge to Iowa Ideas attendees.
“In this audience there’s a million ideas right now. Take a page from the Jason-and-Andre book and cross collaborate,” Wright said. “We’re two visionaries from two different facets of life and, because of our collaboration, we’re able to make changes across the globe.”
“We’ve mixed art and science,” Sole added. “... You need to think about what would it look like for a science teacher to partner with a farmer? What does it look like for somebody who’s formerly incarcerated to collaborate with an engineer? What does it look like?
“We’re trying to do things that haven’t been seen before. We’re trying to create the impossible. We want you to do that, as well, at this conference,” Sole continued.
“You’ve got amazing ideas in this room. Try to click them up, link them up so you can do something powerful for this state.”
“With all the brilliance in this room,,” Wright said, “we are confident that this conference will foster ideas that will make Iowa a much stronger state.”
“What a great message and a great way to start the day,” Dusky Terry of Earlham, president of ITC Midwest, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, said after their keynote. “They talked about how the idea is the spark that gets something moving. And they talked about how important it is to get other points of view, other people, other expertise involved.
“It’s that diversity and inclusion that is so important to actually be able to accomplish a great idea.”
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