Hamline News

Jason Sole: Instructor, Activist, Leader


Jason Sole has had two separate teaching assignments at Hamline, most recently in the Spring 2020 semester where he taught Introduction to Diversity. That term, he was honored by students from the Hedgeman Center for Student Diversity Initiatives as their 2020 Faculty Member of the Year. He plans to return to teach in Hamline’s Spring 2021 semester. While at Hamline, Jason works as an adjunct instructor.

But there’s another side to Jason, which is devoted to social justice, leadership and relevant action. A former president of the Minneapolis NAACP, Jason played an important role in coordinating community response to George Floyd’s death.

He is known nationally for his social justice work as well as for “Humanize My Hoodie,” a campaign designed to remove stigma often experienced by Black men in society and which has become a strong success.

In June 2020, Jason appeared on the CBS News program “60 in 6”. We caught up with him at his June 5, 2020 interview for that segment. (This interview has been edited for clarity.)

JP: The first question, Jason, would just be, how are you doing (in light of circumstances)?

JS: You know, we've been here before, this isn't new. You know, I'm glad the world is watching but we've been here for Jamar Clark, we've been here for Philando Castile, so I feel pretty good and poised and ready, for I always knew Minneapolis could be the epicenter of something onto this level. And now it's actually happening so I was kind of prepared for some of it, but I'm good, family is good. Just trying to get justice.

JP: I don't mean this the way it's going to sound, but the word that comes to my mind here is pride. Are you proud of the community in how it has reacted? What are your thoughts?

JS: I'm very proud of the community. I mean, of course there's some things I wouldn't do personally but I'm not upset at people who are, you know, feeling like they need to burn something. I'm not mad at that. You know, I mean, like I got a platform, I got a good social media. I got a voice. Martin Luther King said, “riot is the voice of the unheard.” So, I've gotten them out. I love people – like, property is good, but it's not a human being. So that's why I'm like more on the side of let's lift up George Floyd. Let's lift up other black people who've been oppressed and now is the time. I mean, we're not going back at this point, we're going forward.

JP: Have we learned anything? In terms of what we've heard, in terms of how we treat other people, how we react to other people. Have we learned, and when I say ‘we’ I mean the ‘editorial we’ here? I'm talking about us as a society and then as white people.

JS: Yeah. How can we learn anything? I mean, I think so. I think the nature of it, the nature of the violence, may (have) woke people up on some level, the fact that he was down eight minutes and 46 seconds. I think people think “oh, shit, like that's what y'all been talking about.” It's like exactly what we've been talking about all this time and now people get to see it. I think because it was so intimate in terms of the violence that woke up a lot of white folks to say, “yeah, that can happen”. I think for a while all the Philando people went back to sleep. You know, like people went back to sleep and fall right back into, you know, “everyday routine” with this one. It is no turning back -- we divesting from police, and we standing strong, we create our own, we are creating right now the world we want to see. So everybody else just got to catch up at this point. We're not going back to, “yeah, let's just trust these politicians. Let's trust the government.” We past that at this point. We know what we want.

JP: What is the best way to ally with a movement like that? Or with anybody that wants to help create change?

JS: I mean, we are talking about abolishing the police here. We talking about having a world where it's not the traditional, ah, department that we've had so, in doing that, you got to diversify. You gotta reinvent. Yeah.
So, we're talking abolition. So, if people are talking about reforming and giving them more training, like, we past that. So if you want to be a strong ally, you need to be talking about what does it look like to abolish law enforcement, have a different system that works for everybody, because policing works for white folks, or if you will, it don't work for black people, indigenous people, brown people -- just don't work. So that's what any guy can do. Just hold the system accountable because you got to think University of Minnesota divested from the police, Minneapolis Public Schools divested from the police, Minneapolis Parks and Rec divested from the police. Walker Art divested, even I don't know if they went public yet. But Special Olympics are even divesting. Yeah, so other organizations are solid. We got the momentum right now to say, “you got a bird's eye view into what my life has been like, as a black man, that's a bird's eye view.” We've been going through that and been saying it, but I think now everybody's saying, “okay, how do I, you know, actually show up.”

JP: So what does that world look like for you, in terms of safety, in terms of day to day, just how you live your life? You talked about reinventing, abolishing. What does that world look like for you? I hate to use this phrase, but I have to -- is it easier to breathe in those types of circumstances?

JS: I mean, I've been fighting for this even when I first came to Hamline in 2015. I'm celebrating the five-year anniversary with Pamela Wright. And I came here, you know, I hate to abruptly end it because I took the job in the mayor's office so I have to not be a visiting professor anymore. But I had a vision of being able to share all of this stuff and be able to do it with the students and be able to show them what it should look like because I've been abolitionist. I've been saying this system does not work for us, it derived from slave patrols. The mission never changed. And people were mad at conferences and people been upset. But Hamline was always a place where when I see any of the, you know, faculty or staff, they always say, “man, are you saying the right shit. You are saying the right things,” and that's why I left Metro State University. It was just, it just wasn't a good fit for me.
So, for me, I've been a part of this. So I'm good on a day to day I just got to make sure my wife, my kids, my cousin, my mom, everybody around me and everybody in the community is good, you know. So that's really my role in all this. Y'all met some of the protesters, but mainly my job, if you see me out is mainly security detail against white supremacists, against folks who come in from out of town to do that's been my main role, it’s almost behind the scenes. So, day to day, It looks like me and my people creating our own response team. I've done it under Mayor Coleman for kids. So, I'm proving it in that respect. I'm just dispatch right now. People call me saying “hey, I see white supremacists are over here in Maplewood, they at the hotel. We need some assistance.” I call my people and say, “Hey over there, let's make sure they don't make it back over to Selby. Okay. Hey, they going back by Hiawatha.” So it’s just looking like us fielding our calls, because truthfully law enforcement should have been the ones who had their eyes on the premises. It shouldn't be our job. But because white supremacy and policing are intertwined. There has been no safety for us and you get a chance to see that shit now.

JP: How has Hamline been in terms of promoting your message? How do the students react to you?

JS: I mean, all the students have been frontline. Like, I mean, my students. They around me now, everybody who I've had. I mean, I've taught a lot of students here. I've been here five years and pretty much I haven't missed a semester in five years. I'm pretty sure I don't think I've missed one. Yeah, I haven't missed one semester in five years. So a lot of these students are reaching back using my source of understanding this stuff. I got about eight text messages from students yesterday just saying, “Hey, you're gonna be at the protest.” I'm here holding up signs all day wearing Humanize My Hoodie. So it's been good. Shelly (Associate Professor Shelly Schaefer) has been dope. Marcela (College of Liberal Arts Dean Dr. Marcela Kostihova) has been dope. They don't give me any problem like, they said it when I came here that I can just be myself. So when I came here they knew I was in Ferguson, they knew I had led stuff in Minneapolis, they know I held down a precinct for 18 days in Minneapolis. So it's just been like, hey, if I want to do something, have a little gathering with students or whatever, teaching in a different space, they all accommodate. And so like I say, if it wasn't like that I probably wouldn't be here (laughs).

JP: Humanize My Hoodie. We talked about it, it's on your website, but just for the record, explain where it came from, where it's going. And if anything has changed in that over the last 10 days?

JS: Yeah, absolutely. A lot has changed for us. But Humanize My Hoodie essentially started at Hamline. You know, I said, I'm teaching this semester. I made a post that said, I'm teaching my first semester as a visiting professor with a hoodie on so my students can reduce the threat perception of black men and hoodies. That was the whole goal. I ran it through, that's what Matt Olson will say, I ran it through, got the approval. I have students do a pretest when they came in, and I give them a posttest when they went (out of class). So Humanize My Hoodie, essentially, I came up with the idea and hashtag. My friend called me and said, “let's go ahead and make this a movement. Man. We can do something with this.” He's in fashion design. We grew up together. We super dope. He went to New York Fashion Week, the same day I was starting here as a professor. So he tested Humanize My Hoodie at New York Fashion Week. I tested it in the classroom with my three classes. So I had 97 students who are really, every week I came with a different hoodie on, people start sending me hoodies. Like, “Wear this hoodie, wear this hoodie, wear this hoodie!” My wife’s like, “There are way too many hoodies in this lodging, way too many!”
But you know, it's been dope over the last 10 days people have been saying, like, “Now we get it.” We've had a lot of people, we've trained 350 allies who support us, who stand next to me, frontline who have been delivering food, our allies work with us, we got allies who ship our hoodies who handle them. And we want people to have allyship where you stand next to us and we delegate tasks. And we're a black-led organization. So for us it's grown tremendously over the last 10 days just in terms of people saying, “Your message matches how I feel and how I need to show up on the front lines”. So, it's a lot of kids you've seen in the movement wearing it, a lot of them with the mic standing in front of Governor Walz, and all that. So we just blessed and we fortunate, because we're not into making money off somebody's tragedy, like we're not in and out at all. So for us, we making sure we look after the family, we making sure we own 38th and Chicago. We had the precinct and my security place is the east side of St. Paul and North Minneapolis so I'm a lot of the security detail in this stuff. So, it's been good.

JP: Last question. You just use an interesting phrase when we talked about the people coming to you and say they get it. We've heard that before.

JS: Yeah. So I think they got it now.

JP: Okay, that’s what I was going to ask. How does it stay “got”?

JS: Oh, cuz we’re not stopping it. Like we ask everybody, if you’re giving money to the police at this point? So the issue I mean, somebody's gonna ask Hamline in a second like, “Hey, come on, man. We're not putting money into that terrible system anymore.” But we realize what it's doing and that's why everybody thinks about what Los Angeles just did. They took $150 million away from the police. That's a huge deal, a lot. Yeah, that's a lot of money. So it's not going back to normal, whereas before people gonna say, “All right, I'm gonna go back to my job.” There is no going back to the world we had before to COVID and all that stuff. It's a different world now. So everybody needs to catch up. George Floyd disrupted all the post-quarantine plans. Him being killed changed all of what people were going to do. Cuz it's like, now you got to actually deal with this shit. I mean, I'm talking to reporters from Russia, when you saw me out there with some Russian reporters. I'm talking to France, Canada. I spoke with some students in Beijing this morning. And I'm like, of course, it's a gap, you know, a language barrier. But at the same time, I'm like, “Damn, these kids are 17 years old, reaching out saying, ‘we really don't understand that that's been your reality’.” Like in Sweden, I said, "When's the last time y'all had a police officer kill somebody in Sweden?” She said, “Probably was before I was born.” I said, “Dang”.
I don't know that reality. You know. So for me to be able to say I got allies in Canada now. Toronto, specifically Ontario. Where they say “Hey, if it gets too bad there, you good here”. That's different man, ‘cause now the world is watching. We’d never had the world standing next to us, now we got Israel saying George Floyd, man, we got everywhere saying, and so we're not going back to the status quo. That's over with at this point.


By Jeff Papas with Jason Sole