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Celebrating Black History with Because of Them We Can

For February, we are recognizing an innovative social change organization that grew out of Black History Month. Since its inception six years ago, Because of Them We Can has evolved into a movement to celebrate Black history and excellence all year long. Here is its story.Because of Them We Can Spike LeeIn January 2013, photographer and mother of two Eunique Jones Gibson sat in her kitchen watching her son, Chase, shadowboxing. It was the eve of Black History Month and close to the one year anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, and she says, “as a mother with two Black sons I was wrestling with feelings of hope and fear.” As she watched Chase, she stopped seeing him as her son and started to visualize him as a little Muhammad Ali. “I thought of how he didn’t even know who Ali was,” she remembers, “and boom, the idea was born.”

Gibson envisioned a photography series that would celebrate Black history and focus on educating and exciting young people. She would outfit children like prominent Black leaders, photograph them, and pair those photos with quotes. The tagline would be a phrase across the bottom of every image: the words “Because of him we can” or “Because of her we can.” That campaign, depicting 28 history-makers, including Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, filmmaker Spike Lee, and of course, Muhammad Ali would launch that February to immediate success. Within six months, Gibson was able to leave her job to run the organization full time.

Because of Them We Can Shirley ChisholmAt the advice of her trademark attorney, Gibson simplified the message to “Because Of Them We Can” and began working on ideas for how to expand the impact of the concept beyond the initial photography campaign. She wanted to both get the word out and raise money, so she turned to the Custom Ink Fundraising platform to make the organization’s first t-shirts. “If you have a message that you want to share or amplify, a t-shirt is a great way to do it,” she says.

Her initial design idea was simply to use the same name and typeset she’d used in the photos, and it worked well. The shirt was bold, and it got attention. While that fundraiser was small, it was a success. She says having a great t-shirt was instrumental in how well the campaign did. “It was a big deal because we were able to create brand advocates in the people who were excited about the movement. They began wearing the t-shirts and sharing the message.”

Eunique Jones Gibson's first t-shirt fundraiser and logo

The original design from the photo series and Gibson’s first fundraiser shirt using a version of that design.

That fundraiser not only proved that the idea had more potential, but it also gave Gibson a chance to see what worked and what didn’t. While the shirts were popular and looked good, she felt they could be even better with an official logo.

“As a marketer by trade, I knew that having a strong logo was extremely important. I wanted something simple yet bold.” It also needed to look just as good on a t-shirt or a hoodie as it would on her photos, website, and social media.

It didn’t take her long to design the logo. She sorted through hundreds of fonts until she found the one that felt right. I sort of just played around with different fonts against a black square until I landed on something that I thought was simple and clean.” Then, she ran it by her husband, a graphic designer. “Once he approved, I knew I was good to go.”

woman and logo t-shirt

Eunique Jones Gibson wearing her logo t-shirt and the logo she designed.

For the next run of t-shirts, she would use the new logo and add the first names of some of the influential Black leaders who had inspired her. She felt like it helped convey what ‘Because of Them We Can’ meant. She says, “People would see the [original] shirt and ask, ‘Because of them we can, what? And who’s them?’ So, I thought that adding names of some of the trailblazers we were referencing would help onlookers understand exactly what we meant. And it worked.”

Try these tips to start
your own t-shirt fundraiser
  1. Pick a great cause and a name.
  2. Choose a bold color combination.
  3. Create your design.
  4. Set up the fundraiser.
  5. Tell everyone you know.

Gibson and Because of Them We Can have been covered by BET, Ebony, MSNBC, The Washington Post, and many more. As the brand grew into a broader platform for education, Gibson began looking for a way to scale the message and to create something bigger that could impact the next generation of leaders. “Whenever I visited a school, teachers constantly told me that they needed more resources from us to teach Black history in an innovative way.”

This drove her to create a subscription box designed for both classrooms and individual kids. Subscribers receive a box every month full of content, apparel items, props, and activities, all centered around Black excellence and history. She says, “each box represents a child who is learning Black history beyond February. And because Black history is American history, we think it’s an important goal.”

Because of Them We Can monthly subscription box

The Because of Them We Can monthly subscription box contains educational items celebrating Black history and excellence.

If you’re inspired by Eunique Jones Gibson’s story, try these tips to start your own t-shirt fundraiser which, through Custom Ink’s Fundraising platform, is as simple as designing a shirt and choosing a cause. The platform takes care of providing a fundraising page along with the inventory, collecting donations, printing, and shipping. Here are five simple steps to get you going.

  1. Pick a great cause and a name for it. Gibson’s advice: “I think the biggest thing to remember, whenever you create, is that people aren’t in your head. Make something that is easy to comprehend and understand within three seconds of looking at it.”
  2. Choose a bold color combination. Gibson’s advice: “I wanted something that would pop and could stand alone, whether it was a watermark on an image or a design on a t-shirt. Black and white seemed like the perfect fit to thrive in any creative situation.”
  3. Make your design. Upload an image or create one in our Design Lab. Gibson’s advice: “Make it simple but bold. Ask yourself if you could see a popular celebrity wearing it on a t-shirt or garment proudly. Fine tune and tweak it until your answer is yes.”
  4. Set up the fundraiser. Make sure you write a compelling story. Let them know why they should support your cause. Gibson’s advice: “Know why you’re doing it before you venture out to do it. Your why will help you when you want to give up or throw in the towel.”
  5. Tell everyone you know. Send emails, put it on social, tell your neighbors, and most importantly, wear your shirt. Gibson’s advice: “Make sure you build a strong village of supporters who can help you get on or stay on the right path.”

Miellyn is the Copy Manager at Custom Ink. Her work has spanned marketing for television networks like TLC and Travel, educational content for Smithsonian and National Geographic, marketing and story for indie video games, essays for publishers including Random House, The Telegraph, and Smart Pop Books, and stories for press outlets like VICE and VH1.

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