Detroit — Using collegiate wear to create community, a seven-year-old clothing brand is the bridge between students and alumni across the country.
#ReliveTheBAR is not only utilizing collegiate wear to showcase school pride, but support the Black experience at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and create connections between current students and alums.
University of Michigan alums Sennel Threlkeld II and Canon J. Thomas created #ReliveTheBAR, with BAR standing for Black Alumni Reunion. In 2015, the inspiration came from seeing a lack of connection and a place for both Black alumni’s and undergraduates to connect during homecoming.
“We actually did not start with a focus on apparel. When myself and co-founder Canon graduated and came back for homecoming as alumni we just felt that there was a gap for the young Black professional community and young Black alumni that came back for homecoming,” Threlkeld said. “That following year we decided to host a weekend of events for young Black alumni called ‘The Bar,’ which was for young Black alumni reunion.”
Threlkeld said during the Black alumni weekend there was a bar crawl and the pair decided to make T-shirts as a way to advertise. The shirts were a hit so they decided to create a new design each year.
“That’s how we came up with the designs and flagship product Black as Hail,” Threlkeld said.
With COVID-19 and the homecoming cancellation prompted the pivotal decision to focus solely on apparel and on creating a way to give back as well. That was our cue to focus solely on the apparel and again we were able to see that grow and we started a nonprofit. Now with every sale of apparel we are taking that money and investing in our scholarship fund to provide textbooks,” Threlkeld said.
The Black Alumni Book Fund is two-fold. Alumni are given the opportunity to sponsor students who need to purchase books material for the semester. And it not only allows students to build a relationship with alumni.
“We connect them and pair them together, allow them to speak and sometimes mentorships are born,” Canon explained. “Out of that with an alum providing a book for a student, and that’s another way we are trying to increase that connection with alumni and students where it seems seamless. You graduate, you have your network of people doing the same thing as you, and realize why you went to that university.”
The scholarship fund has been able to give over 450 books to students, and recently expanded to four additional schools this past fall.
Realizing that there’s a similar need of connecting community between students and alumni at PWIs, prompted the expansion to other schools such as Michigan State University, Indiana University, Ohio State University and University of Pittsburgh.
“When we thought about the challenges students were facing at the University of Michigan are no different than the challenges from students at MSU,” Threlkeld added. “Students still need books, and feel connected to their alumni. Alumni are still looking for ways to support students or ways to feel included or know what's going on campus. Alumni still want to show off their blackness while showing off school spirit. We felt we could attack those same challenges at other universities, and benefit from what we’re doing.”
According to Canon, the brand expansion is just the beginning.
“In the next five years the sky's the limit, increasing our charitable aspects and also expanding to help high schools to connect,” Canon said. We have had high school seniors purchase gear for their senior pictures because they know they're going to Michigan, but we want to expand as much as we can. As long as there’s a need and a place where we can help, that’s where we want to be.”