T-Shirts Worn by BHS Teacher Highlight Black History


History teacher Erik Wilson wears a graphic tee featuring sprinters Tommy Smith and John Carlos accepting their medals during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Their raised fists symbolized Black Power during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Nita Hand and Avery Brown-Renfro

On an average school day, history teacher Erik Wilson can be seen in a suit jacket, sports coat, and even an ascot tie. Most students and teachers would agree that he is well dressed, probably the best dressed male teacher at Bethel High School. But during the month of February, to celebrate Black History Month, Wilson’s style choices changed.  Instead of his recognizable “slacks, shirt and tie,” he has worn t-shirts that represent prominent black men and women who have contributed to American culture and society.

By his normal dress standards, a t-shirt and pants are considered a “dress down.” However, the message he wears daily uplifts and educates.  “My shirts welcome dialogue.  I would be doing my students an injustice if I did not discuss what I was wearing. So I make a point to tell them about the individual who I am representing on my shirt.  In addition, the students in my classes look forward to learning about who is on my shirt for the day. It has become my personal daily bell ringer,” Wilson stated.

Most of the individuals that Wilson sports on his tees are “rarely talked about, ” he stated. He has worn historical figures such as Paul Robeson, Marcus Garvey, and musical artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. On days that he wears a t-shirt featuring a musician, Wilson plays the artist’s music throughout the day. Patience Orr, a junior in Wilson’s VA/US History class enjoyed the music and message shared on the t-shirts when listening to the black artists. “It was nice to make the connections and hear the pain in their voices.”

Wilson, who has been making a fashion statement with Black History themed shirts for over a decade, has collected his shirts from African American festivals throughout the United States and from Black-owned businesses in Detroit, Atlanta, and Houston. 

“Wearing these garments strikes up conversations and affords me the opportunity to talk about my shirt of choice for the day.” For some students, Wilson’s fashion trend has been their only exposure to black history. “This was the first time that I learned about black history other than Harriet Tubman throughout my high school years,” said junior Danielle Ansong. 

Wilson taught history at Hampton High School for 12 years before transferring to Bethel High School in the 2018-19 school year. Since joining the Bethel Bruins staff, he has proven to be a trendsetter with his fashion sense and unique approach to teaching his students world, U.S., and Black History.