Here’s The Man Who Dressed A Revolution In Ferguson

August 22, 2014 | Amy K. Nelson

Sam Boyd walked into Insite Media’s small Ferguson office on Wednesday afternoon and wanted a t-shirt made. Boyd, like so many others here, wanted something original that would encapsulate what Michael Brown’s death represents. He took a clipboard and filled out what would be on front of the shirt, then the back: “Hands up, Shoot Back.”

“We’re not getting no justice,” said Boyd, who’s married and has four children. “Too many young kids and people getting killed for no reason.”

That is what in part compelled Boyd on Wednesday to see Carlos Nichols, the owner of Insite Media. Nichols is 42-years-old and has lived in Ferguson his entire life. He and his family own four homes all on the same street, just one block down from where Nichols runs his small print-making business, about a mile away from where Brown was shot and killed nearly two weeks ago by a Ferguson police officer.

I found Nichols after a few guys on the street directed me here. It was last Friday night, a few hours before it the first of four straight nights filled with tear gas, violence, and terror had begun. A block party was happening on West Florissant Avenue and one of the things I noticed being in this town was that nearly every other person was wearing some sort of original t-shirt, most of which were remembering Mike Brown, others condemning brutal police abuse, some just asking for peace.

There was a group of about five guys I spotted at some point that night. Their t-shirts were so impressive and looked a step above many of the others. I asked them where they got them made. They gave me a short description of finding a tiny house across the street from a “green house,” and that was it.

The next night, one of them saw me on the street and pulled me aside. He handed me a stack of cards for Nichols’ business. This is how it works for Nichols, who’s been making t-shirts for 16 years and who’s taught the business to a number of protégés. It’s all word-of-mouth.

His customers — whom he also calls his friends — come into the shop, like Boyd, or they simply text Nichols a photo and tell him the text they want. The t-shirts cost $15, and Nichols can usually make them within 10 minutes or so.

He knows his role has been helping people express all the emotions they’ve had since Brown’s death. The day after Brown was killed, Nichols got calls asking for shirts. Normally closed on Sundays, he came in and made them. There wasn’t even a question.

“It’s definitely hard for me to imagine, ’cause I have 6 kids,” Nichols says. “And if one of my kids get killed like that, yeah I’m in jail. I’m in jail, too. That could have been my son. It just ain’t right.”

We had been waiting to interview Nichols on camera when Boyd walked in. We all talked for about 15 minutes and I hadn’t realized Boyd had been there to make a t-shirt about Mike Brown. Just as he was leaving I noticed what he had filled out on his order form, and asked him why.

“My brother was killed by police in the city and we never got no justice,” he says. “I’m going to ride with them out all the way ’til the end. Until they get some justice for that young man, I’m gonna ride them out.

“It’s just part of our life.”

(Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)