Hannibal Pace wearing Free Breakfast apparel
Photo by Morgan Elise Johnson

Despite popular belief, millions of children would spend the first half of their school days hungry if not for the Black Panther Party.

The U.S. government tried its hand at federally-funded breakfast with its 1966 pilot program. However, the initiative didn’t fully become the national School Breakfast Program it is today until 1975.

That’s six years after Huey P. Newton and his Panthers cooked and served free grits and pancakes to inner-city youth across the country in their Free Breakfast For Children Program – which FBI head J. Edgar Hoover deemed threatening to national security.

This Panther ideology of self-empowerment has long inspired Hannibal Pace. So much so, that Pace consequently named his clothing brand, Free Breakfast Apparel, after the Panthers’ efforts.

“Let’s do for ourselves like the Panthers did for themselves in the 1960s,” Pace says. He’s referring to other revolutionary Panther survival programs such as free screenings for sickle cell anemia, a blood disease that disproportionately plagues the Black community. Fred Hampton, the Panther’s Illinois chapter leader, spearheaded many of these initiatives locally before the Chicago Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation gunned him down in 1969.

[The Panthers] financed their own efforts,” Pace, 36, continues. “So I hope to be able to finance my own efforts, grow this business and create a model for employment and empowerment.”

Pace left his corporate job processing mortgages at JPMorgan Chase nearly three years ago. While on the hunt for employment, the University of Illinois-Chicago alum came across a YouTube video about marrying passion and purpose into one common goal.

He immediately thought to create a culturally conscious fashion line.

“I’ve been infatuated with my culture since I was a young man. I read [Alex Haley’s] Roots when I was 12. I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X,” Pace says. “I’m most passionate about clothing and Black culture. Let’s put it together and see where we go with that.”

Hannibal Pace, founder of Free Breakfast Apparel

Photo by Morgan Elise Johnson

Through his online store, freebreakfastapparel.com, Pace sells T-shirts, hoodies and hats with iconic symbols and images specific to periods of Black history that is often left out of the mainstream narrative.

In his “The Empowerment Collection,” Pace dedicates his apparel to building Black pride. These shirts and sweaters are emblazoned with the phrases, “Melanin Gives You Superpowers,” “Legalize Blackness” and “Fight Like Korryn.” The latter design is in memory of the Baltimore mother fatally shot by police in front of his 5-year-old son in 2016. Another assortment, “The Community Outreach Collection,” is dedicated to raising money for various community organizers. Pace’s clothes range in price from $15 to $35.

“What is the answer to systematic racism [and] institutional racism? It’s to create institutions. If there’s an institution that overly punishes you for petty misdemeanors, then you create an institution and extend jobs to people who have been denied in conventional channels,” Pace explains. “Until we do that, we’re going to exist on the margin.”

Free Breakfast Apparel also is available at the Chicago boutique, The Silver Room. Pace says he chose The Silver Room to host his brand because it’s black owned and located in Hyde Park, a flourishing Black neighborhood.

“I hope that people who see what I’m doing would be inspired to do something,” Pace adds. “There’s no savior coming. There’s no leader. It’s going to require everybody to care enough about their own welfare to do a little something.”


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