One University of Rhode Island senior realized that talking about race-related issues can be awkward for some. So instead, he draws them.
But rather than depict racial tensions with actual people in real-life scenarios, Alex Jimenez uses food and humor to get his messages across. Ever since he was a kid, Jimenez loved to draw, and said he has talked about racial issues and social justice “ever since he could remember.”
This September, he decided to meld his passions into one. What started as a cartooning hobby turned into Jimenez’s own business, Fruitful Thoughts, when he decided to market his cartoons on T-shirts.
“When I first thought about what I was doing, I thought I should dedicate a brand or a cartoon that shows how much we love food,” Jimenez, a sociology and Chinese major from Providence, Rhode Island, said. As he continued to develop his ideas, he felt that his work had more potential.
“I was thinking more about it, [about] values and importance, [and thought of] race relations,” he said. “It transitioned from a love of food to something that I can use for a better purpose – turning comedy into humanized fruits and vegetables, to open up a place for dialogue through humor for race-related issues.”
The Fruitful Thoughts brand serves two purposes. One is to open up a dialogue about social issues. In his first cartoon, Jimenez draws a raw chicken arresting a piece of broccoli with the caption “fruit lives matter.” He’s talking about the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and while most people understand the reference, there are many who still ask about the cartoon.
“The purpose is to open up that conversation for a hard topic,” Jimenez said. When people ask him what the cartoon means or why he chose that design, he loves answering their questions. “I want to connect people so they can feel more comfortable talking about [those issues],” he added.
By depicting these issues in a comedic way, Jimenez hopes people will be inclined to learn more about and discuss these problems. He thinks conversation is an important step to try and help make changes within our society.
Jimenez mostly focuses on race-related issues, some of which are definitely personal. He said he’s familiar with the struggles that many minority groups face, especially with equal access to education or financial resources, and even dealing with certain privileges in his daily life.
While Fruitful Thoughts prioritizes identifying these issues while trying to invoke social change, the second component of Jimenez’s business is what he calls “social entrepreneurship.”
Jimenez said that 35 percent of all proceeds from the $20 T-shirts are put toward a fund to rent books for URI students who can’t afford them. On the company’s website, fruitfulthoughts.net, there is an application process where students can apply to be considered for the textbook program.
The application asks for basic information, such as a student’s year and major, but it also requires that the student be currently enrolled in a university, a Pell Grant recipient and in good academic standing. Since the company is so new, they will pay up to $250 for books. But as the business grows, so will the limit, the application on their website states.
From the sales of about 30 shirts, Jimenez has already been able help one student with their textbooks.
In just one month, Jimenez sold nearly all of his original batch of shirts. “Not bad,” he said, for such a new business. All of Fruitful Thoughts’s marketing is done via social media and word of mouth. Jimenez said he invested a substantial amount of his own money, around $400 or $500, to make the business happen. Currently, he’s applying for different grants to help with production costs and more advanced marketing.
As the year continues, Jimenez plans on creating the next batch of shirts with new cartoons that depict even more social issues. His next topic: mass incarceration.
“It’s regarded to be the new Jim Crow of our time,” Jimenez said. He wants to talk about how mass incarceration has a deep impact within minority community. “It’s a big problem, period…[we’re] the land of the free, yet we have biggest incarceration rate,” he said, especially when it comes to minority populations.
Even though he only has one more full semester at URI, Jimenez would love to continue expanding Fruitful Thoughts. He currently has five applicants in need of textbooks, and his goal is to help all of them. While he does have plans for graduate school, no matter what happens after college, Jimenez will “forever try and help out in some way.”
“I think what’s unique is the whole social component to it–it’s social business,” Jimenez said. “It’s business that is targeting or chipping into a need that’s out there. Students definitely struggle, but the cartoons also have a purpose. They’re making a [safe] space for humor and dialogue.”