Ex-White Sox baseman, artist Micah Johnson helps teen players design Juneteenth shirt

The next time the White Sox Amateur City Elite teens play in a game, they can warm up in T-shirts they helped design with a former Sox player to celebrate Juneteenth.

The Amateur City Elite (ACE) takes about 150 primarily Black aspiring professional baseball players ages 12 to 17 to join their teams and receive mentorship. In past years, the program’s leaders have gotten local artists to collaborate with the team during Juneteenth to create shirt designs for the kids to wear.

This year, a Sox alum was ready to help. It took one short phone call to artist and former Sox second baseman Micah Johnson to get him to sign on to work with the kids.

“I noticed that (Johnson) was this big artist now,” said Troy Williams, ACE program manager. “I knew about him as a baseball player, but once I saw how good of an artist he was, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to kind of capitalize on that, especially with his White Sox connections.”

Johnson began focusing on his art after retiring from baseball following the 2018 season. His artwork — particularly his 3D animated character “Aku” — has since been featured on the cover of Time Magazine and in partnerships with companies like Beats by Dre and Starbucks. Most recently, he designed Negro Leagues trading cards.

The multidisciplinary artist was eager to help.

“He was excited to do it. I mean, it didn’t take any convincing, I’ll say that,” Williams said with a laugh.

Eleven ACE players were selected to collaborate on creating a T-shirt for the Juneteenth holiday, which celebrates the day slaves in Texas were notified of their freedom.

The kids provided ideas and sketches during a group brainstorming session, and Johnson would translate their ideas into shirts for White Sox and ACE players to wear, as well as hat patches fans can buy.

A portion of the proceeds for the hat patches go to the ACE program.

“They were nervous,” Williams said about the youths. “But I think the common ground was that he looked like them, and they knew they had some things in common, which is the game of baseball. So it took a while for them to open up, but by the end, the dialogue that you heard at the end of the conversation was super special.”

Honoring Black players who came before them was a common theme among the group, Johnson said.

“We had a roundtable session where we just talked and talked about their careers and what they want to do, and then used art as a kind of like a conduit or like a bridge to really connect us,” Johnson said. “From there, I was able to take their art and their drawings and create a design out of it, to embody kind of what they wanted to communicate about Juneteenth, about baseball, and bring their vision to life.”

Former Chicago White Sox player Micah Johnson wears the T-shirt being held by the White Sox to Amateur City Elite teen players next to him — Josiah Patterson, 15, Malachi Weinum, 15, and Marcus Jackson, 14 — Tuesday during a pregame ceremony at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Some kids, like 15-year-old Josiah Patterson, focused on mental strength in their ideas.

“I wrote, ‘Having strong mental health will get you past anything in life,'” Patterson said. “Because a lot of things are just mental. Like baseball, it’s 99% mental.”

Another player drew a brain to signify mental health, which Johnson added to his final product.

“I thought the players did a really good job of thinking out of the box,” he said.

To the kids, talking about Juneteenth within the sport is an opportunity to create more diversity.

“There aren’t that many Black people in the MLB for us to really look up to,” said Jaylen Ware, 16. “So I feel us bringing Juneteenth into baseball … If you bring it into the sport and really make it a big thing and have Black athletes to basically promote it, I feel there would be way more Black kids who want to play baseball and then we will have more to look up to.”

The finished product has a mix of designs translated from the young players’ ideas and themes from Johnson’s art. “Ye of little faith, just watch” is emblazoned on the front.

“It’s kind of a play on the … Bible and … that there’s a lot of doubters, and especially when you’d have big dreams, people tend to doubt you,” Johnson said. “And we don’t need to convince anybody. We’re gonna just show them … I’m not in the business of convincing and these kids don’t need to be either.”

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