The Story of Henry’s Hoodie

Marcus T. Wright, associate director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Sociology, has written a children’s book featuring a Black boy and his dad that has a message for everyone.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

By Susan Ahlborn

Henry Higgans stands proudly on the cover of Henry’s Hoodie! The book is the story of Henry, a little boy who thinks that his hoodie gives him special powers, so he wears it every day. One morning, though, he forgets it when he goes to school. How Henry and his dad, Pop-Pop, interact through this series of events is the heart of Henry’s Hoodie!, a picture book written by Marcus T. Wright, GED’14, GRD’23.

Marcus T. Wright, GED’14, GRD’23, associate director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Sociology, is the author of Henry's Hoodie!, a book about a Black boy who thinks his hoodie gives him special powers.

Books were a huge part of Wright's own childhood. As an “extremely quiet” little boy growing up in a single-parent, low-income household with one of his older brothers in North Philadelphia, Wright was not allowed to go outside except for school. So, he read book after book—many supplied by his former third-grade teacher—and wrote “books” of his own.

“Reading and writing were just my gateway to all sorts of wonderful worlds,” Wright says now. “It’s like the cliché. It was everything for me. I think that that has had a big impact on my career trajectory of being involved in education.”

Wright’s mother suffered from mental illness, and he was pulled from her custody at the age of nine. He spent time at St. Vincent’s, an orphanage in Philadelphia, before being taken into custody by his oldest sister. Wright went on to graduate from Girard College, a first–12th grade school in Philadelphia for children from financially limited single-parent or guardian-led homes, and earned his undergraduate degree in sociology from Rutgers University. He returned to Philly to start a high school sports multimedia coverage company, Varsity 365, but soon returned to school at Penn’s Graduate School of Education to earn his M.S.Ed. in Learning Sciences and Technologies and then a doctorate in higher education.

Wright now works in the Department of Sociology in Penn Arts & Sciences as associate director of undergraduate studies. His various roles at Penn include advising majors and minors in the Sociology program, advising incoming students and pre-majors for the College, and serving as the lead researcher for a project with the Wharton School that looks at the impact of tutoring on the math ability and confidence of underrepresented students. He is also the founder of Design Meets Mind, LLC, a mental health and wellbeing practice directed by his wife that serves individuals, couples, and families.

And he’s still writing. Henry’s Hoodie! is his third book, but his first for young children.

Two pages from Henry's Hoodie!, written by Marcus T. Wright and illustrated by Bola Onayemi. The relationship between Henry and his dad, Pop-Pop, is the heart of the story. 

A Specific but Universal Story

The book grew out of Wright’s seeing a gap in children’s literature. “Especially as a Black man with two Black sons, I thought that there are not as many stories that center Black boys as I would like. I wanted to contribute to the database of stories that center a Black boy as the main character, not as one of the side characters and not as a character that changes into a bird or something like that.”

Wright developed the story after recognizing in many children (“and adults and myself”) an overreliance on something. “It might be a phone, it might be clothing, but there’s always, ‘I need this, I need that,’” he says. “This was a really basic kind of value I thought I could tell a story around.”

For Henry, it’s his hoodie. “I’ve worn many hoodies over the years, and so I wanted there to be a positive message around the hoodie,” says Wright. “It looks cool. Henry loves it. He thinks it gives him powers and everything like that, so it’s nice. But I also wanted to show that the power really lies within, so hitting those two points of having that positivity around the hoodie, plus at the same time, Henry realizing he doesn’t need the hoodie and that he has everything it takes to achieve great things.”

Henry negotiates this journey with the laid-back but caring help of his dad, Pop-Pop. “I think the dad might be my favorite character,” Wright says. “He’s going along with it, he’s there, not too preachy about things, but he goes through a lot of emotions in the story.” Wright wanted to show a good relationship between a Black father and a Black son. “I unfortunately have never met my biological father. I know there are many others who haven’t, and I just wanted to portray the father–son relationship in a positive light. I’ve had some amazing father figures and male role models in my life who have filled in the gap as much as they could. I drew inspiration from positive interactions I’ve had with them and that I’ve had with my own sons. The great thing about writing a story is that you can craft it the way you want. You can put the things in there to try to impact the world.”

Wright tried the book out on his sons, and made some adjustments based on their feedback: “They were five and seven, and they had some great questions.” He also worked with his friend, Bola Onayemi, on the book’s illustrations. While the cover is in color, the inside drawings are in greyscale, a decision Wright made to help the book stand out.

“I gave [Onayemi] a rough drawing of what I wanted Henry to look like,” Wright says. “I knew I wanted him to have a big afro and stuff like that, but he just absolutely took it to the next level with all his drawings. We worked through questions like, “Okay, if we do it in gray scale, what kind of shading do we need to add?’”


A Bigger Mission

Henry’s Hoodie! is just one part of Wright’s quest to help young people. “I’ve been working in education in some way, shape, or form for most of my career, in a position to be able to inspire and motivate and encourage,” he says.

It’s an effort that’s grown from gratitude. “As a Black male, I'm very blessed to even be here, and so I have to pay it forward in some ways,” Wright says. “There’s a responsibility for me because so many people helped me to get here.

“My whole mindset is you’ve got to help the youth, from little toddlers all the way to young adults,” he continues. “Sometimes it’s hard, when you’re a young person growing up, to ask for help. It’s important for me to just be a supportive presence in the lives of young people. I’m very open to where I need to go to be able to serve the world the way I think I've been meant to do.”

In the meantime, he has high hopes for Henry and his book.

“I’d like for Black boys to see this and to see Henry standing there proud and to be inspired by it,” Wright says. “If I could get this in the hands of every Black boy, that would be amazing. But the thing is, the message is universal. It can be about all kids, and it can help out adults as well, that you don't need certain things, the greatness is within you. That’s a universal message. I hope that other kids, kids of all backgrounds, and even some adults get that message from this book.”