A Grand Gesture
I started following Grand Gentlemen on Instagram years ago. I heard about them going to schools and teaching young boys how to tie ties and dress professionally. Since then, I've been searching for a way to engage. In all honestly, I was somewhat reserved to reach out. To state the obvious, Grand Gentlemen focuses on a specific demographic in the African American community. I'm obviously the palest form of caucasian there is. I don't tan; I burn.
I was internally very self-conscious, apprehensive, and somewhat hesitant to reach out. Was it appropriate? Would I be accepted? Would people judge me? Would there be thoughts that I was simply convicted by "white guilt"? Ultimately, I didn't allow my apprehensions or lack of knowledge to prevent me from acting. The idea that I may be the minority in a given situation was a reason TO engage, not to stay on the sidelines. I've been in the majority my entire life. Growing up in Oklahoma, EVERYBODY looks like me. What privilege. Let's check that privilege and engage. Grand Gentlemen's mission was a clear overlap of my personal passions. So, when I saw Korey Eakers on the morning news on KOCO Channel 5 talking about their upcoming suit drive
, I knew it was time for me to step up.
To be uplifting, encouraging, and inspiring to young men of color in the Oklahoma City Community.
They are a 501c non-profit, totally volunteer-run. Grand Gentlemen has infused themselves into their community with a unique aesthetic that is both generosity-focused and fashion-forward. For sure, one of the first things that initially caught my eye was the killer suits these guys frequently model
. So I was somewhat caught off guard when I met one on one with Korey on February 26th inside the Workflow OKC Office space.
When I first saw Korey he was not wearing one of his well-tailored three-piece suits
. He was not rocking the usual accessorized jewelry version of himself I had seen in pictures. In his mask, I couldn't see his usually very well-manicured beard. The only indication of the GQ fashionista of Instagram was his unmistakable hornrimmed glasses. Korey arrived at our meeting in his Oklahoma City Parks Polo and Hat. His face alert but with the undeniable look of a day of pouring out. It was a stark difference from the image I had built up in my head, and the impact of the difference soon began to make an even more pronounced impact on me.
As we talked over the next hour, I learned a lot about Korey. Like me, he grew up with an older father who was a veteran. Like me, he went to a pretty good school. Like me, he seemed to have grown up with a hunger to give and impact the community. However, the differences in our growing up were also stark. Korey grew up with some trauma as well. I can't tell you how many friends and fellow classmates Korey told me he had lost due to gun violence. I would guess I've probably known ZERO people who have died by some kind of violence of this kind. For Korey, this was a simple reality of profound significance.
As the conversion went on, I learned that Korey was an All-American Athlete, College Graduate, Mentor, Community Advocate, & Entrepreneur on a Mission. To me, it felt like we were kindred spirits. Especially as I learned that Korey is currently working with OKC Parks Services to run one of their youth-focused facilities. He's very much leveraging his passion to pay the bills doing something he loves while also investing sweat equity in his vision for Grand Gentlemen. Even at his work he hosts frequent events to giveback and mentor.
That process is very similar to what I am doing at EM
. Without exception, EM is a means to an end. I have ZERO ambition to accumulate wealth and stack up the biggest pile I can. The goal with EM and all my endeavors is to be like Korey. Work towards bankrolling the giveback I strive to create. At EM, the goal is singular in focus. To use the dollars we make to launch our very own non-profit focused on young men without fathers in the home.
Korey and I ended the meeting with a commitment to deliver suits to the suit drive the next day that would occur at the BlackStar Urban Culture Market
in Oklahoma City. I asked if I could stay for the event and help Korey. He was inclined to accept my offer on both fronts. I drove away from that meeting inspired & convicted.
On Saturday, February 27th, I delivered two racks of suits from EM to the BlackStar Urban Culture Market at 36th & Kelly in Oklahoma City. BlackStar is a phenomenal store that promotes Black History, African Heritage, and community. After talking with the owner, I learned that he had opened just before COVID started. He worked full time with Korey for Oklahoma City Parks. He sometimes struggled to find the time to invest in his retail operation. Inside his store were jewelry, African Inspired artwork, soaps, other apothecary items created by local artisans, and several books on Black History and other race-related issues. A dynamic shop and a real labor of love.
The suiting drive was set to begin at 2pm, and we wasted no time getting off to a fast start. Guys began arriving right at 2pm, and for at least the first two and half hours, there was a steady stream of traffic. Guys would walk in, not quite believe we were giving away suits, then we would fit them, and they walked out with them for FREE. I frequently took a picture with my phone to show them how GOOD THEY LOOKED! Grand Gentlemen shared photographs throughout the day and went LIVE on instagram several time sharing the story of these empowered men. This sharing seemed to generate even more traffic. Always thankful, and for most, this was their first suit ever. I could tell that seeing themselves in a jacket was an impactful moment.
This was also right in line with one of Grand Gentlemens most apparent mantras or what they call positive propaganda.
It is our responsibility to create a positive influence by the way we dress and carry ourselves. We intend to flood the internet with images of young men of color dressed professionally to counter the many negative existing stereotypes. In addition, we will carry ourselves in a manner that will encourage and inspire other young men to achieve as much as possible.
Throughout the afternoon, I was able to fit young men and old men alike. I got to hear some of their stories. They were stories of community, positivity, empowerment, and neighbors helping neighbors. A young guy I fitted for a suit, tie, & shirt was with a coach and preparing for interviews. I texted him the pictures of himself, and he texted me later that night, expressing his thanks, recounting how good he felt he looked. But I also heard some stories of pain, loss, injustice & uncertainty.
A gentleman named Jerry Green (pictured with me below) was at the suiting drive, and I struck up a conversation with him that was incredibly insightful. Jerry is the founder of The Black Student Advocate Network
and an entrepreneur in his own right. I spent some time with Jerry as he talked about the challenges that students of color face all around the country. One anecdote he shared really hit home when he said, "Equality means every child gets a pair of shoes, but Equity means every child gets a pair of shoes that fit." A profound statement that really made me ponder.
By the end of the afternoon, about one-third of the inventory I had brought was gone. I shopped the store a bit, loaded up what was left, and said my goodbyes. These past several days have been significantly impactful to me. I'm so inspired by individuals like Korey & Jerry. I'm impressed with the creative spirit behind the BlackStar Market.
Most importantly, the work of organizations like Grand Gentlemen proves critical. The way we leverage a dollar matters. Korey and the guys at Grand Gentleman are doing what they can with the limited dollars they have, but they're doing the most with TIME. They are investing, they are planning, that are trying, they are DOING. I hope to continue to partner with Korey & Grand Gentlemen. The organization has a bright future as long as they keep being genuine to their charter. From my experience, they are doing just that. They are uplifting, encouraging, and inspiring young men of color in the Oklahoma City Community. The Grand Gesture they made this weekend won't long be forgotten. To quote one of my favorite artists Bruno Major, I believe when you compare their words with their actions that Grand Gentlemen would pass with "distinction in the first degree".
Engage, leave a comment, be different because of somebody else.
I leave it here.
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