It takes a gentleman to teach one how to become a gentleman, and fortunately, Chicago’s young men are in luck as non-profit I Am A Gentleman, Inc. seeks to do its finest work for the community.
I Am A Gentleman was incorporated in 2015 by its founder and executive director Jermaine Lawrence Anderson with a mission geared toward developing life skills within African American and minority young men that would benefit them for the rest of their lives. I Am A Gentleman currently operates in Chicago and Las Vegas. Anderson said Detroit, Dallas and St. Louis are among the cities under consideration for further expansion.
Anderson said prior to establishing I Am A Gentleman, he was a full-time public speaker during which time he would occasionally speak at high school commencements. He said after a while, he began to notice a trend: not all young men were dressed for the occasion for their high school graduation ceremonies. Realizing what needed to be done, he decided to create a program where he would provide young men in need with donated suits, neckties, dress shirts, and haircuts– all free-of-charge. Afterwards, he wanted to do even more.
“We wanted to be a little different; we didn’t want them to line up and get a free suit, we wanted to give an experience to these young men,” said Anderson.
The initial program gave way to the creation of I Am A Gentleman and one of its staple events Project Gentleman, according to Anderson. Project Gentleman is a daylong event where young men attend interactive workshops and seminars that teach them how to tie a necktie and more.
Anderson said young African American men are competing in a global market and without the proper skills, they will get “lost in the real world.” He mentioned skills like banking and finance, how to become your own boss, what does it mean to respect women, how to manage anger, conflict resolution as examples of things that need to be taught. He said I Am A Gentleman has both men and women who are on staff serving a number of different roles.
“We are living in a day and time and a culture where minority young men could become extinct because of the lack of education, just because of the poverty rates, just because of the lack of skills they possess,” said Anderson. “One of the things we do in our ongoing mentoring program is we instill basic life skills into these young men.”
Beginning on Saturday, Feb. 10, I Am A Gentleman will host the third round of its 10-week life skills curriculum Polka Dot Socks. Over the course of Polka Dot Socks, attendees will participate in two community service outings, two recreational outings, and learn from professionals who will serve as their “life coaches” on a number of topics. Upon completion of the program, attendees will participate in a Student Recognition Ceremony where family and friends will be able to see what they’ve learned. Also, participants will receive their very own polka dot necktie.
For more information about Polka Dot Socks and/or to register, visit: iamagentleman.org/polka-dot-socks.
Polka Dot Socks will be held at the Chicago Police Department headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave., said Anderson. He said participants and Chicago police will have an opportunity to get to know one another over the 10 weeks.
“We hold it at police headquarters to create a sense of trust between law enforcement and young people,” said Anderson. “It’s amazing to see how many young men say that they are afraid of the police, but conversely it’s just as astonishing to hear how many police officers say they’re afraid of young people.”
The Polka Dot Socks program received its name in honor of a remark made by a young man who participated in I Am A Gentleman; he said that although he was grateful for all of the items donated to him, it was his pair of polka dot dress socks that pleased him as he had never had a pair before, according to Anderson, who said the moment still resonates with him to this day.
Recently, I Am A Gentleman gave away Christmas gifts over the holiday season through its “Tis The Season” annual Christmas giveaway. Thus far, 2,543 young men have already taken “THE GENTLEMEN’S PLEDGE” on the organization’s website.
To learn more about I Am A Gentleman, visit iamagentleman.org/.