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Dressing for success: Bloomington foundation, menswear store combat stigmas toward young Black men

Young men dressed in suits pose for a photo
Emily Bollinger
From left, Kerris Mctizik, 14; Jaylin Cousins, 16; and Gerrick Dickerson 15; pose for a photo with Andre Hursey, in cap, from the Jule Foundation after they are fitted for new suits.

A Bloomington foundation has partnered with a menswear store to provide suits for teens, wanting them to dress for success while combating stigmas young Black men face.

Teaching through experience is a priority for Andre Hursey. He's co-founder of the Jule Foundation, a nonprofit teen enrichment program that provides academic, educational and mental health support.

Hursey wanted to gift three Bloomington teens with their first custom-made suits. So he called his longtime friend, Rob Francisco. Francisco owns Robert Redding menswear boutique in Bloomington. Hursey's goal was to partner so they could expose teens to fine clothing and present a positive image of young Black men that combats racist stereotypes.

Emily Bollinger
Teens (left to right) Gerrick Dickerson, Jaylin Cousins and Kerris Mctizik look at ties during a suit fitting in Bloomington.

“You catch a young black man in a suit and a tie, I think interaction with anybody would be entirely different,” Hursey said. “Because the stigma is that you walk around with pants down and falling off you, you don't care, you look like a thug, so it is important to let them see this early.”

The two men sized the teens up for a fitting experience that, they say, showed how much of a difference a suit can make. When Candace Dubose, mother of 14-year-old Kerris Mctizik, saw her son being measured and trying on suits, she saw the difference immediately.

“I think it opened his eyes up to a lot more. At first, he wasn't into suits and said, ‘I don't want to dress up’ and all that, but now that he actually sees it and has it on, it changed his whole mind frame," Dubose said.

Francisco said he was so willing to partner with Hursey because they’ve been friends for more than 20 years and he knows Hursey has a heart for the community. Francisco said seeing the boys smile reminded him of why he loves what he does.

“It's one of the neatest things about what I do. When they come out of the fitting room and they're just feeling themselves, looking in the mirror, they just have a different sort of bounce in their step, a different look in their eyes and smile,” Francisco said. “It gives them confidence and they want to be the guy that's wearing that on a daily basis.”

Mom watching son in menswear store
Emily Bollinger
Sanda Dickerson gets photos of her son Gerrick, as he presents himself in a new suit.

Hursey’s mentorship through the foundation teaches young men professional skills, connects them to resources, and gives them access to opportunities.

Dubose said her son has only been a member of the Jule Foundation for two months, but she’s already seen dramatic growth in his behavior. She said they moved from Tennessee in 2015 because he wasn’t around good influences and she wanted a better life for him. When they came to Bloomington and got connected to the Jule Foundation, Dubose called it a “saving grace.”

“If I asked him to go somewhere, it was always attitude and, 'I don't want to go,’ not really wanting to be involved, but now I can say, ‘Come on, we’re going and it is just get up and go,’” she said. “I can tell with how he talks. At first, he was constantly questioning me about, 'Why I got to do this, why I got to do that,' and now I say, ‘Do this or do that’ and it’s ‘Yes ma'am.’”

Dubose said as a single mother, the foundation has helped alleviate some of her stress in raising a young Black man. One of the other teens who got suited up, 15-year-old Garrick Dickerson, said Hursey opened his eyes to things he didn’t think were possible and has even taken on a fatherly role in his life.

Teen getting measured for a suit
Emily Bollinger
Gerrick Dickerson gets measured for a suit at a menswear store in Bloomington.

“Dre has been really caring, he’s been there for us since day one. I've been here for five years and it's been really life changing,” Dickerson said. “He’s like a father figure to most, but a real father figure to me." He said being gifted with the suits showed him there’s more options to look and feel good.

Dickerson said being gifted with a suit shows him there’s more options to look and feel good. “Three black men in suits at a young age is really different because in this generation you know, they only like to wear jeans and stuff so it’s good to wear suits and have good attire,” he said.

Each teen picked out a suit of their choice along with a matching tie and shoes to complete their attire. Stepping out of the dressing rooms, their mothers met them with praise and picture-taking to capture the moment. They thanked Hursey and Francisco for providing their sons with a life-changing experience.

Hursey said he plans to gift even more teens with the same experience. He said being involved with the families is how he knows what solutions to provide.

“If you're not really involved and engaged in the family situation and having a conversation, you won't know. So for me when I dig a little deeper sometimes or when a parent just opens up and has a conversation with me, that's why,” Hursey said. “That's why I truly feel like I’m here. This is my purpose in life, giving back to these young men and I've been blessed.”

Hursey and Francisco say they plan to collaborate more in the future. They said seeing the smiles on the boys' faces and watching them be more confident is a sign that they could change the lives of even more youth through the little things, so their work is not done.

The Jule Foundation also runs a mentorship program with the city of Bloomington.

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Tiffani Jackson is a reporting intern at WGLT and a student at Illinois State University's School of Communication. She started working at WGLT in summer 2019.
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