It’s often said that the suit makes the man, but for many young men in underserved communities of color this business essential is often beyond their financial grasp. Jerrell Horton, a 26-year-old vice president at BNY Mellon, is on a mission to change this. Through Suit Dreams, a charitable organization he launched in 2011, he’s gifting tailored suits to high school students in New York City and Chicago.
Horton conceived the idea for Suit Dreams after seeing the philanthropic efforts to help low-income students attend prom. “There were a lot of organizations that provided prom dresses for high school age women, but there wasn’t anything out there for young men of high school age,” says Horton.
Inspired to address this gap, Horton reached out to his personal contacts, including pro football wide receiver Sinorice Moss, for assistance in securing tuxedos for students at Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill School of American Studies. Following the success of that endeavor, Horton added business suits to his wardrobe offering and now serves students from many high schools.
Not only does Suit Dreams help young men dress for success, through educational workshops and social events the organization provides these future professionals with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to thrive in both the business world and their personal lives. Training focuses on the 4C’s—confidence building, connections, chivalry and civic responsibility—with the goal of cultivating renaissance men.
Through corporate field trips, Suit Dreams students have the opportunity see a professional work environment, something many in the program’s target demographic don’t have access to. On each trip, the young men meet with a male senior executive of color from the company and are able to ask questions about his career and strategies for success.
“It’s important for them to see tangible representations of success,” says Horton. “You can see President Obama on TV, but to actually be in the room with the senior vice president of sales at Google, for example, is very important for them.”
Horton knows first hand the impact of having positive role models and mentors. The New York City native was raised by a single parent and lived in public housing for most of his childhood. As a teen, he easily could have gone down the road that too many in those circumstances do. Fortunately, he was chosen as a Posse Foundation scholar and received a full scholarship to DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.
“I gained access to college and that’s when I started to meet these amazing, dynamic men who served as mentors and they steered me in the right direction,” says Horton.
Suit Dreams has helped nearly 300 high school students since its inception through generous financial and clothing donations. On Friday, April 4, the organization will host Follow Suit: A Professional Wear Drive, an annual effort to stock its closet with donated business apparel to give to the young men in the program. In 2013, the event garnered more than 400 suits. At this year’s event, which takes place at 6:30 pm at The Griffin in New York City, the organization hopes to bring in 600 to 800 suits as well as accessories such as belts, ties and socks to dress its expanding roster of students.
With the right attire and training, Horton hopes to put the young men of Suit Dreams on the path to success. “These men are brilliant,” says Horton. “They just need the tools to point that brilliance in the right direction.”