Bettering Guilford County, one suit at a time
ProBenefits is always glad to learn about incredible organizations that strive to transform their communities. Recently, we were introduced to the Black Suit Initiative by one of our partners, and we are excited to tell you about this project, which provides opportunities for young African-American men across Guilford County, NC.
Launched in 2016 by founder Evianna Ross, the initiative is a leadership and community engagement program that centers around the idea of the power of a black suit. The young men who become members of the program engage in public service projects, academic opportunities, and a variety of program activities. With each achievement, the member is rewarded part of a black suit, until he has eventually earned the entire suit, which is worn proudly as a symbol of professionalism and opportunity.
Evianna is a former marketing executive who founded The Sparrow’s Nest in 2008, a nonprofit that provides free education opportunities to students living in public housing communities in Greensboro. As she became more involved in activism within the community, she noticed an increase in gang violence and the need for positive role models and leadership opportunities. When Evianna sees a problem in her community, she gets to work. That’s how the Black Suit Initiative was born.
Members of the Black Suit Initiative contribute to the community in remarkable ways, especially toward improving Guilford County’s food insecurity issue. According to Feeding America, a nonprofit national food bank organization, about 19% of the population in the county do not have regular access to enough nutritious foods to support a healthy lifestyle, a challenge exacerbated by the pandemic.
Members began managing a food pantry in collaboration with local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops who collect the food and supply the pantry. Since March, the young men have helped distribute about 18,000 pounds of food to underserved individuals and families in the community.
Black Suit Initiative board member Mike Matzinger has seen the impact of this public service work. “I’m really proud of the guys in terms of what they’ve been doing to address the issue of food insecurity in our community,” Mike says. “They are probably one of the few groups of middle school and high school men that run a food pantry.”
Last month, a local Title 1 elementary school lost its supply of food they would send home with about 80 kids each weekend for students and their families who have trouble accessing healthy food options. When this supply of food ran out, the school reached out to Black Suit and the members were able to supply 80 large bags of food a week for these families.
“Their own community looks to them now as leaders,” Mike says. “They know now that they can look to these guys and they are ready to step in and make a difference.”
The community happily supports these growing young men. Many businesses and individuals in Guilford County participate in the We’ve Got Your Back campaign, where they make donations to have their name printed on the back of sweatshirts the members wear.
“Donations go toward things like a summer trip for the members to experience another part of the country and broaden their worldview to reach outside of their community,” Mike says. Every time one of the boys puts on their sweatshirt, they are reminded of the individuals and organizations that support them throughout their journeys.
The young men have experienced many opportunities for academic, professional and personal growth because of generous donations and resources provided by the community. But Black Suit is always looking to grow.
“If somebody has a skill or a resource or a facility that they think these guys would benefit from having access to, I want to talk to them,” Mike says.
If you would like to join us in contributing to this impactful cause there are many ways you can get involved. Black Suit accepts monetary donations as part of their We’ve Got Your Back campaign. If you are interested in becoming a professional mentor or feel you have a resource that would benefit the project, contact Mike Matzinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Matzinger is the President of Burlington Chemical Company, a long-time ProBenefits partner, and we are so pleased that he brought the Black Suit Initiative to our attention. If you or your company support an organization that you would like to see featured in our Community Spotlight, please let us know!