The Black Suit Initiative

Evainna Ross | November 16th, 2017
Photo by Shaw Photography Group

(Photo by Shaw Photography Group)

In 2008, Evainna Ross launched The Sparrow’s Nest, Inc. in Claremont Courts in northeast Greensboro. The program was initially developed in a partnership with the Greensboro Housing Authority to provide free educational programs on weekends for students in four of their largest public housing communities. Some of the activities provided were: ballroom dancing (on basketball courts), healthy culinary arts demonstrations, painting, wire art, and a mayoral endorsed reading program. During the first year, services were provided to over 500 youth from Kindergarten to high school seniors. In an effort to have a more sustainable impact with the youth encountered on a monthly basis, a new program was launched called “The Chosen 50”.

The Chosen 50 launched in 2009 and was developed to reach 50 middle and high school students primarily from the public housing communities being served, as well as incorporating other students from inner-city communities. The candidates were selected through an interview process conducted by area teachers, administrators, and business owners.

Each year students were grouped into teams and assigned multi-tiered directives to complete and present before a panel of community judges at the end of the year. These hands-on educational activities were used to encourage youth, from “rival” communities, and give them the opportunity to find commonalities and form long-lasting relationships. Some projects have included: Developing their own small businesses, running for Mayor, developing stock portfolios, purchasing their own homes, purchasing their first cars, and developing a city-wide community resource website, called The Hip Hub, which was funded by the City of Greensboro.

After successfully assisting 18 of its senior graduates to attend college; most of whom were first generation college students, the organization decided to shift its focus to address the growing concern among African American males in Greensboro. At the end of 2015, Greensboro began to see a rise in murders committed by young African American males; one as young as 13. Nationally the trends continue to be daunting for African American males. Poor academic performances in all core subjects, health disparities, and prisons with a growing population of young African American males are just a few of the issues in which they face.

In an effort to address these disturbing trends, The Sparrow’s Nest, Inc. launched its newest division called The Black Suit Initiative in February 2016. Keeping the young men from the Chosen 50, the organization conducted another round of interviews to add additional middle and high school males to the program. The Black Suit Initiative is a leadership and community engagement program which allows young men the opportunity to gradually earn a full black suit. Suits are earned through the successful completion of educational modules, exhibiting exemplary behavior in school and their positive contributions in the community.
The program is based upon a new study conducted by a psychology professor at California State University. The professor found that wearing a suit does change one’s thought processes. The study found formal clothing improved confidence levels and changed the basic way respondents perceived the world.

In addition to the educational components, monthly workshops are held where students are able to meet successful males from all races, ages, and career specialties. At the conclusion of the first year, the program assisted 5 graduating seniors to enroll in college (100%). Young men accepted into the program are allowed to remain in the program until high school graduation. In 2016, most young men earned an average of 150 Service Learning hours, making them eligible to receive a Service Learning Diploma through Guilford County Schools. Currently the program has 25 males representing 14 different schools and two counties.
The program only accepts applications in May and June and interviews are held in July each year to select new members to fill any vacant spaces in the program.

The founder, Evainna Ross has dedicated most of her life to helping youth secure better educational and economic opportunities through the development of her nonprofit organization. Ross, is originally from Lynchburg, VA and moved to Greensboro to attend North Carolina A&T State University. Upon graduating with a B.S. in Public Relations in 1991, Ross began her journey volunteering as the youth director at St. James Baptist Church in Greensboro, under the leadership of the late civil rights pioneer, Rev. Prince E. Graves. Ross took what she learned at St. James Baptist Church and developed the community based model, The Sparrow’s Nest, Inc.

In 2014, Ross was recognized nationally by the Ascena Retail Group as an “everyday hero” who has dedicated her life to making the world a better place by empowering children in the areas of education, social support, and self-esteem.

Currently Ross devotes nearly every weekend working with these young men with the assistance of Page High School English teacher, Summer Hunter. Hunter, the program’s educational curriculum facilitator and student advocate, is the organization’s longest serving volunteer who is excited about the opportunity to impact students creatively outside of the traditional classroom.

Ross has been married to her husband Kevin for 29 years and they have a daughter Amariah and a host of children in the program they claim as their own. Ross is a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Greensboro where she is an active volunteer in several ministries

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