A retired educator with Flint Community Schools, Gloria Barnett loves giving back to her community. She was recently seen at Southwestern Academy presenting dress shirts and neckties to 11th-grade young men as part of the Quinn Chapel AME Church Dress Shirt & Tie program. “We gave away approximately 50 shirts, ties and belts,” she says.
The Shirt & Tie Program was started in 2012 by Barnett and her sister Joyce Allen, to honor their brother Wilkie Bogan, and continue his legacy of promoting education, professionalism and excellence. A former teacher, Bogan believed all young men should own a dress shirt and a necktie. The program is an offshoot of the Debutante Cotillion Program, which Barnett established in 2004 with her husband, Oscar. “We were successful with the young ladies and we wanted to do more for the young men,” says Barnett. “Our goal has been to provide a dress shirt and tie set for every 11th-grade young man attending Flint Community Schools.” Since the program’s inception, approximately 300 shirts and ties have been distributed.
“I’ve always had a desire to help young people
achieve their highest potential.”
– Gloria Barnett
The Dress Shirt & Tie Program is funded by community donations and partnerships, Flint Community Schools, local department stores, organizations and individuals. When it first started, Barnett and Delora Younger sent out letters asking for donations to the cause. “I couldn’t believe how many people were interested in helping young men get a shirt and tie!” she exclaims. She is grateful for the ongoing support of Sam Wells and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, former Flint student Jason Taylor, and a partnership with JC Penny department store. “They make it affordable for us,” she says.
The annual Dress Shirt & Tie events are held at various Flint schools at the end of the school year. All of the students are measured before the shirts are purchased to make sure they fit. “We then have the shirts matched with a tie,” Barnett explains. Before they are given to the students, all of the shirts are ironed by members of the Quinn Chapel AME Church. Men from all walks of life participate in the events as male mentors, and they show the students how to tie the neckties. They look forward to it, Barnett shares, adding that the men often donate ties they no longer wear so that the students can have more to choose from. Men from the community, clergy, law enforcement, retired teachers, firefighters and politicians have all been mentors and look forward to it every year, she adds.
The students have worn their shirts and ties for job interviews and have obtained employment as a result. Barnett was shopping at Kroger one day, and she recognized the grocery bagger as one of the boys who had received a shirt. “Thank you for my shirt and tie,” he told her, adding that it helped him get hired. “I wore them for the interview, and they told me the reason I got the job was because of the way I presented myself and how I looked,” he said.
Hearing those success stories is what brings Barnett the most joy. “I’ve always had a desire to help young people achieve their highest potential,” she says, humbly. “It’s my way of giving back.”
Photography by Jennifer Hodney