Jermaine Lawrence Anderson believes that each of us has something within us that makes us unique- and for most people their talents and abilities are undiscovered.
Anderson discovered his penchant for self-employment as a youth. He enrolled in entrepreneurship classes and placed 51 out of 100 among Youth Owned Businesses in America by his sophomore year in high school. Anderson soon became an in-demand public speaker- sharing his experiences across the country.
Today, the businessman and lifelong entrepreneur heads Jermaine Lawrence Enterprises- a marketing, media and event production company. With his wealth of experience, Anderson seeks to help young men of color discover their creative abilities and how to harness them to create a successful career.
In 2012, Anderson founded the I Am A Gentleman (IAAG) organization. The IAAG organization has one goal– to develop young men and rebuild men in minority communities throughout the United States of America.
Life-Style-Chicago met with Anderson to discuss I Am A Gentleman:
What is the goal of I Am a Gentleman?
We prepare young and adult men for the real world. We teach them marketable life skills. Often times in school, especially CPS- its heavily focused on curriculum. But unfortunately, for many minorities, especially young African-American men, if they graduate, it’s not with A’s and B’s like it used to be. They’re barely passing. We come alongside to say let your school handle the academics, we’ll help you develop the marketable life skills you need. We have sessions that talk about conflict resolution, self-identity, self respect. We teach how to become your own boss, how to develop the leader in you. Those are skills we believe will help them in the future.
How does I Am a Gentleman operate?
It’s a 12-16 session curriculum. Some sessions operate in schools, others are located in various locations throughout the Chicagoland area. One thing we are trying to do is present the curriculum to the Chicago school board to make it mandatory for all men prior to graduation so they will have these life skills under their belt. The schools we are operating in, we’ve gotten in through the interest of the principals, assistant principals and counselors.
One thing we do is to help young men take pride in their appearance. We have found that when you put a young man in a suit, or shirt and tie he wants to participate in positive activity and find something to do with his life vs. standing on the street corner, vs. smoking drugs, etc. He’s like “wow, I look great? Where can I go? What can I do?”
How many young men are in the program? And what are the age ranges?
There isn’t a set number. Our program is dependent upon those parents, teachers and churches. We depend on the parent, schools and churches.
I can say we just completed a program called Project Gentleman. Project Gentleman was a full experience where young men were able to come out of their neighborhood into downtown Chicago for an eight-hour experience. And in that 8 hours, they received 5 hours of life skills training, 1 hour of luncheon networking time, and two hours of shopping. So obviously it’s about more than clothes. But almost 350 men went through that at one time. But hundreds have gone through the program.
How are young men chosen for the program?
They’re not really chosen. The young men are made aware by their schools, parents or churches. There’s an application process. There’s no specific criteria. Just be a young man from ages 14-21. Age 14 is typically eighth grade and 21 is beyond high school. But we’ve found out over the years that a young man may or may not have finished high school so he’s in the GED program, or that age where’s figuring himself out.
Where do you find mentors?
Through an event we host each year called Chicago’s Gentleman Brunch. We talk about guy stuff- cars, health and wellness, sports, image and grooming and social and moral giveback. From that event we seek mentors. Some of the guys call us. We take them through a thorough background check. We also want them to know it’s a strong commitment. It’s a two-year commitment.
I’ve read the Hyatt is one of your sponsors? Do you have others?
We have a ton of sponsors. Hyatt is one of our title sponsors for Project Gentleman along with NBC5 and Chicago Police Department.
Chicago is the hub for I Am a Gentleman (IAAG), does IAAG operate in other cities?
In 2017, we will work in Las Vegas, Birmingham, Alabama and Detroit, MI.
Curious- Why Vegas?
They heard about our program. Some of the city officials said there is nothing there like it for young men. When we travel we hear that a lot.
Tell us about the White Tablecloth Experience.
For young men 14-21, we take them out of their neighborhood to the Gold Coast in downtown Chicago. They are given a motivational speaker who is typically someone they know or a celebrity. We give them a neck-tie tying demonstration. We teach how to tie a tie, when it’s appropriate to wear the tie, etc. The day culminates with a 5-course meal served on fine china and served by a celebrity chef. The chef not only serves the food, but comes out and explains what the course is and what the course means. Part of our brand is to make sure we do things at a high level just to make sure the young men experience what they may not normally experience if they weren’t in the program. We want to make the events life changing.
What’s next for I Am a Gentleman?
We’re launching a program soon called Polka Dot Socks. It’s a 75-minute motivational presentation for young men that talks about self-respect, confidence and image. Just those three things. We’ll talk about the meaning of socks. Every kid will leave with trendy socks to help them want to wear something other than jeans and gym shoes.
We also do a huge thing around Christmas time. We go into the community and randomly pick families that are less fortunate. We show up on Christmas Eve unannounced with clothes, toys, coats and Christmas dinner. Last year we showed up with Mickey and Minnie Mouse- the real characters from Florida.
One of the things we try to teach the young men is that life is much more than receiving, but also giving. So the young men help every Christmas and we allow them to give so that as adults the seeds have been planted.
How does an interested young man get involved with I Am A Gentleman?
The best way is to go the school counselor or principal and ask how to get the program in our school. For parents, they can call or email us.
To find out more about the I Am a Gentleman organization and how you can contribute,visit www.iamagentleman.com.