Black suits. Red ties. They're the mark of a young man on a mission.
"The uniform for us teaches young men that there is a presentation aspect to what people offer you. When our young men are dressed in their black suits, their red ties, we see that they're looked at differently. People are more willing to forget the stereotypes they have about the baggy pants syndrome and the oversized clothes because they see a person that's dressed for success," Rodney Gore, executive director at Kappa Leadership Institute Chicago.
Professional dress is just one of the principles Gore stresses to the students who make up the Kappa Leadership Institute Chicago, a 7-year-old non-profit that helps African-American young men make it to and through college. The Chicago group is one of 344 chapters across the country working in connection with the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
"We saw that there was a big disparity going on in the education of our African American youth and minority students, males specifically, in the Chicago Public Schools system. So we wanted to do our part. We felt that our existence as an organization would die if we didn't help to get African American students into college," Gore said.
The organization grooms the boys into leaders by offering a college readiness curriculum, oratory training and opportunities to study abroad.
"We send them globally throughout many different countries overseas. We send them for 6-8 weeks at a time to study. You'll see a young man that's never been on a plane in his life, get on a plane and his next destination is Auckland, New Zealand," Gore said.
Whitney Young Senior Derrick Rogan helped rebuild a school last summer in panama.
"They were learning on concrete and grass and their desks kind of sat lop-sided because the ground wasn't too even. We went and laid tile on the floor. We painted the classrooms just to show the students that there are people out there that are willing to help you," Rogan said.
Kyle Nichols, who is a senior at Kenwood Academy, spent last summer in Hungary and is now interning at a law firm.
"I'm meeting judges, attorneys, people who are in charge of large corporations, small corporations and I want to be an attorney when I get older so I'll have something to write on my resume," Nichols said.
Gore says he lacked opportunities like those as a youngster and is now making it his life's work to provide that guidance for the next generation of African-American men.
"It was only fitting for me wanting to give back in a more tangible way where I can see the result of my working with students," Gore said. "I felt if I wanted to create the next generation of leaders, I have to do my part to train those leaders."
Gore says he was $160,000 in debt when he graduated college. He is now committed to procuring scholarships for his students -- and it's paying off. He says last year nearly 80% of the group's graduating seniors went to college on full tuition scholarships. If you know a young man who might benefit from the Kappa Leadership Institute, find an application and other information at kappaleaguechicago.org.