CLEVELAND — Learning how to tie a tie is a rite of passage for many boys as they grow into young men, but it's a tradition some are starting to see slowly dwindle, and in some cases, disappear.
Now, a local woman is stepping in to make sure that art and all that comes with it is not lost with a new program that’s making Cleveland and its suburbs a better land.
Jowan Smith sees things happening in her own life reflected in the lives of those she helps through her parent-based consulting firm, Getting Our Babies to College 101.
"My son had to teach yourself how to tie a tie on YouTube,” said Smith, a Cleveland native who now lives in Lyndhurst. "He's not the only young man that does not have this skill because we have a whole generation of people that do not wear ties.”
She decided to help provide that skill and more by starting the "1,000 Ties" event.
It's an afternoon of educational workshops held at local schools where young men learn those skills and form connections with mentors - including fathers, uncles, coaches, and businessmen. But the gateway is the ties.
"Once they actually learn how to tie the tie it's a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment. They feel better, they feel like they look better. And they feel like they can go do whatever it is that they want to accomplish,” Smith said.
It all starts with the tie collection drive, which starts on October 1.
More than 5,000 new or gently-used ties were donated for the first event back in February, so the goal this time around the goal is to double that amount.
Lisa McGuthry, the owner of Our Favorite Things Boutique, is hosting a collection bin and giving out $5 discounts on her merchandise to encourage more donations.
"That's what it's about - building community, building relationships and helping our future generations. So if we're just thinking about us, then that's, you know, that's not good at all. We have to think about how we can build the community, how we can help you,” McGuthry said.
Since the first event, 1,000 Ties has grown tremendously.
In 2020, it will be held in two school districts – the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Warrensville Heights School District – for a total of four events.
The donated ties will eventually go home with young men like John McCalla Jr. and his younger brother, Derrion Smith. Both learned to tie ties at the first 1,000 Ties event.
"I don't really get mentors or people that help me with anything unless I ask my teacher or my mom. But it felt different. And it felt like I was cared for and loved by people that don't even know me,” McCalla Jr. said.
Now an item they thought was inaccessible, and kind of uncool, has become a wardrobe staple and a symbol of pride.
"I feel like more grown up because I usually see older people wear ties and it feels good. And then people asked me, 'How did you do that? Can you teach me?'” Smith said.
Registration for 1,000 Ties will begin in December. Anyone interested can register on the Getting Our Babies to College 101 website.
Hosts will be collecting ties until January 30 at these locations:
JumpStart, 6701 Carnegie Avenue
CMSD Board of Education, 1111 Superior Ave.
East Professional Center, 1349 E 79th Street.
Memorial-Nottingham Library, 17109 Lakeshore Blvd.
Cleveland Public Library Harvard & Lee Branch, 16918 Harvard Ave.
Our Favorite Things Boutique, 12730 Larchmere Blvd.
Old Brooklyn Community Development Corp., 4274 Pearl Rd.
Warrensville Heights High School, 4270 Northfield Rd.
Warrensville Heights Board of Education, 4500 Warrensville Center Rd.
Kappa House, 12450 Shaker Blvd.
Warrensville Heights YMCA, 4433 Northfield Rd
Patrick Henry CMSD, 11901 Durant Avenue
Images XL Barber Shop, 2866 E. 116th Street
Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland, 6114 Broadway Ave
Norman Auto Express, 5101 Carnegie Ave
Lakewood College, 2231 N Taylor Rd.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.