By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
MAYS LANDING – Friday is viewed for many as “dress down” days, the beginning of the weekend where public is told to put on t-shirts, shorts and leave the corporate or business world behind.
In 2013, youth leader Darrell J. Edmonds decided to take a different look at Fridays with the young people he worked with creating the nonprofit Friday Is Tie Day Inc. Young men donned ties on Friday as a symbol of taking responsibility for their present and future while everyone else is looking for leisure and ease.
Today, Friday Is Tie Day has spread to 12 high school and three middle schools in South Jersey. Friday Is Tie Day now includes a fatherhood component and mentorship component and was responsible for starting the location’s first chapter of All Pro Dad, a national program endorsed by Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy.
“When the guys put on their ties and dress up, they can’t help but act differently,” Edmonds told Front Runner New Jersey.com. “But for us, the tie is more a symbol to everyone else. It’s an outward sign of a focus or drive that is taking place in their mind. Unfortunately, there are some people that look at young men of color and far too often associate them with ‘problems’ and don’t see the ‘promise’ that is inside of them. The tie allows us to put the PROMISE on display for everyone else.”
Bucking The Culture
Friday Is Tie Day is geared towards young men in grades 8-12, countering much of popular culture that often teaches young people to be rude, arrogant, and disrespectful. The organization said it wants to “buck the culture” and use the symbol of the tie to not only dress like gentlemen but to also act like gentlemen, impacting the entire school environment.
Edmonds said Tie Day Is Friday, in the end, is bigger than such school involvement, but the community as well.
“Our biggest supporters are everyday individuals,” Edmonds said. “This program has survived on the support of the community. Of course, we have had some larger contributions from organizations and small family foundations, but this is something that has been fueled by everyday people.”
There are Friday Is Tie Day has students participating in Edmonds alma mater of Absegami High School along with Atlantic City, Atlantic County Institute of Technology, Bridgeton, Buena Regional, Cedar Creek, Egg Harbor Township, Mainland Regional, Oakcrest, Pleasantville, Vineland and Williamstown.
Friday Is Tie Day said it has a 100 percent graduation rate among participants. In 2017, it boasted that its seniors on more than $200,000 in scholarships and 96 percent of those who attended college are still in school.
Learning from Experience
Edmonds is a former scholarship collegiate athlete, playing football at the University of Delaware. From there he became interested in working with youth, working as director of the Oakcrest Teen Center.
“There is so much that I learned from playing the game,” Edmonds said about playing football. “Probably the most valuable lesson was how to work well within a team and succeed as a team. You have to learn ways to keep everybody on board and ultimately working in the same direction. Second to that would be how to overcome adversity.
“My time as the director of the Oakcrest Teen Center was really valuable, especially when it came to administration and running a business site. My time there truly showed me a lot about the challenges that youth face today. Everything is accelerated because of overexposure. The way technology impacts their life is like no generation before them and access is only increasing,” he continued.
Role Modeling For Success
Edmonds said being a role model to others, particular other men of color like himself is “huge for me.” His wife Janine Edmonds is a guidance counselor at Oakcrest High School and are parents of three children.
“It’s not that they (we) don’t exist but there is a media machine that is focused on showing unhealthy examples and propagating misinformation about men of color,” Edmonds said. “We’ve often heard that ‘there are more black men in jail than in college.’ While we do have a flawed justice system that definitely needs work in dealing with the disproportionate numbers of black men incarcerated, that previous phrase is not true. Actually, it has never been true at any point in time of the history of this country.”
Edmonds said his father was his biggest role model.
“He was a larger than life figure in our family and in our community,” he said. “I was also blessed to have uncles, neighbors and even an older brother that served as great examples of who and how I should be as a man.”
Drawn to Youth Work
He said he wanted to help youth in finding their own drive to be the best version of themselves. Edmonds said he has found that youth crave that kind of positive guidance in their lives.
“They actually want guidance, structure and even discipline but it has to come from a person they trust, and THEY CHOOSE,” Edmonds said. “Teenagers have developed enough intellectually to reason and make changes for the better as opposed to adults can be really set in their ways at times.”
Edmond said he wants to see Friday Is Tie Day grow where there is a “chapter” in many schools around the state, where Friday is seen as a day of dressing up and taking charge than a day of dressing down and letting loose.
“In the next five years I see Friday Is Tie Day transitioning to a ‘chapter’ model,” he said. “Schools all over the state will have active chapters lead be the teens themselves and mentors from those communities. Our larger events, like the Annual Tie Ceremony and College Decision Day, will be regional and take place at universities and the Atlantic City Convention Center. We also will have a building that operates as our home base administratively and programing. Finally, we will be opening a middle school academy for boys.”
Edmonds has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Eastern University. In June 2014, he won the Starting Bloc Fellowship for social innovation, which brings together entrepreneurs, activists, educators, and innovators working to create change. He was picked to attend the International Young Leaders Assembly at the United Nations in 2014 with worldwide change agents. Edmonds has won numerous award like the Top 40 Under 40 from the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce in 2009, Man of the Year by Phi Delta Kappa Sorority in 2011 and Omega Man of the Year by the Upsilon Alpha chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. the same year.
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