February is Black History Month in the United States. The national observance pays tribute to key figures and events in African Americans history, notably the work of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An organization that Dr. King founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has launched a new program to help young people in Memphis, Tennessee.
In the final weeks of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, lead efforts to help the poor and young African Americans in Memphis. "We are getting ready to demand jobs and income," Dr. King said. "We are tired of our children having to attend overcrowded inferior schools.
Forty-two years after King's assassination in Memphis, schools there are plagued by other problems -- gangs and violence. But the SCLC is spearheading efforts to change that. Reverend Dwight Montgomery is the president of the the SCLC chapter in Memphis. "We feel there is a lot of self inflicted slavery when you talk about black on black crime, when you talk about young people getting in gangs and doing negative activities," he explained. "Because all of those things are hurting our community and hurting the advancement of African American people."
"They say I look like the president. They say I remind them of President Obama, so they wanted my autograph," Anthony Banks said. Banks says its the reaction he gets from his classmates when they see him dressed in a suit and tie. He used to be in a gang, but now he is taking part in the SCLC's dress for success program. Reverend Montgomery, says he's trying to motivate young black students.
"Not only to dress for success but to think for success," Montgomery said. "Go to school, stay in school, get your lesson and don't be a part of gangs. And more importantly seek for some career or additional educational to be of good success in the community."
Anthony Banks says he grew tired of life as a gang member, and even looking like a gang member. "Once a person sees you dressed like that they automatically stereotype you and say, 'He is up to no good,' because you are portraying a negative image," he said.
With help of the SCLC and corporate sponsors, Anthony and other students are given professional work attire and encouraged to study hard and position themselves towards meaningful careers.
"I feel good. I feel like I am going to be somebody, I 'm going to be somebody," Banks stated.
The dress for success campaign also has a mentoring program to guide troubled teenagers in the right direction. Bank loan officer Marquette Eddins is one of the mentors. "You can obtain anything that you want to as long as you put your mind to it," Eddins said. "Stay focused and with the leadership of us helping to guide their way to make that transition a little bit easier on them."
Anthony says he is proud of what he sees in the mirror, not only with the new look but a new attitude. Now he wants to go to college after high school and someday become a lawyer. "My motto is if you look good, you do good and if you do good, good things happen," Banks said. "Dress the part, look the part and act the part.