In the summer of 2018, my friend Lovetta Spencer invited me to attend a fashion show at Dearborn Denim and Apparel in Hyde Park. Her son Zion, a recent graduate of South Shore International High School, had been selected to receive a scholarship at the fashion show. And there, I met Stanley Coleman Jr.
A native Hyde Parker, Coleman graduated from Kenwood High School and has a business degree in management and broadcast journalism from Columbia College. After graduation, he worked for the Chicago Sky, and then in South Shore politics. A former teacher and program coordinator at South Shore International High School, he founded SCJR Productions two years ago as a way to help high school students learn something new, engage with others out of school, and receive financial assistance toward college
“As future leaders of tomorrow, we encourage our students to become proactive in seeking solutions in the face of adversity,” Coleman writes on the SCJR website. “With out-of-town tuition costs and college loan interest rates skyrocketing, even the smallest contribution toward a student’s college expenses helps with necessities such as boarding, books, and school supplies.”
SCJR’s popular Fashion/Modeling 101 program was created in response to an afterschool activity survey, which showed that students wanted activities that fostered courage, confidence, and self-esteem and helped them reach their dreams in college and beyond. Coleman secures scholarship support for his troupe by tapping into his network for donations, and seeking out organizations that support his mission. The financial assistance helps motivate students to do well in school as well as on the runway. At the October 2019 fashion show, two students received $1,250 scholarships. In an earlier show, one student received combined scholarships totaling more than $5,000.
In the past two years, Coleman has given out close to forty scholarships, and over one hundred students have participated in the runway program. He treats the models with respect and takes pride in their choices. The students learn life skills, including poise, confidence, the business side of fashion, being responsible on social media, booking shows, and how to safely navigate the fashion world. Students will have these skills for the rest of their lives, whether or not they end up pursuing careers in fashion.
Coleman lives a few blocks from the Silver Room, on 53rd Street in Hyde Park. When, in 2017, Dearborn Denim opened next door to the neighborhood anchor, Coleman reached out to see if general manager Kaleb Sullivan would be interested in hosting a regular fashion show. Sullivan, said Coleman, was keen to give back to the community and its youth.
The December fashion show was SCJR Productions’ eighth event at Dearborn Denim and Apparel. The store, with hardwood floors and neon signs, sells men’s and women’s jeans, shirts, hats, belts, and other casual attire in a long and relatively narrow space. The setting was perfect for a fashion show where students modeled denim and streetwear. Chairs for sixty guests were placed in rows along the walls.
While the models changed clothes between acts, Coleman engaged the audience with raffle prizes, announcements, the presentation of student scholarships, and performances.
At the October show, CBS 2 reporter Suzanne LeMignot acknowledged the attendees, the models, and announced raffle ticket winners. During intermission, local rapper and spoken word artist and Dearborn Denim staffer June performed several of her original songs.
Since the program began, the modeling troupe has performed at the Black Women’s Expo, and been featured on local media.
“I like this program because of the experience and the people that I meet throughout the program,” said one student, a junior. “This program is helping me be more professional. After this, I want to go to college to do graphic design, engineering and photography.”
While Coleman teaches the modeling classes, he also relies on some of his more experienced students, typically juniors and seniors. They have their boots on the ground and circle back to Coleman with suggestions and concerns related to the upcoming shows. He encourages them to be comfortable coming to him with ideas or simply to talk about life.
The students intentionally model fashionably cool, casual streetwear and clothing that is unapologetically Black. Coleman wants his models to represent Black heritage and community with intention.
“It’s really nice to model with my classmates. Just to see them make themselves so beautiful and confident,” said one student, a senior who is planning on attending the University of Illinois and majoring in business. “The reason why I model now is to build a platform for myself so Black women can know they are beautiful, to demonstrate that they can be beautiful on the magazine covers just like the European women are cast.”
The troupe also uses the runway to promote various causes and platforms, including #TimesUp, #MeToo, breast cancer awareness, lupus awareness, and pediatric cancer awareness. “We are not just a typical runway program,” said Coleman. “We want to be that kind of program that services the needs that are the immediate of our community.”
SCJR Productions is a family effort. Coleman’s mother, brother, and stepfather attend and help out at the fashion shows and support the work he’s doing. “My mom, my stepdad, and my younger brother, they’ve been amazing. I couldn’t do what I am doing without those three,” said Coleman.
When the modeling program began in 2017, most of the models came from South Shore International High School. Now, models from other high schools participate as well, including students from Kenwood Academy, Jones College Prep, Glenbard South, Martin Luther King High School, and charter schools. As word continues to get around about the program, Coleman feels confident that he’s on track to dominate this market and to continue adding new scholarships for the student models to help alleviate the cost of college.
Bridget Vaughn is a contributor to the Weekly. She last photographed and wrote for the Weekly about eight houses of worship during the 2018 Open House Chicago.