CLEVELAND, Ohio– Over the past three years, 1,000 ties CEO and Founder Jowan Smith is helping young black people break down barriers with the simplest of actions: tying a tie.
After watching his son, Trayvon, who was just 12 at the time, struggle to learn how to tie and having to resort to watching YouTube videos, Smith noticed a missing link for many young black men, like his son. , who do not have a male role model or father figure in their lives.
Smith said that’s when the light bulb went out for her. She wanted to organize an event where young black men could not only learn how to tie a tie, but also learn soft skills like networking, creative thinking and conflict resolution.
In 2019, Smith made her dreams come true.
Smith began placing donation boxes around his neighborhood or at local libraries for tie donations. Initially, when she chose the name “1,000 Links,” Smith said it was because she didn’t think she could get past that number. Luckily, in the first year, she collected over 5,000 before her first annual tie event and continued to double tie donations every year.
“We definitely exceeded our target,” Smith said.
1000 Ties has grown since its inception, spanning multiple partnerships, including historically black Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities and sororities, the Cleveland Public Library, and several local school districts, such as the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Warrensville City Schools, Shaker Heights, Maple Heights, Fairview Park and Invictus High School.
Alongside the annual event, the nonprofit organization offers mentoring for young men aged 10 to 15 and a life skills program for boys and girls aged 10 to 21.
Youth involved in the mentorship program, which will be free, will have the opportunity to participate in STEM-focused activities with a class led by Cuyahoga Community College staff. The Life Skills Program – open to both boys and girls – is offered at Maple Heights and Invictus High School on all three campuses.
They provide an array of resources, including etiquette and financial literacy classes.
Smith’s son Trayvon Porter, now 20, recalled the impact his mentor had on him and noted why young men need positive role models, especially when working to navigate in life.
“Every young man needs to be able to see a positive role model, so he can see that if he works hard enough and keeps going, anything is possible. Being a mentor has also been great for me to be able to give back like my mentor Dr. Moss did for me,” he said.
Next year, the organization plans to launch a 1,000 JR Ties afterschool program for boys in grades 4 and 5 at schools in the city of Maple Heights.
Smith, who resides in Lyndhurst and wears many hats, CEO, author, educational consultant, model and motivational speaker, said she has big plans for 1,000 Ties in the future. Not only does she want to continue to grow and serve the children and families of Cuyahoga County, but eventually she hopes to expand the organization to other cities with high poverty rates and offer the related event.
“That’s the goal,” Smith said. “To come in and start teaching our young people these skills to break down these barriers because there are too many babies getting lost in the streets.”
1000 Ties is always looking for volunteers and accepts donations for ties. Donation boxes can be found at the Harvard-Lee and Memorial-Nottingham branches of the Cleveland Public Library. Monetary donations can be given on his website.
Funds will go towards programming, youth materials, and more.