BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: MEET GERARD KERSEY OF THAT SUITS YOU
“[We’ve] always heard the saying ‘it’s lonely at the top’, but that’s because people are not bringing others with them,” says Gerard Kersey. When it comes to succeeding–and the journey to success, especially in business–that does tend to be an overused saying. Kersey is the founder of the New York City based nonprofit organization, That Suits You (TSY). A man of his word, his organization’s very mission is about helping others to succeed.
TSY provides men with new and gently used professional attire. While all of these men won’t end up in an environment where they are required to wear a suit for work. More times than not, it is needed for the interview or future use. Kersey hopes that having a suit will inspire the men to do more.
The impetus behind TSY came from his own experience as a manager with the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York. Over time he noticed that many of the men who were coming in for job interviews were qualified, but not completely prepared. As he shares, “[They] were giving good interviews, but not necessarily dressed properly.” Kersey knew that for many it was a lack of access to a good, quality suit. However, he also realized that for many of the other candidates it was actually a lack of awareness about what is proper interview attire. It was during his own “aha” moment that he came up with a solution and what would ultimately become the basis of That Suits You. While cleaning out his closet one day, he realized that he had many suits that he no longer wore. Instead of just disposing of them, Kersey knew exactly what to do. He teamed up with his brother, Jamael Thompson, to collect suits from family and friends, as well as their own closets. From there the duo began partnering with local service organizations that they could distribute the suits through.
Since starting TSY in 2013, Kersey and his brother have grown their efforts into a full scale organization, including a board of advisors and a network of partner organizations–throughout New York City and across the country. In addition to providing professional attire to men, TSY also works with area high schools to provide high school seniors with suits for prom and graduation.
As the founder of TSY and an ordained minister, Kersey supplies men with more than just suits. He wholly believes that knowledge is key. Many of the men are coming from stations in life that have, thus far, not provided them with the basic skills needed to become independent. So in addition to equipping them with the proper attire, he works with area agencies to provide mentorship and arm the men with the needed skills to seek and secure employment or even start their own business. He strives to teach men how to become self-sufficient, so that they will hopefully impart what they have learned and experienced to someone else. In fact, an important component of TSY is the Circle of Life program. Men who have benefitted from TSY and have gone on to secure employment or start their own business, come back to share their success stories with the next generation. Their stories, give those presently working with TSY hope. As they are able to identify with someone who was once where they now stand.
Starting any organization is difficult. On top of the normal start-up woes, nonprofits must also tackle the task of garnering buy-in from the community. Kersey admits that TSY was not exempt. In the beginning, the largest difficulty was just garnering the support. “Initially, [the] challenges were getting people to donate suits, finding out where to go… getting the word out,” he shares. However, eventually, more and more organizations and individuals began to understand the mission of TSY.
Through it all, Kersey shares that, “Seeing the reaction of the gentlemen and the programs we assists,” makes it is all worth it. Many of the programs that TSY has worked with know that the suits and training are needed, but don’t know how or where to find them. He continues, “The moment they try on the jacket of a quality suit that comes with a matching tie, you know that they appreciate it. You can just see it in their reactions.”
Though still very young the organization has provided so much to the community. From 2013 to 2014 TSY provided almost 400 suits. Kersey cites the organizations and businesses that have supported TSY as a main factor for their success. In addition, the local media stations have helped to spread the word about TSY and its mission. His work within the community has certainly not gone unnoticed either. In fact, in 2014 Kersey was recognized by New York One as the news station’s New Yorker of the Week.
Like any other founder, Kersey has gained knowledge through his experience. For the aspiring, he offers this advice, “Get as much information as you can–the internet, people, resources and surround yourself with people who will continue to encourage you.” Regardless of the project, plan or aspiration, he reminds us all that if you are ever to succeed you must first start. He says, “Don’t wait until you have everything you need or you will never move beyond that first step. It’s daunting, but it you will never get any closer until you start.”
Past providing suits and job search skills to men, TSY is doing much more. In today’s society Black men (especially) are portrayed and perceived in such a negative light. By giving men a new lease on life, TSY is helping to not only change how the world portrays them, but how they see themselves and their own potential. As Kersey puts it, “You are the CEO of you, you have to be the best you that you can possibly be.”
When it comes to Minding Your Black Business Kersey says, “I purposely support others first before I ask them to help me.” This is an approach that has lent to the success of TSY. He shares that he has been fortunate to receive maximum support from the Black community. However, he concedes that many are willing to accept help, but have no intentions on helping. Be it due to ignorance or selfishness, this is an unhealthy concept that many agree has kept the Black community from prospering as one. Instead, we must learn that cooperation and collaboration are key in the achieving individual and group success. As Kersey cautions, “You have to be willing to make deposits, as well as withdrawals”.
Learn more about Gerard Kersey and That Suits You by visiting the website.
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