(Left to right): Kevin Livingston, Colin Kaepernick and Hot 97 radio personality Nessa worked to help parolees obtain suits, preparing them for the transition back to civilian life. Photo courtesy of 100 Suits.
BY TRONE DOWD
On Saturday, Southeast Queens nonprofit and community empowerment organization 100 Suits for 100 Men received an assist from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The partnership between the 100 Suits founder and President Kevin Livingston and the star-athlete quickly went viral online. Kaepernick donated 50 of his own suits to the organization, which works to make “positive changes in the lives of men and women in the New York City area by providing solutions to help those individuals get to a place of economic freedom and by helping to reduce recidivism rates through a variety of programs.”
Forging A Partnership
Livingston has become a staple in the Southeast Queens community. He has been vocal about social justice and is an advocate for anti-violence initiatives and protecting and encouraging local youth. His partnership with Kaepernick was the result of an interview conducted in October on Hot 97.
“I was featured on [‘The Nessa Show’],” Livingston told the PRESS of Southeast Queens. “That got a lot of hits.
Nessa, who’s close friends with Kaepernick, I guess, told Colin about what we do. His team reached out to me in February and invited me to a Know Your Rights training group.”
Livingston said that Kaepernick hosted the event in Harlem, inviting 100 Suits out to talk to attendees about their rights and how to conduct themselves when interacting with police. After the success of the joint venture, Livingston said that Kaepernick promised to follow up sometime in the future.
“This Saturday, I received a call from Kaepernick’s people,” he said. “I figured it was just going to be me and Nessa outside of the parole office in Jamaica. When I get there, this big black SUV pulls up, he comes out and it was nothing but love.”
Kaepernick donated a total of 50 suits to the Southeast Queens organization that will all go towards parolees who are seeking employment and need formal wear for job interviews.
“He’s an amazing dude. Really one of the heroes of Southeast Queens,” Livingston said.
Returning the Favor
The good deed was just the latest in a year of activism and donating time and money towards communities of color and civic groups committed to community empowerment throughout the country.
Last summer, Kaepernick made headlines after he drew criticism from NFL executives and fans for choosing to kneel during the national anthem as a form of silent protest.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick famously said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick’s controversial stance has seemingly cost him his career. At the end of last season, Kaepernick was released from the 49ers. As a free agent following his season of protest, he has struggled to make it to any of the NFL’s 32 teams for the new season.
In the meantime, Kaepernick, has taken up charity work full-time. Livingston said that he was frustrated with how Kaepernick has been treated by the NFL and has already thought about how he and the community could help him.
“Simple and put, we stand with him,” Livingston said. “It is why I am spearheading a #StandWithColin solidarity event in front of NFL headquarters on May 24.”
Livingston said that he wants to see the Southeast Queens community join in on the protest.
“He stood with us,” he said. “It’s only right that we stand with him in his time of need. I just don’t understand how you have a qualified quarterback who is unemployed and being blackballed by the NFL. Our dollars matter. If the NFL can’t recognize that, then we will stand with Colin and show that we’ve got his back.”
A Year of Bettering the Community
For the past year, 100 Suits has made large strides towards helping Southeast Queens. In April 2016, Livingston started the “100 Suits Academy.”
“We have upwards of 70 young men [who] now have passed through this program already,” Livingston said. “We teach them financial literacy, brand development, entrepreneurialism and police and community relations.”
The first class graduated just last month.
100 Suits has also worked toward trying to help prisoners at Rikers Island get on the straight and narrow by registering them to vote, bringing in motivational speakers, connecting them to resources in their respective communities and “letting them know that they matter,” Livingston said.
In March, the organization launched its Male Boutique model out of its Southeast Queens office.
“Men come by for their individual appointments,” Livingston explained. “They meet with a tailor. They get a free suit, a free haircut, a session where they can learn how to tie a tie and a one-on-one men talk. What that talk consists of is connecting them to the resources that they need, and connecting them to one of our 75 partners. We target anyone disenfranchised by society. Somebody that needs a second chance.”
He said that this includes young men, the formerly incarcerated, homeless, domestic violence victims and anyone else who seeks a new start.
Most recently, 100 Suits expanded to assist women as well. On May 9, it is launching a 100 Suits Academy for Women.
“Right now, we have 17 young women,” Livingston said. “We are going to teach them brand development, self-esteem, entrepreneurialism.”
The academy will be run by Charlene Harding, who is the owner of Kayleen’s Abundant Life Daycare in Jamaica.
The Future of 100 Suits
Livingston said that he looks forward to the future of 100 Suits and that he has already been working with Kaepernick on planning additional joint ventures to help those in need.
“I do have very strong ties to Colin and his camp,” he said. “I’m not privy to release any details, but we do have something that we will be working on together.”
This summer, 100 Suits is holding an event known as “Black Dads Rock,” a community father-and-children-themed dance with a mission of establishing a stronger bond between fathers and their kids. Lastly, he said that this summer would see the launch of the first-ever “credit challenge tournament.”
“The bottom line of it is that we’re pushing to improve credit scores, which will, in turn, boost homeownership here in Southeast Queens,” he said.
In September, 100 Suits will close out the year with its annual Black Tie Gala at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.
Despite Southeast Queens having seen a reduction in crime, improved community-police relations and an effort from the city to “revitalize” the neighborhood in recent years, Livingston said that his work in the community is never done.
“The problems are not gone,” he said. “We have to continue to be active and tackle the problems that are facing our community. We still have a high homeless rate, our young people are still assaulting one another and we still have a huge foreclosure crisis to recover from. We also have massive financial illiteracy among our young people. We have to stay on top of this. We cannot be content because buildings are coming up. Those buildings are not meant for us. We need to stay prudent and progressive in the community of Southeast Queens.”