Swag the Runway allows teens to reimagine their future, says its founders.
“My mom, Queen, and I are partners in the organization. She has been a school teacher for more than 32 years, so she watched year by year as they started taking performing arts out of the schools,” says Swag the Runway founder Sa’Rah Valentine.
“I grew up with performing arts. I went to Whitney Young, I was on the dance team, and it groomed me to be where I am today. I grew up in Englewood, a lot of the kids there would just live through my experiences when they would come to my shows.”
Valentine went about her life with a successful career in tour management, when the neighborhood of Englewood called her back, to pay it forward.
“I always knew that I wanted to do something that would give back. I did tour management and I went on the road for a while. We started this organization 10 years ago and we came back and I realized that nothing was going on with the performing arts for our youth.”
Valentine’s mission was clear, to pluck a few kids out of the neighborhood and show them the benefits of modeling. “My goal is to create stars. I feel like the best talent is in the urban communities where they don’t know and don’t have the access to get to these calls, and they can’t afford them. So we sell candy for the funds.”
The organization is hosting its teen produced fashion show, Swag the Runway on July 30 at the DuSable Museum of African American History. This show is a culmination of the efforts and victories the group has achieved thus far.
“My main focus is that I grab some kids that never thought they would be doing this. And Dandre is a perfect example, last year was his first time ever modeling, and this year, he’s going to New York Fashion Week.”
As if on cue, Dandre Stephens beams with pride. “Last year was great, that was my first show, which was my foundation. It was a great experience with great exposure and I really enjoyed myself. Now I’m doing the same thing, and I am going to New York Fashion Week. I did a video shoot on Sunday.”
Stephens’ advice for other young men who want to enter modeling is to, “define your purpose, have confidence, believe in yourself and God, go for it, and be humble.”
Swag the Runway is on Twitter @SwagtheRunway.