Cool Smart Inc. founders and Detroit natives Jason Appling and Byron Suggs held their sixth annual fundraising charity event, Tux & Chucks, Thanksgiving weekend at the Soundboard located in the MotorCity Casino Hotel in the heart of downtown Detroit. This event gives elite professionals, socialites and philanthropists the opportunity to network, dress in their finest attire paired with their most creative Chuck Taylors, and support local nonprofit organizations who are trying to further their work to benefit the community. This year’s recipients were Identify Your Dream, The Yunion, and Teen Hype.
Rolling out talked to the founders about their event and its creative theme.
What inspired you to start Tux & Chucks?
Byron Suggs: It started five years ago and when it started it wasn’t about fundraising, but for our birthdays. I was turning 30 and Jason was turning 31 and we wanted to have a theme because people love themes. We came up with Tux & Chucks because when I got married that year, my groomsmen and I wore tuxes and Chucks. Jason had a friend who had a new nonprofit and he asked if we could donate the money to her to get it off of the ground and I said yes that’s totally fine. That’s how it started. From there, we saw how positive it was to give money back and we wanted to do more so we made it a fundraiser and we give money to different organizations every year.
What is Cool Smart Inc.?
Jason Appling: If you take the smart phase, which is philanthropy and you make it cool, it turns into Tux & Chucks and that’s pretty much what it is because when you’re dealing with millennials, they need entertainment value. They don’t want to come out to your ordinary, boring fundraiser where everybody is sitting down bored. We’re taking the nightlife and bringing it to the philanthropic platform and that’s what you get.
What other events do you have in the city?
BS: We’re a nonprofit, so we do things throughout the year. [Another] fundraiser we have is the Catalina Wine Mixer, which we had in the summer. We just started that and we’re going to make it annual. Throughout the year we’re working with schools because Cool Smart Inc.’s mission is to educate the youth and young professionals on the importance of philanthropy. Right now we’re working with Cass Tech High School. We’re also doing other things in the community like going to homeless shelters and expanding with that. We have partners at the DIA and we do events with them, and also we just partnered with the library. We’re slowly building a relationship with all the big entities in the city.
This year at Tux & Chucks, you gave a check to three different nonprofit organizations. How did you choose the organizations this year?
JA: We did a submission through Facebook and then a voting poll on Facebook. So the top three with the most votes were selected. We took it out of our hands and put it in the people’s hands so that way it’s more transparent and everyone knows what’s going on.
What are some other things you both plan on doing for the community and city of Detroit?
BS: Most times, when people get into philanthropy, they tend to be older. You’ve made your money and you’re close to retirement now so you’re donating your retired money more now. We want to bring it to a younger generation so you can start earlier. You can give without it being financial; you can give your time, your energy, your education, and things like that. So, we want to educate teenagers and up to 35-year-old professionals — and not stopping at that age — that you can start giving now without waiting until you’re older.
What is some advice that you have for those who want to throw these types of events involving philanthropy?
JA: It’s hard. I think Byron and I are blessed. I think this is God-given talent [that was] given to us. We connect with a lot of different people. For a lot of people, it’s hard to get 700, 800 or 1,000 people to come out so that’s why we’re doing this. If you want to start with a nonprofit, you have to educate yourself. We didn’t now anything about it. We reached out to someone who was experienced and they helped us get out 501c3. Reach out to people who are experienced. This is hard; everyone can’t do this, but if you can, do it.
BS: It takes a lot of patience. The nonprofit world is very hard especially to get funding. Our nonprofit still doesn’t get a lot of funding because it’s newer. The first five years you don’t get much funding at all because people want to see longevity. This is a 90 percent self-funding event. Jason and I are blessed to have such great jobs. I work for Quicken Loans and Jason works for GM. So that also helps us put on a fundraiser like this. You have to use your resources.
What are you looking for in the future that will help you continue the Tux and Chucks event?
JA: Like Byron said, we’re self-funded so we’re looking for funding, donors who want to get behind the movement, Converse sponsors, Presidential Tuxedo sponsors, and more so we can take this thing further and even take it on the road.
Check out pictures from the recent gala.