JOLIET – A group of black men dig a hole in a grassy field. A body bag lies nearby.
Yes, it’s a burial, performed by The New Hue.
“We’re burying the stereotypes that have been given to black men,” said founder Chris Braggs of Joliet.
Stereotypes like “lazy” and “uneducated,” Braggs added.
The New Hue is a new Joliet-based grass-roots group of black men hoping to foster self-respect and the desire for success in black male youth.
On March 19, The New Hue raised $1,300 through a black tie mixer at Juliet’s in Joliet. Braggs said the money is to begin a mentoring program for black male youth ages 13 to 19.
The mentoring program would expose kids to everything from fashion to finance.
“The New Hue is a lot of things, but one thing it is not,” Braggs said. “It’s not just a mentoring program for teens. We want to ignite a lifestyle.”
It all started because Chris Braggs, 38 and father of two preschoolers, didn’t like the negative perception of black men in his Facebook news feed.
Men fighting with each other. Kids walking around with sagging pants.
“To me, it showed no self-pride or self-worth,” Braggs said. “I didn’t like it at all.”
So one day, he decided to address it. On Facebook. But as Braggs typed, “Somebody ought to do something about these kids living recklessly, this generation with no respect for themselves,” he stopped himself.
“I thought, ‘Instead of being part of the problem, why not do something to be part of the solution?’” Braggs said. “So I grabbed my camera and did a few self-portraits.”
Braggs also started a blog and wrote about how to promote a more positive image of black men. To Braggs’ surprise, he received a good response.
“I’m really a shy person,” Braggs said. “To put myself out there was a big deal.”
Braggs figured that if he felt this way, others did, too. So he called a few friends to see whether they would participate. Some did photo shoots and shared their stories. Some want to help mentor. Another wants to educate teens about money.
Meet the rest of The New Hue.
Bradley, 36, of Montgomery, owns the Naperville-based AnVeri Construction. He’s married and has two children.
Regarding The New Hue, Bradley said timing is everything. Braggs devised the idea at a time when many young black men across the country were losing their lives.
“The image of a black male was very negative,” Bradley said, “even in our community.”
So when Braggs proposed the photo shoot, Bradley was in.
“There’s a lot of power in an image,” Bradley said, “and I felt like what Chris was capturing with his camera was so much more than the picture. We were telling stories of success.”
Bradley said The New Hue hopes to effect change one step, one photo, one blog post and one social media post at a time.
“With each message we share, we just might give someone a little bit of hope, a little bit of light,” Bradley said.
Carter, 36, of Shorewood, co-owns Carter Reality Group in Joliet with his wife, Carmen. He also has three children. Carter said he will provide some basic financial information to the youth The New Hue mentor, addressing topics such as paying oneself first and the type of credit needed for buying a house.
“And making sure you’re not leveraging your future in terms of retirement for enjoyment today,” Carter said. “Just being patient and making sure you have a plan in place so when retirement comes you can enjoy the fruits of your labors.”
Carter doesn’t want today’s youth to learn those lessons the hard way, as he did. At 18, Carter had several credit cards, little income and used the cards “to make ends meet, instead of using them in emergencies or for expenses and then paying them off at the end of the month.”
Draper, 37, of Crest Hill, is a barber at Williams Barber Shop in Joliet. Draper said his involvement as “a no-brainer” and that The New Hue is “something the community needs.”
In fact, Draper intends to participate in any way he’s asked or needed. He agreed to the photo shoot for two reasons. Draper said he knew Braggs was a visionary and because kids need role models, not faraway on TV, but in their hometowns.
“I just hope when all is said and done, what The New Hue stands for gives everyone some inspiration to be a better version of themselves,” Draper said.
For Ellis, 36, of Joliet and a Joliet firefighter, his involvement with The New Hue started with a hat. Ellis admired the hats Braggs wore and wanted one, too. So he and Braggs set out for Gorrin Bros. Hat Shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.
As the two childhood friends drove, they reminisced about the men in their lives who encouraged them and built them up. Ellis said he and Braggs talked about how they should do likewise for the younger generation.
Ellis feels the photo shoot was a good place to start and bought into Braggs’ vision.
“He wanted to present men that were well-dressed, that were groomed nicely, that had manners, that were gentlemen,” Ellis said.
Naturally, Ellis wore the hat that started it all.
The Rev. Wendell Martin
Martin, 35, is co-pastor of CityPoint Community Church in Chicago and a career trainer readiness instructor at Joliet Job Corps. He’s married with three children and loves wearing tailored suits, especially the Harlem Renaissance type.
Yes, he is planning a photo shoot with Braggs. Why?
Because Martin feels its important for today’s youth to know how tie a necktie and shine their shoes, skills Martin’s father taught him in childhood, skills he stresses – and teaches – to students at Joliet Job Corps.
First appearances are important, Martin said, especially at job interviews.
“If they don’t remember your name,” Martin said, “at least they’ll remember the way you looked.”