More than 30 Lowcountry students now boast the elite title of “Distinguished Gentleman.”
They each proved over the last several months that they have the integrity, character and discipline to proudly represent their community.
From Hanahan, North Charleston and Summerville, the young men were inducted into the local chapters of the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club during a special ceremony Saturday at College of Charleston’s North Charleston campus. Several local officials—Sen. Sean Bennett, Summerville Mayor Wiley Johnson and Dorchester District Two school board members Justin Farnsworth and Lisa Tupper—were in attendance to show their support, especially for the Summerville chapter’s inaugural year. The chapter kicked off in May. Students applied to join the program in the summer, with training commencing in September.
They were required to complete the following: attend at least three club meetings; participate in at least two fundraisers/service projects, pay a commitment fee; obtain a recommendation letter from a teacher; three hours of individual community service; learn and recite the Gentlemen’s Creed; participate in “Dress for Success Wednesdays.”
The four-week training program was spread out over a four-month period, with each chapter congregating three times a month: once for character building, a second time for community outreach and a final time for small groups and one-on-one mentoring with mentors.
“It seems like a pretty neat idea,” Bennett said.
“I’m impressed with it. It’s something very positive for the community, and I hope they grow the participation. It’s very important,” he said.
Sires Elementary School teacher ReZshaun Lewis founded the new chapter. He even developed his own course for the program and titled it "How to be a Gentleman 101," taught through scenarios and classroom instruction.
But it was Hanahan Middle’s School Resource Officer Ricardo Perry who, through his nonprofit Connections and You Inc., established the DGC’s initial chapter in Hanahan in 2010.
From 12 students that first year, the program has since grown to touch the lives of more than 300 young men, according to club officials.
Beyond learning morals, etiquette, class and dignity, the students learn the importance of selflessness.
“They use their skills for the most important mission of all—to help others,” Lewis said.
The training program is over, but the students' mentoring is not complete. Lewis said they will continue to take part in group outings, attend meetings and meet with their mentors. New inductees are also eligible to attend a summer retreat in Atlanta.
Dressed in a slick suit with a polished smile, 11-year-old Christian Halls couldn’t contain his excitement ahead of the ceremony Saturday. The Holly-Hill Roberts sixth-grader said the program has greatly affected him.
“It was a new experience but it built me to become a better person,” Halls said. “I learned the qualities of a gentlemen, what it takes and how to be in public.”
Summerville teen James Brewer, who helps mentor the students with the Hanahan chapter, said he’s thankful for the “camaraderie” the club gives him, especially since as a home-school student he doesn’t engage too often with others his age.
“I really enjoy hanging out with these guys,” the 16-year-old said. Brewer is also president of the club’s executive board.
Past inductee and now student at Charleston Southern University Isaiah Singleton spoke to the crowd about his former experience with the group and how it changed his life at a time when he said he was on a “bad track.”
“I could talk about DGC for hours. ...It just flipped my life around,” Singleton said.
Each student in the program has a mentor, though some share the same one. Lewis said it’s his hope that in the near future, the mentor to student ratio would be 1-to-1.
Mentorship is an integral part of the program since club officials said that one in three children will grow up without a mentor.
Summerville chapter mentor J. Michael Sally, a local businessman, talked about how much the role blessed him this year and “how uplifting the DGC has been to me,” he said.
“Out of all the hats that I wear...being a mentor...is one of the most joyful, most peaceful, experiences I’ve (ever had).”
The event’s guest speaker—also a club mentor and father to one of this year’s inductees—Live 5 news anchor Raphael James, encouraged the young men to always live by the principles they’ve learned and embrace life’s challenges.
“Don’t let the winds of life blow you around,” James said. “Shun not the struggle because it is God’s gift. Everything in life has a struggle. Don’t give up.”
James also urged students to remember who they are and during hard times to preach the following to themselves: “I am a distinguished gentleman, and I won’t give up. Bring it on.”
Lewis said he never imagined the club’s first year in Summerville would be so successful. He said he poured his heart into the initiative like nothing else he’s ever done.
“I am very driven and focused on making this the most successful thing I’ve ever done—other than being a father,” he said.
“I had an idea when we got started of what it could be and...realized it was much bigger. ...My first meeting I thought, ‘Wow, this is it.’”
Transforming youth’s lives is contagious to him—especially since he, too, grew up in hard times in North Charleston and saw how easily he could have fallen into the wrong crowd like his brother did.
“I’ve begun to see changes happen and I want to see it happen more,” Lewis said. “I want to see it expand and grow—out to South Carolina-wide and nationwide. ...It’s truly an awesome thing to see come to fruition. I walked into it with a lot of hopes and dreams (and) in this small amount of time I’ve exceeded everything. It only wants to make me push harder.”
For more information on the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club or to donate, visit connectionsandyouinc.com or the group’s Facebook page. Individuals may also email DGCsummerville@connectionsandyouinc.com or call 843-695-7344.