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Dressed up, with places to go

When a teen puts on his first suit, suddenly the world looks a little different.

Published January 2, 2007



He stood in front of the mirror and posed. It was a big mirror, the one with the three panels.

Normally, he wouldn't linger like that, looking at himself.

Then again, Freeman Cotton had never seen the person staring back at him.

The person staring at him looked good. No, better than good. "Beautiful, nice, presentable," he said.

That's the thing about a suit. It can make a timid boy feel like someone else.

Until a few Saturdays back, Cotton, who is 15, had never owned a suit. Only two years separate him from high school graduation, college, manhood. He'd never even stepped inside a menswear store. "A place full of beautiful things," he calls it.

Sure, he'd been to malls, but everybody's been to malls, he said.

In stepped the 100 Black Men of Tampa Bay, a group of businessmen and civic leaders who mentor youth on, among other things, money management. Cotton, a sophomore at Freedom High in suburban Tampa, was one of three students selected to represent the group's youth investment team at a national competition in Miami last month. The 100 decided to outfit Cotton and the others in business suits.

Walking inside S&K Menswear, "I was just amazed," Cotton said. "It was like a whole 'nother ball game, like walking into a toy factory. It was the best feeling ever."

A woman greeted him. "Good evening," he recalled her saying.

She picked clothes out for him. A navy pin-striped suit. A designer tie. A metallic blue dress shirt.

She took his measurements, marked the inseam of his pants with white chalk. "You know I'm kind of skinny in the waist," he said, laughing. "She had to take it up and everything."

Cotton wants to go to Harvard, study finance, become a business owner. "I also want to be an engineer," he said. "My dad says they make good money."

He wants to take care of his parents, five younger siblings, everybody. "I just want to give back," he said.

Standing in front of that mirror, in that suit, those dreams didn't seem so far-fetched. Suddenly, Cotton said, all of them seemed possible.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at 727 893-8352 or

[Last modified January 2, 2007, 05:58:28]

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