About 100 young men arrived at Purdue University Fort Wayne on Sunday dressed in business attire – but the collared shirts, slacks and ties weren't for collegiate or professional purposes.
Instead, the youth gathered in Walb Student Union for Kings Feast, Bloom Project Inc.'s premier event for minority males in the Fort Wayne area who are considered the next generation of leaders.
Bloom Project provides mentors to boys ages 12 to 18.
Organizers asked Kings Feast attendees not to wear jeans, hats, shorts or flip flops for a reason.
"Their demeanor changes," Executive Director Arnetta Scruggs said of when teens wear professional clothing.
The five-hour conference included a networking luncheon – an opportunity to also demonstrate proper etiquette and how to hold a conversation – and workshops that addressed such topics as how to overcome having an inconsistent father or the stigma society has placed on the attendees.
"[We're] trying to change the stereotype of what you see," Scruggs said.
This year's theme was "We've Got Your Back" and was chosen to combat negativity seen in the black male youth community, according to an event description.
"Our Kings do commendable and positive work in their communities as opposed to what is seen by the majority in the public eye," the description said, adding the event aimed to uplift and encourage the youth to continue their positive work.
Clarence White, a 2019 Purdue University alumnus now working in Fort Wayne, is among the Bloom Project graduates who returned for the event.
White – who credited Scruggs for encouraging him to pursue a degree at Purdue – said he wanted to show Kings Feast participants that going to college is possible.
Jordan Bridges, an incoming junior at Purdue, has remained involved with Bloom Project because it's a way to give back to those who took the time to support him in high school, he said.
He expected Sunday's participants would benefit somehow from the event.
"It's almost impossible not to get engaged," Bridges said.
Kings Feast wasn't just for teens. Parents were invited to workshops, too.
It was a chance for parents to build a support network and for them to know "that you're not alone," Scruggs said.