As my students started shuffling out of the classroom, Sean – not his real name – approached me and said, “Mr. Jordan, I felt inspired by what you taught today. Thank you.” As Sean and I walked out of the classroom that Friday afternoon, my mind flashed back 20 years earlier when my elementary school teacher sat me down and said “you are very smart, you don’t have to play around to get attention.” See, as a new immigrant from Haiti, I tried to “belong” by being the smart aleck and funny guy in school.
My parents are native Haitians and, much like other parents, they wanted a better life for their children. They used all their savings to move the entire family to Brooklyn, New York. My dad worked as a gas station attendant and later drove a livery cab for a living, working 16 hour days. My mom worked in a clothing factory.
In the sixth grade, I met the teacher who single handedly changed my perspective on myself and school. Six months after starting high school, I took my General Education Diploma (GED) and went on to attend Kingsborough Community College. During my first semester of college, my first daughter was born. Times started to get tough emotionally and financially. I vowed to take care of my family by any means necessary. So I got married, and I placed myself on welfare. I stayed home to take care of my daughter while my wife attended college.
When my daughter reached school age, I started working at a local dry cleaning store. This was my very first experience dealing with racism. I was talked to and treated as if I was beneath the owner and his family. With money being tight, I applied as an apparel model for popular brands like Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, and Nautica because I thought their brand represented something positive in our communities. The modeling agencies said I was “not the right type,” that my shoulders are too broad, feet are too big, back are too muscular and lips are too big. Finally, one modeling agency summed it all up by telling me “your body is not the ideal size and you should lose all that muscle mass.”
Feeling hurt, I began asking questions like “Why am I trying to represent designers that cannot relate to me? Why am I buying and advertising for designers who do not represent anything positive in my community?” The rejection taught me that in order to have a voice in this society, I must have an education. After my wife graduated with her master’s degree, I started going to college again. I received an Associate’s degree, then a Bachelor’s degree, and finally a Master’s degree in Education.
I have taught preschool children up to college-level adults and practice Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy. I have written a book of my experiences to inspire others to continue to persevere. In conjunction with my book, I have created a blog called Iron Sharpening Iron.My goal is to uplift the young people of my community.
As a Certified Teacher in Special and General Education, I am able to provide support to children and their families. As an author, I provide a blueprint to help our younger generation to learn from my experiences. As a clothing designer, I created the Jean-Jacques (pronounced zhahn zhahk) brand of clothes that represent strength, courage and love for my community. Additionally, we promote fulfillment through the upliftment of others. Each one of our designs have an in-depth meaning. Our tagless labels all have an inspiring message for each one of our customers. We employ all model types including the special needs community. My line includes, men’s wear, children’s wear and unisex wear. Each piece of clothing tells a different story. A story of fearlessness, power, and overcoming challenges to raise your inner and outer self image to incredible new heights.