In October 2017, Macy’s launched a truly unique job- and college-readiness partnership with the Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx. Every other month, the scholars—20 in total—from the prestigious New York City all-boys public school travel by subway to 34th Street to meet with members of Macy’s Diversity & Inclusion Strategy team, colleagues from diverse backgrounds and other guest speakers.

“Some of these young men have lived in New York City their entire lives without ever having traveled from the Bronx to Macy’s Herald Square,” said Aaron Barnette, Eagle Academy’s director of Strategic Partnerships. “It’s been phenomenal to expose our young men to this professional environment. These are the things that aren’t often taught in schools … and yet these are the things they will need to enter successfully and, most importantly, to remain in the workforce.”

These rising stars have been gearing up for success since joining Eagle, and in many ways the odds—and statistics—have been stacked against them. There are six Eagle Academy locations, one in each New York City borough and one in Newark, N.J. Each of the locations, serving grades six through 12, were strategically opened in neighborhoods that have been identified as pipelines to the prison system, Barnette explained. Now, these change agents are writing new narratives for themselves. The only statistics they plan to be a part of include the academies’ anticipated 95 percent graduation rate, as well as its 100 percent college acceptance rate.

And Macy’s is helping to make sure that happens. The students have learned valuable soft skills that often aren’t taught in schools—skills such as dressing, behavior and networking strategies. The goal is to provide them with their first glimpse of the professional world and to show them that the sky is indeed the limit.

That’s one reason, Kristyn Doar-Page, VP of Diversity & Inclusion Strategies, says Macy’s developed the partnership.

“Success hinges so much on inclusion, exposure, access and opportunity,” said Doar-Page. “They are a group that doesn’t often get sought after for those things. We wanted them to see that Macy’s not only welcomes them here, but to expose them to our industry, our colleagues, and our company in a way that wasn’t just a one-time event.

“We envisioned a series that really could be impactful and built a sense of community with these impressive young men, while preparing them for the future. It has been as remarkable and rewarding for all of us who had the pleasure of engaging with all of them.”

In addition to Herald Square events, Macy’s sponsored a daylong mentoring summit and gift bags during national mentoring month at Eagle Academy’s Bronx location for more than 150 students from all of the Eagle Academy locations. A rites of passage ceremony, small group sessions and powerful talks from authors, mentors, athletes, clergy and empowerment speakers about manhood, integrity, leadership and success mindsets were held along with a lunch, awards program and basketball tournament.

“I really liked the session with [“The Man Book” author] Jareem Gunther,” said EA-Bronx Junior Edward Martinez about the Macy’s author discussion event in December. “I really connected his personal story with mine.” Macy’s gifted each student with a copy of the African-American author’s popular “how to” for young men of color at the candid discussion event and at the mentoring summit.

In addition, other workshops were held with Macy’s Employee Resource Group colleagues— young men whose journeys often mirror their own—about how they got to their positions at Macy’s or in the soft-skills workshops. B(E)mpowered Workshop, an exclusive D&I-created workshop, was one of the more popular sessions and was conducted by Camilo Romero, associate manager of D&I. Romero put the teens through a S.W.O.T. Analysis —a technique companies often use to help employees identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Each learned to honestly answer these questions: “What do you do better than anyone else?” and “What do you want to improve about yourself.” And for this young, tech savvy bunch—how to avoid the pitfalls of social media that can derail jobs and college acceptances.

The Eagles returned for their final landing with a “Chat & Chew” with Macy’s Senior Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion Strategies William Hawthorne. The early dinner at Macy’s was held in the dining room near the offices of Macy’s CEO and senior executives.

Before the dinner and talk, their job- and college-readiness lessons continued with a primer on formal place settings and a Top 10 dining do’s and don’ts from D&I specialist Kristin Vaughan. With these skills, they can confidently attend their first formal business lunches, banquets or ceremonies—beginning maybe with the prom.

With Hawthorne, the students learned about his role and engaged in a discussion about “controlling the controllables” by setting their own standards of excellence, projecting their best images daily and establishing goals.

Barnette said that “hearing firsthand from Hawthorne, a successful man of color, was phenomenal” for the students.

Barnette added, “We have this motto: ‘Young men will BE what they SEE.’ As a result of this partnership, we allowed the young men to see themselves in accomplished adults. We are beyond grateful and looking forward to expanding the partnership moving forward.”

With the support of Macy’s, the students will confidently enter the professional world, shining bright along the way.