Reid Moss, now 21, was a young South Philadelphia native when she first connected with the "Universal Pearls of Wisdom" in 2006. Like the teen and pre-teen African-American males of "From Boys to Men", the "Pearls" were created as a mentorship program by legendary Philadelphia music mogul Kenneth Gamble and wife Faatimah Gamble to teach life and etiquette skills.
As a student of one of the Gambles' six Philadelphia charter schools through its Universal Companies, Moss and her mother believed "Pearls of Wisdom" was a worthwhile enterprise.
"At least I wasn't opposed to it," Moss said with a laugh about learning to "come into herself as an individual and enhance life's lessons" as a "Pearl".
"Teen years are an awkward time to begin with," Moss said. "Learning social etiquette skills – how to walk and speak publically with confidence – really helped."
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Currently a Sociology Major at Atlanta's Spellman College, Moss is working toward a career in Communication Arts and credits the Gambles' with her confident swagger. "They gave me a foundation."
The Gambles' newest crop of young students need all the confidence they can muster. On Thursday, 2015's graduating classes will do everything – cook, host, model, decorate – for "An Evening of Style & Grace" at University of the Arts, with a fashion show raising money for their social grace and character-building classes.
The show itself faced a bump in the road when Boyd's clothiers faced a fire earlier this week and had to pull out of the proceedings. The students coaxed area designers Les Richards and RL2 to participate and the problem was resolved.
"Our young men and women dealt with it, quickly," said Faatimah Gamble.
West Philly native Leony Pena, 13, is in his second year of "From Boys to Men" and already understands the responsibilities of acting like a responsible gentleman.
"I wanted to learn to be a better person," Pena said of discovering everything from manners to how to dress. "I feel like they're giving me info that I need to know now, not just in the future."
Soul music impresario Kenneth Gamble has hundreds of hits to his name as boss of the legendary Philadelphia International Records.
Yet, his longest running smash is his quietest one, started by and shared with his wife, fellow philanthropist and co-founder of Universal Companies, Faatimah Gamble.
Thirty-five years ago, Mrs. Gamble – a one-time consultant from the International Protocol School of Washington, DC – created a program to teach life skills (e.g. cooking, diction, social etiquette) that was once the core of home economic courses.
She then developed a similar program for teen boys and included classes in entrepreneurial skills, money management and non-violent conflict resolution for both sexes. "We teach young men and women about consequences," said Faatimah Gamble. "We help them to aspire."
Every Saturday for 28 weeks, three classes of 23 students each, spread across several Universal charter schools in the Philadelphia area, learn how to court each other with manners, compose themselves with style and take on the world with smarts and dignity.
"We give our young scholars proper tools to navigate life's waters, be it culinary arts or dressing properly," she said. "All they have to do is be willing to receive the information and process it appropriately."
Faatimah Gamble knows teaching kids life skills at a time of social unrest is no easy feat. Kenneth Gamble points out how lack of education – at home, in the schools – robs children of initiative.
"Traditionally, African-American youths have been kept from a process of learning," he said. "It's our responsibility to change that."
Mrs. Gamble however knows that any path to education can be rocky. "We try to help them develop skills they might not get because of problems that face our community, be it violence, lack of education or self-esteem… I hope we do a great job."