Since 1942, the United States has observed February as Black History Month. Here at CBSNewYork, we’re celebrating it by recognizing accomplished black New Yorkers. Below, Larry Mullins reflects on his experience with Ricardo James.

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If you ever wanted to hear a story of hope, determination, and  “giving back” to the community, we found it today. I met a young cat by the name of Ricardo James, who has (like Michael Jackson would sing), “started something” beautiful out in Queens.

James founded the Fashion House Academy a couple of years ago, and to this day, if you mention the name to any kid with an interest in fashion design, merchandising, modeling etc., they’ll break down the door to get to him.

It’s like a finishing school, which shapes kids and prepares them for going on to bigger fashion institutes, on the way to a career in the fashion industry. James sweet-talked some of his friends (who are in the design world) to come on as instructors, and so these kids (from the inner city) are getting first class lessons in the art of making, marketing, and merchandising apparel. I’m standing here, and there’s a 12 year old sewing a dress, that’ll be used in a fashion show in February.”]

Listen: Ricardo James talks about overcoming obstacles

I guess it doesn’t hurt that Ricardo James looks no more than 16 or 17himself. And his background just blew me away. I’m thinking that he came from some high fashion background, with a mother involved in one of the studios, perhaps a relative who channeled him thru F.I.T. etc. Not even close. He says his mother was a drug user, his “poppa was a rolling stone”, and he and his siblings got bounced around in foster homes all of his young life. He says he eventually ended up with his nana, and after watching a “fancy-dressing uncle” parade through the house, he knew that he wanted a career in fashion. So he got into school, and over time, he decided that there must be other kids out there like him, who could also use a helping hand at getting into the fashion industry. And ta-da!!!, the Fashion House Academy was born.

student dressing mannequin 1010 WINS Black History Month Spotlight: Ricardo James

Student dressing mannequin. (credit: 1010 WINS)

It’s a non-profit, operating out of the church that James attends in Queens. But they have a huge facility, where the kids practice runway modeling, sewing, marketing, you name it. He says it started out as a boot camp for about 8 kids…but now, they keep coming back. And he speaks with such pride as he describes how many of his kids have traveled to London, Paris and other world centers for fashion outside of New York…and how many of them have gone on to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology and other mainstream schools throughout the country. And not only do the kids design their clothes, they also model them at local P.A.L. centers in Brooklyn and Queens, part of their own little “fashion week” presentation.

They even have their own clothing line! And they just love him to pieces; they say he teaches them not only about fashion, but staying off the streets and establishing a good life in general.

I met Ricardo while doing some work with Robert Deniro’s folks up at Tribeca last spring. I knew there was something about this kid, just based on the way he dressed. He also had a certain “confidence” about himself, which told me that he was someone who had gone through something, and had survived…and survived BIG! He’s a very inspiring young man, to those kids up at FHA, and to others around him, even his mother. Listen to this: Since he started FHA, mom (who you’ll recall was strung out on drugs), went back to school, got “two” degrees, and is now the head of a drug intervention program here in the Tri-State.

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