- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2012

Prince George’s County community leaders frustrated by the precariously low waistbands of young men are collecting belts this month to put a stop to sagging pants.

As part of the first Pull ‘Em Up campaign, the Take Charge Foundation program is leading a belt drive at 13 locations across the county where people can donate new or gently used belts that will be used to make students’ pants sit at their waists.

Take Charge Executive Director Jerrod Mustaf said the goal of the belt drive is to “modify the culture of young people who believe it’s cool to wear the pants that are sagging.”

“When we look at positive role models in our community, you don’t see any positive men dressing like this,” Mr. Mustaf said. “That should tell you something.”

Take Charge is a nonprofit organization based in Prince George’s County that focuses on helping families and their children avoid bad choices and behavior that can lead to jail.

The look got its start behind prison walls, where baggy jumpsuits hung off inmates’ bodies without the aid of a belt. According to reports, the fashion also was used as a prisoner signal for sexual advances.

Darryl Barnes, founder of Men Aiming Higher, an organization for at-risk youths, said that if young men knew the history of the sagging pants fashion, “they wouldn’t want them hanging down.”

The problem, he said, is that most of the boys who follow this trend often live in single-parent homes and have to deal with social and economic challenges, not to mention peer pressure.

With the belt drive, Mr. Barnes said, “we’re really trying to educate these young men on the importance of appearance, the importance of projection, the importance of talking to people.”

Mr. Mustaf sees parents who idolize hip-hop artists sporting baggy trousers as part of the problem.

“It’s so disheartening. You find a lot of parents who are younger, who watch Jay-Z on an awards show or Lil Wayne, and their pants are sagging,” Mr. Mustaf said. “Parents still listen to and adore these rappers and these musicians.”

When children start wearing sagging pants, Mr. Mustaf said, they argue that these idols are doing it. If their parents also admire those celebrities, Mr. Mustaf said, “how can you tell your child, don’t be like the person that you like?”

At its most basic level, the belt drive can eliminate a youth’s excuse of not having a belt to hold up his pants. One of the other goals of the drive, Mr. Mustaf said, is to let parents know they need to be “more diligent with respect to what they demand from their children.”

That doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t buy their children clothes to grow into, but “a mother should not buy pants for her 11-year-old son that are three sizes too big,” Mr. Mustaf said. “They’ll grow in height, but their waist is not going to grow like that. If it does, it means don’t buy so much food.”

Among the belt drop-off points are the county’s fire and emergency services department, police headquarters, and several middle schools.

Mr. Mustaf said Thursday that he did not know how many belts had been collected, but was hoping for 500 belts by the end of the drive on Nov. 1.

During the week after the belts are collected from the drop-off locations, they will be distributed to some schools in the area, including Northwestern High School in Hyattsville and Johnson Middle School in Southeast Washington.

Briant Coleman, a spokesman for the county’s public school system, said he doesn’t think sagging pants are “an issue in our schools” because of the dress code.

“It’s not widespread,” Mr. Coleman said. If a student’s pants are dropping too low, “we tell them to pull them up.”

Not every school system — or local government — is as lenient as Prince George’s County.

During the summer, an Ohio man was sentenced to three days in jail on charges of contempt of court when he appeared before a judge in pants deemed too low.

Last year in Albany, Ga., the city collected $4,000 from fines related to a sagging-pants ban.

About seven years ago, the Virginia House of Representatives passed a bill that would have fined people $50 for wearing pants that were slung too low. The legislation died in the Senate.

Prince George’s County Council member Ingrid Turner said she is backing Mr. Mustaf’s drive because of the misinformation about what is appropriate dress for work.

“Many of our young people need guidance,” she said. “When pants are all the way down to the ankles and you almost walk out of your pants, that’s not professional. That’s not what we call an up-and-coming young person.”



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