FLINT, MI — The “This is Me” special needs fashion show has become a safe space for 22-year-old Emari Suggs.
His mother Charise Key-Gray said Suggs, who was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old, has always had trouble finding a place to be himself.
However, she has seen her son’s confidence grow over the past last three years.
“I’ve learned that in order for both me and Emari to be happy, I have to stop making him conform. The world needs to conform to him. At the end of the day, our kids are screaming, ‘This is me,’” Key-Gray said. “It is a different Emari on stage. He is an only child, so he’s used to being in his space and routine.
“The Emari people saw tonight is someone that is feeding off applause and support. He was up there saying, ‘This is me. This is Emari,’ and he wasn’t the only superhero up there saying that.”
Hundreds gathered to support Suggs and 19 others showcasing their confidence while dancing, jumping and walking across stage during the “This is Me” special needs fashion show on Sunday, Dec. 5 at The Capitol Theatre.
Participants in the fashion show ranged from 1 to 40 years old and hail from Flint to Texas.
Trendsetter Productions owner and event creator Tracy Palmer partnered with designers — DeeLux Styles, Elevate Exchange and Fokised Apparel — to provide some of the clothing worn during the show.
Autism Support and Resource Center, Hurley Medical Center, HAP and Community Foundation of Greater Flint partnered with Trendsetter Productions to put on the event.
In 2018, Palmer was approached by Key-Gray at one of her fashion shows against bullying. Key-Gray thought her son and his love of fashionable socks would do well on the runway.
Inspired by the interaction, Palmer set out to give a platform to individuals who have special needs and a spotlight to do something that they’re more than capable of doing.
“My whole goal was to create a safe haven, somewhere where they won’t be judged and can be free,” Palmer said. “It’s all about building their confidence. It is OK to be who you are. It’s OK to have a disability. It’s OK to feel like you don’t belong, and they do belong.”
Palmer said she enjoyed seeing new participants find their groove onstage.
“I knew who was nervous before we started. I knew who was scared and didn’t know what to expect,” Palmer said. “It meant a lot to watch them go up there and realize, ‘This is for us. It feels good up here.’ I watched them come out the second time with confidence.”
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