SOUTH SHORE — Making the decision to always dress for success is what forever changed one South Shore resident’s life.
Sam Sparks, 27, was on a path that could only lead to one of two places — prison or the grave, he said. Before becoming a celebrity stylist, motivational speaker and author, Sparks was a high school dropout, a gang member and drug dealer. He survived a few shootouts, too, he said.
“I grew up on 79th and Jeffery,” he said. “It always had that lingering name of ‘Satan’s Territory.’ We grew up in the poverty, the fighting, the gun violence — the ‘you can’t play in the park’ for a certain amount of time because around this time you know this is about to happen.”
When he was in that environment, he said he never really felt like he was living. Sparks always felt the potential in him to do better, he said, but he was hesitant to get on a different path.
He finally made the decision to change his life as he watched his younger sister battle nephrotic syndrome, a rare kidney disease she battled with from the age of 4 until her passing at the age of 21.
He said she inspired him to pursue positive opportunities in life and to truly live.
“I believe God allowed me to be one of the lucky ones” to change his life, he said.
A friend invited him to her church, and that’s when he began a spiritual change. He joined New Life Covenant Church where John F. Hannah is pastor. Hannah began to mentor Sparks because the pastor saw himself in Sparks.
Sparks transitioned from street life and began to wear suits. He said he felt called by God to share his story to encourage and empower others.
“My gift is styling,” he said. “I have the gift of putting things together, making things look great. But my purpose in life is motivational speaking, and that’s changing lives and creating opportunities.”
It was his gift that got him noticed by Harvey on more than one occasion. After three years of volunteering with the “Steve Harvey Mentoring Camp for Young Men,” Harvey noticed Sparks at one of the mentoring events.
“I never had the chance to get to him and have a conversation, and I wasn’t looking for that,” he said, adding that he wanted to give back and learn how to become a better mentor.
“One event where we were speaking to the young men, he looks over to left of him and says, ‘This young guy is going to be somebody. I don’t know his name yet, but I know he’s somebody [by] the way he’s dressed. And this is somebody you should look at and make an example of.’”
Sparks said nothing happened after that, but some time later he was on the show with some other black men and one of the producers placed him near the front.
Harvey noticed him again.
“He looks at me and said, ‘Now that is put together sweet, I like that,’ so we’re having this conversation and he’s saying, ‘Man, that’s a dope fit, you did your thing.’”
The two took a photo together after the show.
It was the third interaction that changed Sparks life. This time he was in the audience and once again, he was in Harvey’s line of sight. Another audience member had asked a question about Harvey’s book, and instead of him answering, he pointed out Sparks.
“When I stand up, he starts to fix my suit, my pocket square, when he did that, I went back to the dream God has always showed me for like four years straight, of Steve fixing my tie,” Sparks said.
Once he sat down, he began to cry he said because he thought about how “good God had been” to him all these years. Harvey noticed and came over to hug him.
“He kept saying, ‘the journey, the journey’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Understand the journey, from this day forward I’m going to be your mentor and you will be my mentee,’” Sparks said Harvey told him in late 2013.
He immediately began to assist Harvey’s personal stylist William Phoenix with his wardrobe. After almost three years, Sparks began splitting his time between styling and finding ways to make a difference in the community. He also started motivational speaking and working on his upcoming book "Legacy Living." More information can be found on his website at www.iamsamsparks.com.
That opportunity with Harvey has allowed him to style other celebrities such as Luke Broadlick in "Magic Mike XXL," and Ryan Henry from VH1’s "Black Ink Chicago."
“My life has tremendously changed so that now it’s like people are calling me a fashion guru and protege of Steve Harvey,” Sparks said. “My life has changed in a way that it’s only God.”
He can’t describe the experience yet, he said, because it’s not over. He credits God for his success, and he said he has surrendered and prayed, asking God to use him so he can touch lives and keep other young men from the path he started on.
Sparks said he’s called to share his story on his motivational tour, which is why Saturday he will attend the "Born 2 Win Conference" geared toward young men from sixth through 12th grade. Sparks will speak at both the opening ceremony and present one of the empowerment breakout sessions.
Other scheduled guests are Vondale Singleton, assistant principal for Gary Coleman College Prep and Chicago native Tim Hardaway, former NBA All-Star and current assistant coach of the Detroit Pistons.
The free event is Saturday at the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. There will be free lunch, workshops and special guests. Register online at www.champsconference.eventbrite.com.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: