Close Ties: Tying on a New Tradition provides an intimate look at a rites of passage ceremony that connects teenage boys with male role models. The ceremony at this New Orleans barbershop was created by Dr. Andre Perry and Wilbert “Chill” Wilson as a way to strengthen communities struggling with crime, poverty and alarming high school drop out rates. Cultural traditions have been the cornerstone of African American communities for centuries. Close Ties, a documentary directed by filmmaker Gemal Woods, examines the impact of this new tradition and shows us how tying a necktie — an act associated with men who embody professionalism and prestige — can inspire high school boys to commit to a life of achievement and success.
Dr. Perry and barber “Chill” Wilson saw the need for a program in New Orleans and created the tie-tying ceremony as a solution to consistently low academic performance by Black male students. The statistics show that many of these boys never graduate from high school and of those that do, most do not obtain a college degree. In New Orleans, city leaders, policy experts and scholars are working together to find solutions that will reverse the statistics and help more Black males become college graduates and community leaders.
The youth participating in this tie-tying ceremony are boys selected from several schools in New Orleans. The aim of the event — to bring a rites of passage ceremony to the community that encourages self-actualization, college attendance and professionalism among urban males. During the event, the boys participate in a tie-tying demonstration, where role models from around the city instruct the youngsters on how to create distinguishing knots with their neckwear. Each of the boys also receives the opportunity to get professional grooming with a haircut and a shoe-shine. The final component of the event is one-on-one mentorship that each student receives from a male role model from the community. The ceremony, which celebrates the transition from boyhood to manhood, goes far beyond the intricacies of tie-tying by using the silk garment as a starting point for discussions on academic and professional achievement.
For these youngsters, learning how to tie a tie is not just about dressing well, it is about becoming a successful adult. And as they make the transition to adulthood, they each must decide what manhood means to them. For one student, manhood is about reaching a stage in life when you can make something of yourself. For another, it means keeping your word, taking care of your family, and putting others before yourself. And for another student, manhood is about fearing God.
The tie-tying ceremony is held in the barbershop because it is a special place where men can discuss freely and openly about what is going on in the community. A routine visit to the barbershop is just one of the many traditions that abound in New Orleans. Barbershops like “Chill’s”, are cultural epicenters that bring together men from all walks of life — the bus driver sits next to the attorney who sits next to the college student who sits next to the security guard — all with the goal of getting a fresh hair cut. And as with any tradition, one of the most crucial components is to pass on knowledge and history to the next generation.
According to Dr. Perry, “Teaching a boy how to tie a tie requires a closeness that is often the missing ingredient in transforming boys to men.” Mentorship and involvement in the boys’ lives makes tie-tying more than a ceremony. This rites of passage event is fostered and supported by a group of influential New Orleans residents who participate as mentors. They are lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists and other Black professionals who take pride in giving back to the community. Close Ties documents the mentors and the youth during and after the ceremony, where we see the men encourage and support the boys’ academic and career endeavors. The development of these mentoring relationships creates a lasting impact, one felt by students, parents, teachers and the community as a whole.