This is the first time Sirena Saul is meeting Jason Louis in person. They’ve only been in touch by phone.
Louis, a high school senior at Miami Norland, gives Saul a tight hug and they get to work—shopping for a prom suit at Harrell’s Fine Fashions and Tuxedo Central in Lauderhill.
Saul tells him she’s paying for everything: his suit, shoes, tickets to prom and a photographer.
Earlier this year, Saul reached out to friends to help her find two young men she could sponsor for prom. Louis’ English teacher knew Saul and told her about one of her favorite students, a studious young man who didn’t participate in any senior activities because they were too costly.
Saul would have been prom shopping with her son Isaiah Solomon this year, but the 15-year-old was shot and killed in 2016 while attending a wake for his cousin in Miami.
“This would have been his graduating year,” Saul says. “He would have been experiencing prom. “
As prom season inched closer, Saul says she wanted to honor Isaiah by making it possible for other teenagers to go to prom. She noticed there were a lot of dress giveaways for girls who couldn't afford prom but she couldn't find anything for teenage boys.
That's why she decided to sponsor Louis and Christian Namphy, a student at Miami Central who wrote an essay about gun violence.
Namphy says gun violence is a persistent issue in Miami-Dade. "It's a lot of people who want to be gangbangers and things like that. They hurt people."
Namphy's mom looked on as he contemplated which suit he liked. She didn't weigh in much saying she wanted Saul to have the pleasure of doing all the things moms do for prom shopping.
"She lost her baby forever, she can have this moment," she says.
When Saul and Louis, the Norland student, flip through a catalog, they talk about how he’s going to wear his hair for prom. He has shoulder length dreads and Saul tells him she can schedule an appointment with a loctician to retwist and style them.
Louis says shopping with Saul is special.
“Her son ain’t make it. That really touched me,” he says.
As he looks through some of the suits on a rack, he says he knows other teenagers like Isaiah. One of his own high school friends was shot and killed a few months ago.
“He died at 18. He didn’t even go to prom,” he says. “This would be his senior year for prom but he can’t do it so I’ll do it for him too.”
Tawana Blue, Saul’s friend and Louis’ English teacher, dropped in to check how prom shopping was going.
“He kind of has an old soul and he carries all of the weight on his shoulder,” says Blue. “But I tell him 'you’re also a teenager you need to have fun. You need to do these things.'"
Louis jokes he’s been working on his physique to get right for prom.
“You know,” he says.
Saul laughs and says he kind of reminds her of her son.
“That how Isaiah used to be,” she says.
Louis and Namphy didn’t find the suits they wanted. Saul told them she’d arrange for them to go to Rasool’s, a menswear store in Liberty City, where the owner will be expecting him.
A few weeks later, Saul was there as Jason Louis got ready from prom. He wore a brocade silver and royal blue jacket, with a matching blue bow tie.
Saul posted photos of him on her Facebook page and wrote "I know Jason believes I changed his life...little does he know...He changed mine."