“Learning how to strut down a runway gives young people confidence that translates into other areas of their lives,” said Tyra Ross, as she stood before her runway class at the Bronx Community Pride Center.
For the last three years, Ross has taught these professional modeling skills to gay, lesbian and transgender youth in the only class of its kind in New York City.
“Here they can learn with someone who truly understands where they are coming from,” said Ross, who has trained up to 50 Bronx teens in the art of runway since her first class at the center in 2008.
Ross was born and raised in Tobago, in a family and a culture that did not support her emerging transgender identity. After surviving sexual assault by an elder in her community, Ross began dreaming of making a life for herself, far away from her birthplace. As soon as she was old enough to travel, she emigrated to New York City, where members of her extended family lived.
In the Bronx, as a 18-year-old aspiring model, Ross found a supportive community and success in the fashion industry. She walked the runways for designers Darius Wobil and B Michael couture in Brooklyn and in the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Pictures from her modeling days show her slender 6-foot-2-inch frame draped with elegance in designer dresses. She hopes to teach that elegance to her students, some of who dream of being professional models one day.
Ross is a fashion inspiration. “She is a role model,” said one of her students, 26-year-old Thai. “She has lived life and that shows through her teaching.”