ATLANTIC CITY — Shameeka Cottman and her brother Saleem Tolbert grew up together reading the classic book Sun Tsu’s The Art of War.
But when Tolbert was shot to death on July 6, 2010, Cottman abandoned the classic and didn’t pick it up again until 10 years later when the world essentially shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her company, Display House of Dior presented the 2nd Annual Art of War Fashion Experience on Sunday Aug. 13, in part, to honor Tolbert on what would have been his 40th birthday. According to published reports Lorin Wright, of Atlantic City, was charged with Tolbert’s murder in October of 2019.
Models struck powerful poses as they displayed everything from evening gowns to athletic wear. Hip-hop and R &B artists performed with passion to a crowd of excited onlookers.
The fashion event was also meant to encourage residents and natives not to give up on their dreams, according to Cottman.
“To know thyself is to know thy enemy,” said Cottman.
Fear and self-doubt must be conquered, she said. And perseverance is key.
Cottman, 34, said she always wanted to be a creative director and a designer but there were few examples in the Marina District neighborhood, also known as Back Maryland, where she grew up. Still, she went to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC, to learn her craft and now she has come back to the resort to provide opportunities for others who are interested in the fashion industry.
“No PPP. No SBA. No hookups,” Cottman said. “Just blood sweat and skills.”
The combination fashion show and talent showcase brought models and guests together at the Anchor Rock Club on New York Avenue, just off the Boardwalk. Instead of characterizing the fashion segments as scenes, they were called chapters. And Chapter 1, paid homage to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver who recently died.
Cottman’s mother Sheila Harvey, Pam Fields and Jamillia Lawrence were among the models who walked the runway making numerous fashion changes.
Lavay Campbell, who attended the show, said Cottman was an inspiration.
“When I lived Back Maryland I met her and she was into fashion and to see her still into it, I’m really proud of her,” said Campbell.
Diane Stalling, who attended the event, agreed.
“This is so needed,” Stalling said. “Entrepreneurship, the arts, this is what we need more of in our community.”
Cottman said sometimes people just need to see someone who looks like them achieve to get their own inspiration.
“Who knew this little girl from Back Maryland could have this creative mind?” Cottman asked rhetorically. “Plan your work and work your plan. I found myself feeling out of place because I was born to lead. ”
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