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Aishamanne Williams' prom dress honors Erykah Badu, Angela Davis and Lauryn Hill. Photo courtesy: Williams Family

(by her Queen Mama who made it all happen)

I’ve written this story to share with every reader and every Mom and Dad. To my precious Aishamanne Williams, I’d like to thank you for the wonderful, magically enchanting, young woman – within and without – that you have grown up to be.

On the very special evening of Thursday June 14th, the whole beauty of the child I’ve been honored to raise for 17 years, became overwhelmingly apparent. That prom night I confirmed with all certainty that I’d done a great job at cautiously and lovingly escorting her to that day. The magnificent flower had bloomed and stood majestically before me in all its radiance, with its bright petals so luxuriously rich, my soul sing with pride! The culmination of my dutiful efforts as a Mother stood before me in the stunning creation of a gown, oozing of regal elegance, made just for a princess. I knew then that she was about to experience a night filled with perfect princess charm!

I must admit, however, that the whispering of doubt and fear crept in along with my excitement. While I was certain Aishamanne looked amazingly beautiful, the disquieting thoughts of a concerned parent were there. Would she be accepted in the bold statement she was about to make in that dress, displaying the courage and spirit of a girl unafraid to stand out and be different? Would she be embraced as every other glamorous prom girl or be shunned for having the nerve to dare? It was even more troubling to imagine that she, too, might feel insecure, battling dubious thoughts on this special night.

Undeterred by any of my “mom concerns,” I did not allow the night to be spoiled by anything or anyone. We’d invested too much to allow any hesitation or hiccups to taint the occasion. I chose to be present and embrace every moment. From the day she entered my room for our first discussion of the design and cost of the dress, to the prom night itself, I relished in every detail of the process of bringing this night together.

I must admit that when Aishamanne made me aware of the cost of it all, I was completely blown away!. In the blurry memory of my prom, my Mom spent a minute fraction of her already meager earnings compared to what I was facing. From the custom designed dress to the shoes, purse, hair, photography, and transportation — Oh, what an extravagant night this might be! I decided immediately that we couldn’t afford it and would have to go a cheaper route. I communicated this to my daughter, but quickly realized that the young woman before me desperately making her case was worth every penny! I decided to trust that what we would be provided, and so it was. We remain utterly thankful for all of it!

Without further delay, I joined efforts with my daughter to begin working on the design and gathering the finishing pieces. She’d shown me a dress worn by a young designer, Kyemah McEntyre, and expressed her desire to create something similar. Truthfully, I didn’t like the dress at first, thinking the design was missing something. So for a few days I continued to examine the dress, to figure out what adjustment could make the design suit my daughter.

Prior to my meeting with Donna,Weekes of Ethel Desings. she and Aishamanne had already begun the groundwork, like deciding on fabric, etc. (Donna is the parent of a fellow student in this year’s Medgar Evers College Preparatory High School graduating class). I expressed my idea for altering the back of the dress to give it more style and make it more age-appropriate. She agreed, and we were on our way.

Once the skirt portion of the dress was done, Donna brought it to Aishamanne to have the images painted and the dress returned for completion. Aishamanne, being the decisive, independent young woman she is, had located artist Nyiesha Mallett, a talented 11th grader from her school, who would bring to life the focal point of the dress. Aishamanne’s mission was not only to be creative and express herself in this piece, but to also honor Black women who inspire her. Out of the many she chose three to have them painted on the dress, Erykah Badu, Angela Davis and Lauryn Hill.

After two home fittings and all the necessary adjustments, our masterpiece was complete! But there was more to be done: we’d have to get the perfect purse, shoes, and jewelry to make this dress totally pop, so I began my hunt for accessories. Everything matched so perfectly together like angels were guiding.

Still, we were not done! Now on to the hairstyle, which could make or break this precious night for her. Her first choice was to go with her longtime hairstylist, who she thought to have the skill and artistry to create an outstanding hairstyle to compliment the artistic piece of work that her dress had turned out to be. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way, as the hairstylist decided to go in a different direction than she’d specified. My daughter, trusting his expertise, did not oppose. Upon her arrival home, when I asked if she liked it, she broke down in tears. I felt her pain.

After our failed attempts at getting the stylist to redo to her hair, we gave up and I realized that I’d have to tap into my creativity and turn this around for my daughter. And I did! After several hours, I came up with what you see in those pictures. In an effort to recreate style of the young lady who inspired her prom look, Aishamanne wanted Bantu knots. As this was a last-minute, late night venture, I decided that half a head of knots would do!

Next was scheduling her makeup artist. Again she had already lined that up with a fellow high school senior. Christina Mings did an amazing makeup look that enhanced my daughter’s natural beauty to match the dress and the occasion and Garnet Burke did a wonderful job at capturing Aishamanne from home, all the way to the event location.

Once we arrived at the prom, doubt and fear disappeared. It was clear: we were successful in bringing together all the necessary details to make the night perfect. The dress, accessories, hair, makeup, transportation, photography were all perfect and upon her arrival it became even more apparent, as she was quickly the talk of the night!

There she was, my Aishamanne, on her prom night, in all her confident elegance. I looked on proudly as she received endless compliments with grace. She stood there representing me and other strong black women, and I also knew that her ancestors were beaming down on her with pride and joy as well. As I left her to enjoy her night, I knew the flower that I’d so lovingly watered for seventeen years had finally blossomed.

The next day Ms. Rey, the teacher in charge of the prom, told me that the other students voted Aishamanne “Best Dressed girl”. I was proud and excited, but my daughter was mostly unphased. She’d accomplished her mission to inspire and honor and that mattered most. In the days following, I watched Aishamanne’s humility at its peak when her dress and her story would be featured in Teen Vogue, Essence, NowThis, Her, and other media. She was happy for the attention and to have the platform to inspire thousands, but she was simply being herself. We both are firm believers that being radically authentic is one of the many portals to success.

I will close by saying that the flower in my life that is Aishamanne, did not just one day pop up here. I slowed down once the seed was planted, paying close and careful attention to its growth. It’s true that some flowers are easier to grow than others; Aishamanne was an easy one. So to my daughter I say: Thank you sweetheart, for allowing me to parent you so easily. As we always say, the universe matched us perfectly.

Finally, hats off to all the talented and artistic young people in our community who are in tune with their culture and use their creative intelligence to do great things. Continue to embrace your individuality and be unafraid to boldly express yourselves. Even in a world where everyone is following trends, be innovative and set your own trends. Creativity is divine, find yours inside!

Written by Jennavive Williams

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