To cap Bronx Week, Borough President Vanessa Gibson and partners hosted their first-ever prom dress and suit giveaway last Friday at Bronx Borough Hall. Hundreds of Black and brown teens lined up around the block to get gear-and-glammed out for free.
“This is a wonderful time to celebrate young people,” said Gibson. “Many families face hardships and can’t afford to go hard at prom for their kids, especially if they have more than one kid. It brings such joy to my heart to see these kings and queens. I want them to look and feel beautiful.”
Inside the borough hall, about 2,000 prom dresses and hundreds of young men’s suits hung on racks along the walls. Down the middle of the space were tables adorned with free jewelry, shoes, and accessories. Adjacent to that was a huge red carpet runway lined with festive balloons. In the back, volunteers led students to changing rooms where they could try on the donated outfits.
District Attorney Darcel Clarke’s office donated about 300 dresses and more than 100 suits to the event. She said everyone from staff to vendors and community members was eager to donate outfits. From a public safety angle, Clarke said that the giveaway gets teens engaged during a crucial time for them.
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“They want to look their best—to be encouraged and valued,” said Clarke. “It’s empowering for them.”
Every student who found an ensemble they liked got the chance to be introduced in the outfit to the buzzing crowd, strut down the runway, and be crowned as they posed for pictures. The event had a giddy energy that blended seamlessly with the vibrant dance music. Wide smiles were in abundance.
Rahmatu Sulley, 20, was the first person to find a dress she liked. She skipped down the runway and then hugged volunteers before searching for matching shoes. According to her aunt, who accompanied her, Sulley is autistic and her mother had died.
“I’m going to cry,” said Sulley’s aunt.
Destini Nixon, 17, a student at the Bronx High School of Business, modeled a long black gown with her white braids pinned up. She laughed and waved at the cameras on the carpet when it was her turn to walk. “Black is my favorite color,” she said about why she chose the dress.
Lesly Calixto, 18, is a student at Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. She came to the giveaway with her father, who chose a bright-magenta dress for her. She said he’s been choosing her clothes all her life and she trusts his fashion sense.
Barbers offered free haircuts and a beauty glam van parked outside offered free makeovers, lashes, and henna tattoos.
The event was sponsored by Gibson and community partners, and mainly coordinated by Not On My Watch Executive Director Pamela Damon.
Damon said she’s been working in prom impact and nonprofit events centered around youth empowerment for more than 10 years. She began organizing her first prom dress giveaway with a girls’ group in Queens. It grew so much in popularity that eventually the NYPD assisted in sponsoring and hosting with her. When she moved to the Bronx, she continued her work at the girls’ empowerment center.
Eustace Collens, an over-50 male model and former correctional officer, was assisting on the boys’ side. He said he turned to mentorship because he feels nobody is teaching and listening to kids.
Someone who has not had much feels left out, Collens. “I didn’t have name brands and kids laughed at me, but with a new dress or a suit, you can just feel like a new person.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.
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