Story by Sheila White. Photos courtesy of Cerone Lacey Photography.
The Arlington Foundation for Excellence in Education (AFEE) was formed in 2004 by members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated® (AKA), Xi Theta Omega chapter (XTO) in Arlington, TX, to develop educational and scholarship opportunities for the Arlington community. The Debutante Program was initially designed by members of XTO in 1991 and is now one of AFEE’s signature features. The main objective of the Debutante Program is to offer scholarships and personal development to eligible young ladies entering their senior year of high school. The Debutante Program is designed to develop leadership skills, encourage unity, and promote academic excellence in young women through mentorship and life skills training. By participating in workshops, community service, and etiquette training, the young ladies learn to successfully transition into the next stage of their high school and college careers.
Over the past 30 years, the program has remained consistent about its personal growth workshops and remarkable Winter Emerald & Gold Debutante Ball. AFEE currently utilizes its social media platforms to invite potential participants to attend informational sessions regarding the program. They also post the various debutante events throughout the season to showcase the debutantes and keep the public engaged with the program. Social media is just one example of modern change for the Debutante Program.
“People learned about our program through word of mouth in past years. Social media has given us more presence,” said Tamika Tutt, former President of AFEE.
In March of 2020, the leadership of AFEE, under the guidance of the national office of AKA, had to make a tough decision concerning the pandemic. The Debutante Program was suspended, and the Strength, Positivity, Ambition, Resilience, Knowledge Program (SPARK) was developed to ensure scholarships would continue to be awarded. The SPARK Program was entirely virtual. Participants could still engage in workshops and attend an award ceremony via Zoom. In 2021, as COVID continued to surge and mutate, AFEE decided to move forward with a virtual Debutante Program under the leadership of Kendra Hall-Banks, AFEE VP of Scholarships.
Many 2021 debutante participants expressed doubt when hearing that the program would be virtual. But, AFEE continued to conduct personal growth workshops in a virtual setting. These young ladies engaged in learning about college literacy, hair, make-up, and etiquette. One of the highlights of the season was the virtual Mother-Daughter Tea. Traditionally held in person, each debutante hosted a tea in their home. Dressed in beautiful dresses and matching hats, these young ladies displayed their elaborate charcuterie boards, desserts, and other refreshments served on elegantly designed table settings. The finale was a heartfelt video tribute to their mothers that had most viewers reaching for tissues.
“I was expecting a similar experience like my sister, but I think I had a better experience. Even in a virtual setting, we were still able to develop a close bond,” explained First Runner-Up Debutante Rayna Vickerstaff.
Community service is a significant part of the Debutante Program. The debutantes were able to serve at the Arlington Back to School Fair, held outdoors, and everyone was required to wear masks and social distance. They also partnered with Good Hair Day Salon, collecting 145 ethnic hair care kits for The Rainbow Room, an on-site emergency resource room stocked with items to assist CPS Caseworkers in helping families and children in crises. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the debutantes prepared a video providing facts and information about the disease, as well as paying tribute to women in their families and members of AFEE that have been affected by breast cancer.
Customarily, the debutante season ends with a sophisticated ball decorated in the chosen theme of the year with AFEE’s emerald green and gold colors. For the 2021 Coterie of Debutantes, this event would be virtual. The 2021 Winter Emerald & Gold Debutante Ball – The Essence of Femininity, a tribute to 1970’s African American female trailblazers, would be a virtual affair. After hours of planning, organizing, and father-daughter dance rehearsals, production day finally arrived. Still masked and socially distanced, the debutantes finally get to spend the day together rehearsing and filming. The debutantes dressed in beautiful white satin gowns and classic up-do’s to reflect the 1970s, fathers dressed in black tuxedos, and mothers in formal black dresses took the stage to complete this historic event.
On November 20, 2021, the production was streamed live. The debutantes, with their families and friends, gathered and watched to see who would be crowned Miss Debutante 2021. When Brooklynn Richard’s name was announced, she was in shock. The daughter of Angela Richard, the first winner of the Debutante Program in 1991, shared a similar reaction to her mother, who won the award thirty years prior.
“When my name was announced, I didn’t think it was correct. Most importantly, I was thankful to my family and friends that contributed to me and supported me during the process,” stated Miss Debutante 2021, Brooklynn Richard. Likewise, her mother, reflecting on her own Miss Debutante victory, said, “By nature, I’m not a very competitive person. I did not expect to win at all. It was definitely a shock. I was truly, truly surprised that I won.”
On this same night, a lifelong dream was fulfilled when Debutante Kamaria JaNai Satcher was crowned Miss Debutante Warrior Princess. Kamaria always wanted to be a debutante and follow in her big sister Khristian’s footsteps, a former Miss Debutante. Debutante Kamaria attended every workshop and rehearsal and participated fully despite not feeling her best some days. She battled Kearns-Sayre’s Syndrome, a rare progressive mitochondrial disorder. This brave Warrior Princess sadly passed on February 17, 2022. Her debutante sisters described Kamaria as very strong, courageous, and inspiring. To honor her memory, this extraordinary group of young ladies is sponsoring “The Kamaria Satcher Warrior Princess Scholarship.” Their goal is to raise at least $1,500 each year to fund this scholarship to be issued to a deserving student by AFEE.
As the 2022 debutante season has begun, AFEE is focused on the future of the Debutante Program, which is more than dresses and tiaras. Each AFEE officer agreed that seeing the personal growth in each debutante is the most fulfilling aspect of the program. After completing the program, many debutantes shared the program helped them feel polished, learn more about themselves, and exposed them to lifelong professional skills.
“We want to rebrand the term debutante from this symbol of elite and high society to young ladies making an impact in their communities,” said AFEE President Tameka Jackson. “We have future presidents, doctors, and lawyers, and I look forward to seeing how they will each contribute to the community.”
As AFEE looks to the future, it is also essential to reflect on the program. “In 1991, we were making history for this organization and didn’t know it,” said Miss Debutante 1991, Angela Richard. “We were history makers. We set a standard that has carried the organization for 30 years. What XTO did in 1991 laid the foundation for the program that continues today.”
The Arlington Foundation for Excellence in Education (AFEE) is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, making your donation tax-deductible. For more information about the debutante program, please visit https://www.arlingtoneducation.org/debutanteprogram. Or find the program on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.