By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Like most freshman in high school, Amari Vinson couldn’t wait for her senior year, but it wasn’t just for the typical reasons. As a senior, Vinson would finally be able to participate in the Pauline Redmond Coggs Foundation’s debutante ball, something she had been hearing about through her family for years. As luck would have it, her anticipation paid off.
Vinson, 17, along with seven other young women make up this year’s debutante class. The foundation, which was formed by the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, has been hosting a debutante cotillion for 47 years. This year’s celebration will take place virtually on Saturday, Nov. 27.
“The goal of the foundation is a vehicle for raising money and providing scholarships and awards to students,” Debra Brown-Wallace, the foundation’s current president said, adding that the foundation has awarded more than $900,000 in scholarships.
The foundation initially began the debutante or cotillion ball as a way to give young African American women different experiences, Brown-Wallace said. The goal was to help the debutantes learn etiquette manners, develop self-confidence and teach them how to give back.
This year’s theme is, “The IN Crowd: INtelligent, INspirational, INcomparable.”
Everybody wants to be in the ‘in crowd,’ Brown-Wallace said, because those people have plans and goals and they know where they’re going; and this theme celebrates that.
The foundation voted on this theme for last year’s cotillion and then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and canceled the annual affair. Although the pandemic isn’t over yet, the foundation decided that rather than cancel again, it would do everything virtually.
“We thought we could give a rewarding experience to the debutantes virtually,” Brown-Wallace said. “We did a lot of the same things but being virtual we got an in-depth look into each deb.”
She added, “It was a great opportunity to be creative and bring something valuable to the debs and community.”
Although the debutantes did their community service projects on-site, the only time they met in person was to do a photoshoot and record the dance. The photos and recording will be displayed during the livestream, but the award ceremony will be done as the live portion of the show, Brown-Wallace said.
Vinson, who attends Nicolet High School, said the virtual classes taught her how to adapt to her settings and still give it her all. She plans to attend Georgia State University in the fall and major in business.
Even though the girls couldn’t attend class in person, they were still able to forge bonds and create a sisterhood, a staple of the Pauline Redmond Coggs Foundation’s cotillion.
Zariah Luckett-Patterson, 17, a senior at Rufus King International High School and debutante, said when the class finally met in person, it felt like they had known each other for years.
“A lot of them, I look at like my sisters,” she said.
Vinson noted that during the rehearsal and recording they were all laughing together and supporting one another.
“My favorite part was learning the dance,” she said. “We were out there confused but we were helping each other and laughing.”
Like Vinson, many of Luckett-Patterson’s relatives are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha. She first had interest in participating in the cotillion after her cousin partook in one.
It looked like fun, she said, and she decided to sign up. One of Luckett-Patterson’s favorite workshops was the one that focused on inner and outer beauty. Prior to the workshop, Luckett-Patterson didn’t wear much makeup, but after having her questions answered, she’s learned to embrace it more.
“I didn’t realize till after we finished, but it helped with my confidence,” Luckett-Patterson said. “I feel like it’s important for every girl to know she’s beautiful.”
In etiquette class, she learned where to place a fork, how to wipe her face without smudging her makeup, which side of the chair to stand on when sitting and more. One of the biggest lessons she learned was to be supportive of other women, especially given it’s not always easy to tell what another person is going through.
“I’ve always been nice, but this helped me to be more supportive of other women,” she said. “I will always let a girl know she’s pretty. Compliments make someone’s day.”
Luckett-Patterson hopes to attend Marquette University and major in bio-medical engineering or nursing.
Although the debutantes won’t be able to attend the ball in person, they are looking forward to the viewing and award ceremony. They intend to don their dresses and treat the event like an in-person cotillion.
“We’re excited to see their reactions to who is crowned Miss Debutante,” Brown-Wallace said. “They’re just beautiful, lovely girls. I’ve loved watching them transform.”
To learn more about becoming a debutante visit the Pauline Redmond Coggs Foundation website at https://www.prcmke.org/.