Opportunity to Shine 

By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — Jacqueline F. Jordan graduated from Manassas High School in 1973. But when her classmate Kenneth Allen called and asked for an in-kind donation, she responded posthaste. 

Jordan unloaded a closet-full of dry-cleaned dresses and gowns at the school on April 5 so some of the girls will have an opportunity to attend their high school prom in style on April 29.

“I know how it is when it comes to a day like that,” said Jordan, who is passionate about helping young people. “Whether you’re a junior or senior, you want to go to the prom because it’s special.”

Kaime Gadson, the school’s bridge math teacher and senior sponsor, met Jordan in the parking lot with a few of his students and carted nearly 20 garments and accessories into the building. This is his second year as senior sponsor.

The prom theme is Starry Nights. “What we’re looking for is some glitter, glamour and things of that nature,” said Gadson. “We want some pizzazz, some classiness as well, some flamboyance.”

Gadson wants the students to have a different look, a different feel for their prom experience, “not just your traditional prom,” he explained, and gave them leeway to pull it all together.

“From what was donated to us, I think there are a lot of pieces in there which the majority of the young ladies can pick from,” said Gadson, who’s taught for six years in the district, three of them at Manassas. 

The prom is an exciting time of year for juniors and seniors. It could be described as a rite of passage for many of them who’re eagerly awaiting the formal dance. It signifies the end of an era: 12 years of schooling. 

“It’s a very important time in their lives,” Jordan said. “So, it doesn’t bother me to share. I know how it is to want to go to the prom so bad and don’t have everything you need.”

Some of the girls may don their own evening gowns and accessories: corsages, jewelry, spike heels, and fancy hairstyles. The boys may sport a tuxedo and cummerbund or step out in a crisp suit and tie or a casual blazer. 

Jordan added to her donation of dainty garments a batch of jewelry for the girls and stylish shoes as well.

But some students and their parents may not be able to afford the price of a prom dress or a tuxedo if they’re relegated to a low-income status. The school, for example, is nestled in an area of North Memphis where decay is evident.

“Those prom dresses are a blessing to some girls, because some girls don’t have that type of money to provide their own prom dresses,” said Ariel Williams, a Southwest Tennessee Community College assistant who helps prepare students for college and life.

She works at Manassas twice a week and assists Gadson in his role as senior sponsor. “I can relate to the kids. I feel I know where they’re coming from,” said Williams, noting that the donated prom dresses are a great idea.

Whether the need is small or great, the Manassas Alumni Association has availed itself for years to lend a helping hand. Allen said it’s a way of giving back to the school and the community.

“I’ve been involved with donating prom dresses and tuxedos for quite a few years now,” he said. “I just happen to have some ladies from different parts of town or in the family to donate the dresses that they have.”

The “brethren from Manassas [alumni]” have on occasion donated tuxedos, he pointed out. “We’ve had some of our alumni to pick the boys up and take them to the tuxedo shop to get them fitted.”

Allen said he’d be fulfilled when he sees the expression on the faces of the students, the appreciation in their voices, and the look in their eyes. 

“The prom is a memory that will last forever,” he said.