ELYRIA — The county’s newest debutantes took center stage — and the dance floor — Saturday evening as part of the second annual Vision of Beauty Cotillion.
Held at Elegant Assets Event Center in Elyria and sponsored by the Lorain County section of the National Council of Negro Women Inc., the gala capped eight months of hard work by four Elyria High School seniors.
Cotillion Committee member Regan Phillips said the evening was the culmination of the program, which included workshops on mental health, communication, healthy relationships, dating and rehearsals, including teaching the girls to waltz.
Phillips, a 1991 debutante, helped bring the tradition back last year.
“The girls are phenomenal; their minds are so great,” she said. “So giving the information to them that was given to us and the things that shaped our lives, it’s really exciting.”
Originally a Southern tradition, a cotillion is a coming-out ceremony, Phillips explained. It became popular in the north in the 1980s and ’90s and was hosted by sororities to grant scholarships to high school seniors.
Open to female African-American high school seniors, the local program hopes to help the girls tackle community problems, including high infant mortality rates and single-parent households, Phillips said.
“It’s important for African-American girls because African-Americans are a disparaging population in so many areas,” she said. “So it’s important that we address the issues that affect our population.”
Attendees on Saturday evening were dressed to the nines, after the participants’ mothers helped them into
boutique-supplied white ball gowns and put the finishing touches on their hair and makeup. Of the four mothers buzzing around the debutantes, two were selected to speak to the media.
Raylette Stephens, of Elyria, said the program was an amazing opportunity — bringing the community together around a tradition many thought had died off. She said she hopes the young women involved have formed lifelong friendships during the eight months they spent together on projects such as cleaning up after the Apple Festival and attending workshops.
“Of course this is like the ‘cherry on top’ to see them all dressed up,” she said. “But I think the biggest thing that has been very inspirational is that each month they have some type of community service that they have to embark on, or even the classes they have to appear at — as far as finances, how to look for scholarships, how to write a letter, relationships. … Even as parents we learned something.”
What stood out to Stephens, beyond the information the girls brought home, was the way it inspired others who saw them. The group participated at a Martin Luther King Jr. event, with sixth- and seventh-graders eager to be debutantes once they were old enough.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as where it’s going and what they’re going to be doing,” she said.
Tissue in hand as she finished lacing daughter Parashaye’s dress, Arianna Horton she said it was emotional to watch her finish the program.
“I’m ready to cry right now,” she said. “It’s like they’re coming out into the world, they have to make sure they’re ready: ‘I’m ready, I’ve done everything I need to do to be functional and leave my parents.’ So it’s an awesome experience. I’m just so elated. I love it.”
This year’s debutantes are Avalon Coats, daughter of Eddie and Tamara Coats; Kailah Stephens, daughter of Raylette and Danny Stephens Jr.; Madisyn Daniels, daughter of Dereck and Dana Daniels; and Parashaye Horton, daughter of Hamp and Arianna Horton.
“They are definitely going to move mountains,” Phillips said.
For more information about the program, call committee member Tamara Jones at (440) 723-4611.