Every year prom season rolls around for millions of high school seniors who get to dress up and have the time of their lives for a few hours.
Indeed, senior prom is often seen as the grand finale of high school, a celebratory event that rewards students for four years of academic achievement. But attending prom is not a guarantee.
Depending on the school, admission to prom is often contingent on good grades. If their GPA is below what the school decides, students don’t get to go. In addition, some schools hold students to strict gender-conforming dress code rules. In April, a non-binary student in Nashville was denied entry to their prom because of their suit of choice. And students may be threatened with having their prom privileges revoked for tardiness and attendance infractions.
Anysa Dormoy, 17, a senior at Uncommon Charter High School in New York City, is an honors student with nearly perfect attendance, but she feels the pressure to keep it so she can go to prom. She says she doesn’t want to jeopardize an experience she feels like she earned over the last four years.
“It’s kind of annoying because there could be something pressing regarding family,“ Dormoy tells Word In Black. “If I can’t prove it, there’s a risk of not being able to go to prom.”
But for some Black teens, there’s a bigger obstacle to going to prom than achieving perfect attendance: the cost.
The reality for many young women is that finances prevent them from wearing the perfect gown and glittering shoes and spending the evening feeling like a princess.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, roughly one out of every three Black children lives in poverty. With housing, food, and gas costs rising due to inflation, coughing up the estimated $1,000 that families are expected to spend on prom costs this year is a struggle.
It’s not just the price tag of the dress, either. In recent years, prom has morphed into an extravagant ordeal with exotic car rentals, customized gowns, and elaborate “promposals.” Add in hair, makeup, and nail services, and the cost can spiral even higher.
Even for Dormoy, the possibility of one of her best friends not attending prom due to the cost is the reality for many young girls looking to end their senior year with a bang.
“It makes me sad to see because everyone should experience prom, but she understands she can’t participate in everything because of [the cost of] all the upcoming events,” Dormoy says.
To ensure Black teens get a prom experience regardless of their family’s income, Syracuse, New York-based Black Girls Don’t Get Love, works to provide additional support and alternative prom options for young women like Dormoy, who helps look after her little brother, maybe tardy a time or two.
The organization uses media to address how Black women and girls are perceived in society. So, its nonprofit arm, Black Girls Will Get Love, holds an annual “Black Girls Don’t Get Love Prom,” an evening filled with food, laughter, and Black Girl Magic.
“We have a private concert, catered meal, 360 photobooths, hundreds of dollars in raffles, all courtesy to our sponsors,” says Eden Strachan, the founder and executive director of Black Girls Don’t Get Love Inc.
Strachan says the purpose of the prom is to welcome young women and ensure they’re not concerned about any financial barriers.
“We’re able to flip the prom concept on its head,” she says.
The organization secured over $40,000 from donors who support the vision. As a result, this spring, 30 girls walked down the pink carpet to enter the beautiful ballroom for the night of festivities.
“We see people of all walks of life who are into the work we’re doing because they also believe that Black girls should feel special, should be celebrated,” Strachan says.
With prom season here in full swing, the nonprofit and its partners are gearing up for their annual event, and are hoping to bring out more young women from the community.
“It’s cool to see how our community pours into us. It was our first time coming out, and nobody has $8,000 to do just one single event,” she says. “With the work, we’re doing with our partners and community members who show up and support, they make that positive change, and it’s beautiful.”