Rafeek Manning wasn’t sure what he was getting into when he signed on to be an escort in last year’s cotillion ball.
The Grade 12 student thoroughly enjoyed the experience to the extent that he returned this year and brought along his younger brother, Elijah, for the ride.
“When I learned the organizers were having some difficulty recruiting boys for this year’s event, I was only too eager to be back,” said the older brother who attends Humberside Collegiate Institute. “This is something I will always remember and I can look back proudly and say I was able to do that.”
The annual event provides young people with an opportunity to gracefully display the protocol and etiquette they learned over the months leading up to the big night. In addition to allowing the participants to discover and showcase their elegance, the Ball presents the best examples of Toronto’s African-Canadian community.
A youth development program designed to inspire, encourage and empower the contestants is an integral part of the event. In a three-month period leading up to the Ball, the young people are exposed to workshops encompassing financial planning, law, public speaking, Black Canadian History, adolescent health & well-being, leadership & time management, civic duties, entrepreneurship and ballroom dancing.
“The workshops were very enlightening,” said Elijah Manning who is a Grade 10 student at Harbord Collegiate Institute. “It was a great opportunity for me to expand on my life experiences.”
The brothers said their mother, Debby Ennis, is their biggest supporter.
“She has done everything for us and we want to make her proud,” said the younger Manning who aspires to be an engineer. “We are doing this for her also.”
Alternative Scarborough Education 1 student Percival Scott and Renee Mitchell, who attends Kingsway College, won the escort and debutante titles.
“Coming into this program, I was very shy,” said Scott who aspires to be a Toronto police officer. “I am now more self-confident and I have the skills that will enable me to be a rounded person.”
A Grade 12 student, Mitchell – who made a sign language presentation at the event – enjoys public speaking, travelling and learning new things. Her goal is to be a paediatric neurosurgeon at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
The other debutantes were Earl Haig Secondary School student Alexandria Batchelor who intends to become an entertainment lawyer; Shaniecia Black-Plunkett who is enrolled at Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute; Centennial College freshman Denisha Brand whose hobbies include film and photography; Aiisha Dyer-Fletcher who attends Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy; West Hill Collegiate Institute student Tiauna Gordon who enjoys playing basketball and soccer; Shudeen Halliman who aspires to be a radiation therapist; York University student Tiana Knight whose aim is to become a lawyer or teacher; Jade Mkhonza who attends J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate Institute; Shayeal Phelemba who is at George Brown College and aspiring paediatrician Emma Rodney who is enrolled at Sinclair Secondary School.
Their escorts also included Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute student Andrau Black whose desire is to become a professional athlete; Modou Cessay who attends Oakwood Collegiate Institute; auto mechanic aspirant Shamal Colman who relishes art; Jevon Davis who is enrolled at Centennial College; aspiring actor Armando Drummond; Phillip Pocock Secondary School student Johmore Grant whose goal is to become a scientist; Michael Corbette who intends to be a chiropractor and Durham College student Tyler South whose career goal is to be a fitness model.
The junior debutantes were Deja Bedward-Wilson, Chassady Carrington-Carter, Calyse Fairclough, Jasmine Grant-Campbell, Shyann Johnson, Alexiah Johnson-Valladares, Lailah Julien, Nyasia-Noelle Macaulay, Kaliyah Mignott-Murray, Malikeya White-Gray and A. Whitney.
Sean Mauricette, a.k.a Subliminal, was the keynote speaker.