In Philly, a prom with a little help from friends, and strangers

In Philly, a prom with a little help from friends, and strangers
Charles Mostoller

Rasheeda Butler was surrounded by a half-dozen people in the small middle bedroom of her aunt’s rowhouse. Relatives fussed with her hair, some cousins stood around watching the action.

A growing crowd had gathered outside of the North Philly rowhouse to see her prom dress. The commotion had left her feeling, in her words, overwhelmed and stressed.

“I know in the end it’s going to be a great experience, but …” she said.

It’s prom season. In a city where 22 percent of people under 18 live below the poverty line, it’s no surprise that many struggle to cobble together what they need to attend the last formal dance of high school.

Rasheeda, 17, was one of them, until she got a little help.

“We were trying to find the cheapest dress,” Butler said.

They found one on Instagram they liked. Her mom struggled to put down a deposit. Then it turned out to be a scam, and their money was gone.

Enter Lakeia Williams, and her non-profit We Can Do Better.

“Lakeia said ‘I got you covered,’” Rasheeda said.

Williams, 36, is a master networker the school district called in for a few students — some of them in shelters — that the district recognized needed a little help getting to prom. She’s put together prom packages like this for the last three years.

“I get sponsors.” Williams said, ticking off their names. “I called them and said ‘This is what I want to do.’ And we got it done.’”

She put out a call on Facebook, and quickly found people that would donate money for shoes, fabric for a dress, and costume jewelry.

“It’s something extra-special,” Williams said. “They work so hard to get to their senior year.”

Rasheeda’s need hit close to home for Tylia Henry, 33, a single parent and student at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. An aspiring fashion designer who works under the name Majeeda Monae, she agreed to sew a dress that looked just like the one Rasheeda wanted — for free.

“You go through something, and you empathize,” is how Henry explained why she wanted to help.

Rasheeda, a senior at Edison High School, is evaluating scholarship offers from two colleges, and is leaning toward studying funeral services at Northampton Community College.

“I like weird,” she said.

Her mom, Vernice Hendricks, calls Rasheeda a hard worker who was pushed along by two older brothers.

“Her main goal, she says is to take care of her mom. I just want her to be happy,” Hendricks said.

But Friday night wasn’t about any of that. It was about a car waiting to take her to the prom, and a well-dressed neighbor who was taking her.

Rasheeda emerged from her aunt’s house to a waiting throng. Dozens of neighbors whipped out their cell phones to get a picture of her in front of the house.

“Beautiful,” said her date, Yerodin James. “She looks beautiful.”