Prom for Princesses

By Nargis Hakim Rahman, TMO

Hamtramck High School Principal Rebecca Westrate, with three of the Princess Project 2012 organizers Tharima Ahmed, Eman Ashabi, and Maha Al-Shauweyh.

Photo by Nargis Hakim Rahman

Prom is a formal social gathering held at the end of senior year of high school. For some female students at Hamtramck High School the glam of prom is met with cultural and religious boundaries: mixing with guys. This year Princess Project 2012, a group of five girls who organized an all girls prom, decided to change just that.

High school seniors, Tharima Ahmed, Eman Ashabi, Maha Al-Shauweyh, Rukeih Malik, and Michelle Edwards, met each other in freshmen year, when they briefly discussed the idea of having a prom for girls. Caught up with school, they formally organized the group this school year, to avoid playing tug of war with the class officer budget for the regular prom.

Hamtramck High School Principal Rebecca Westrate said the girls gathered support from the students and stepped out of their comfort zone to reach out the community and businesses in Hamtramck and Metro Detroit. “Having the courage to share their vision and reach out paid dividends in both building bridges for the school and its students but also for the girls’ individual growth,” she said.

According to teachers at Hamtramck High School, the idea of having an all girls prom was not new, rather never implemented. Terrence George, the director of pupil service for the Hamtramck Public Schools said religious data is not collected on students. However, of the 852 high school students; 252 speak Bangla, 61 speak Bosnian, 10 speak Urdu, and 144 speak Arabic (there are 172 Middle Eastern students); languages which reflect primarily Muslim communities.

Princess Project 2012, with the help of an English teacher, Advisor Janet Tabakovic, launched monthly fundraising projects since October 2011 to raise money – mainly bake sales of homemade doughnuts, candy apples, soft pretzels, cupcakes and brownies.  The girls earned the nickname “Betty Crocker,” a part of General Mills’ baking products, for their treats sold outside the lunchroom.

The girls reached out to the Hamtramck School Board, staff at Hamtramck High School, and the community after English teacher Autumn Pabst, who helped decorate the prom hall with her interior designer sister, recommended getting sponsors. They raised $2000-2500, received 100 complimentary tickets to attend a basketball game this season through the Detroit Piston’s “Come Together” community outreach program at The Palace of Auburn Hills, were offered free printed tickets by Amana Graphics owner and a school board trustee, Nasr Hussain, who also paid for dinner. A dessert table was sponsored by Royal Kabob Manager Moe Obied.

Danielle Williams, project manager of the Detroit Pistons said, she and her colleagues were impressed with Tharima’s leadership and the group’s initiative to fulfill a community need. “She (Tharima) really put herself out there for the project,” Williams said.

Princess Project 2012 did not assign officers, although the girls took on different roles in putting the party together. Tharima, 17, said Eman, 17, was her right hand ‘man’ who helped complete tasks and design tickets. Michelle, 17, came up with creative ideas for the fundraisers, Maha, 17, conducted a survey to determine ticket prices and filed papers, and Rukeih, 17, managed the budget.

Eman said the girls all went through their own periods of doubt leading up to putting the prom together, “But we motivated each other.”

Rukeih, who plans to study biology at University of Michigan Dearborn in the fall, said the girls wanted to be taken seriously. Maha, a future psychology student at the University of Michigan Dearborn, said prom is not all about dancing and partying. Girls get to know each other.

Michelle, plans to study psychology at University of Michigan Dearborn in the fall. She said it doesn’t matter what culture religion or ethnicity you are, girls are just girls. They want to have fun.

The girls said the Islamic Center of Hamtramck was instrumental in gathering Muslim and community support. Its founder Nasr Hussain (owner of Amana Graphics) stepped in to make their “Once Upon a Dream” event come true.

Eman, who will attend University of Michigan Dearborn in the fall to study primary education, said her parents were very supportive, although her sisters first doubted they could pull it off. The experience has boosted my confidence, Eman said. “We’re going to do it,” she told her sisters. “I never thought we would get this far.”

Michelle, a quiet shy girl, said people started to know her through the project. She said the prom allowed people to, “See some friends in a different element.”

Sophomore Dominique Davis who attended the prom said, she was astonished to see all the girls dressed up. “It was even more wonderful to see all the fellow classmates that I usually see wrapped in religious clothes, in beautiful gowns and fun dresses. I think attending this prom made me feel a sense of pride in my sex, my school, and in my community…there was a room full of princesses.”

Rukeih said her mother understood an all girls prom was possible, as similar girls dances are held at the Oakland International Academy in Detroit. “I really loved the idea of prom… all should have a prom experience.”

On Saturday teachers greeted students dressed in short and long glossy American, Arabic and Bangladeshi dresses. A handful of Yemeni girls brought bells to wrap around their waists for Arabic dabka dancing. Students smiled with their eyes wide open as they saw their classmates. Many did their hair in updo’s while a few left their hijabs on.

Inside the hall, the stage was decorated with a floating fushia, black and white balloons arc reaching from one end of the stage to the other. Tables were bursting with color: fushia tablecloths were topped with purple floral centerpieces (some with floating candles), balloons and a three-tier stack of plates for girls to enjoy dinner from Royal Kabob, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Hamtramck.

Dinner consisted of grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, pinched spinach and meat pastries, rice and hummus, pita, beef kabobs, and fatoosh (salad with vinaigrette). Desserts from Shatila Bakery in Dearborn ranged from fruit to baklawa, and a fit-for-a-princess cake.

Nearly 110 guests – students and female staff – chatted, ate dinner, danced to American, Arabic and Indian music, and lined up for a professional henna tattoo.

Junior Amena Khan said she had a good time at the party. It was an “Innovative way to allow girls of reserved cultures to express themselves and have fun,” said Amena.

“I personally had a good time, knowing there would be no boys to impress or watch out for. The entire atmosphere was friendly, fun, and energetic. The entertainment was commendable and enjoyable. The music was addictive, and the professional henna artist added a taste of Middle Eastern and South Asian culture to the atmosphere.

The night was topped off with crowning a prom court: a senior queen, senior and junior princesses, and sophomore and junior duchesses.

Manal Obied, sophomore, said she had an amazing time. Manal, who won class duchess, said she plans to continue the girls prom with the help of her brother, manager of Royal Kabob who sponsored the desert table, and her friends.

“I am so glad that they came up with this idea of having an all girls prom, because so many girls that weren’t able to go to the regular prom had the chance to go.”

Rukeih said she learned never to be afraid to put yourself out there. “If you’re not doing anything wrong, have faith in yourself and deen, you can do it…Allah’s watching.”

Tharima, who plans to study business at Wayne State University next semester, said the party was to make every girl feel like a princess. The Princess Project 2012 girls hopes the high school students keep the tradition going, and they can look back in 10 years to the first one. Michelle said, “This will be the normal thing.”

Junior Thanjila Uddin said she didn’t expect many people to come to the first prom. “I’m definitely going there next year,” she said.

Tharima said she was inspired by Prophet Muhammad’s (s) wife Khadija, a business woman, as Princess Project 2012 was conducted like a business. She hopes future girls hold onto the relationships they built in the process.


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