Prom Send Offs: The Rites of Passage for African American Girls

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$4,150 raised of $4,000 goal
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Funded on November 07, 2018
    • 104% contributed

I’ve long been aesthetically intrigued by and visually interested in capturing various stages of Black Girlhood in my work.  “Prom Send Offs” is a new body of photographic work in which I document how African-American girls in Chicago celebrate the dynamism of their identities and the communities from which they come. I’ve chosen this subject because, much like a quinceañeras are for Latinx communities, “the prom send off” is a complex, year-long rite of passage for Black girls, their friends, and families that renders proms as more than a party or fashion statement.  Through this ritual, proms are communal spaces of self-expression, inimitable style, and coming into adulthood. “Prom Send Offs” builds upon my larger body of feminist art and activism, but it is also an entirely new project that captures how Black girls who live on the South Side and West Side of Chicago reimagine themselves, each other, and their relationship to the urban landscape that shapes their sensibility and unique style. My goal is to complete the work for a larger exhibition opportunity on Black Girlhood in 2019-2020.

About This Project

In 2007, I attended my first prom send off as a mentor to a girl who had spent her entire year, unbeknownst to me, preparing for this moment in her life: refining sketches of her dress, meeting with her designer, choosing fabrics with her mother, and detailing the pre-prom party—“the send off”—with her grandmother. I was one of more than a hundred friends, neighbors, and family members who lined the streets, cheering Candance as she danced on to the porch in her royal red sequined dress with her favorite song blaring in the background. Once she reached the red carpet that flowed from her porch steps, we danced with her as she crossed that threshold into adulthood. Suddenly, the prom was almost an afterthought to this moment of joy. 

That day stayed with me as I continued to mentor and eventually politically organize with other Black girls in Chicago through my work as the executive director of A Long Walk Home, a non-profit organization that uses art to empower young people and end violence against women and girls. Through my camera lens and their eyes, I have traveled around the city with them to capture their inner lives and their outer realities and to make visible Black girl worlds that we typically do not see. For many Black girls in Chicago, their families start planning their prom day as early as elementary school, while other parents might get a second job to help offset the cost of the send offs. I do not see their extravagance as financial excess but as an expression of love and sacrifice, and a communal vow to protect and celebrate their daughters as they enter the next phase of their lives. This is why “the send off” is so important and elaborate—for it is one of the few formal, public celebrations of Black Girlhood by friends, family, community leaders, and residents that these girls will ever experience. After the girl leaves for prom, the party continues, the neighbors dance, and the bonds are cemented.

With this project, I am planning to create a new body of photographic work that extensively documents the pre-prom rituals of African-American girls in Chicago. My 3AP campaign will support the entire creative process, including: research, framing, printing, materials, and travel. By supporting this project you will play an important role in expanding the field of photography to include representations of girls of color as artists and visionaries, while helping one of my most passionate projects come to fruition. Thank you for helping to make this work possible!

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $20
    Personal thank you on social media ($20.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $50
    Above, plus an autographed 5”x7” postcard of an image from the project ($40.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100
    Above plus a totebag with logo/design promoting Black Girlhood ($80.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $250
    Above plus an autographed, original 8” x 10” photographic print from the project ($130.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500
    Recognition as a Premium Sponsor in a forthcoming exhibition catalog and an autographed, original 11”x14” photographic print from the exhibition ($350.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $750
    Above plus a private photography lesson with the artist ($450.00 is tax deductible.)

Scheherazade Tillet

Named after the famous feminist storyteller of the “Arabian Nights,” Scheherazade Tillet is a Trinidadian and African American who is a photographer, art therapist, and community organizer.  As a curator and social documentary photographer, Scheherazade use site-specific work to explore …

View Scheherazade Tillet's profile
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    • Thank you to the following for contributing to 3Arts with the recommendation that we support this project.

    • Rachel Kelsey

    • Salamishah Tillet

    • Kim Nevels

    • Nicole Matthews

    • Susan Barone

    • Anonymous Supporter

    • Solomon Steplight

    • Samuel Mondry-Cohen

    • Laura Fuller-Cooper

    • Aja Reynolds

    • Mo Wills

    • Thomas Callahan

    • Annika Gifford

    • Duhirwe Rushemeza

    • Marline Johnson

    • Martinez Sutton

    • Martinez Sutton

    • Joanna Gardner-Huggett

    • Azure Thompson

    • Erica Shirley

    • Trina Brown

    • Sharmili Majmudar

    • Leah Gipson

    • Nicole Mitchell

    • Connie Noyes

    • Aisha Bain

    • Mimi Owusu

    • A Long Walk Home Board

    • Javaka Steptoe

    • Tracye Matthews

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3AP Presenting Partner:

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 Additional support provided by: 

Department of Cultural Affairs logo  Illinois Arts Council