The world is their oyster

Michael Smith

Ask members of Precious Pearls Ardmore if this weekend’s Debutante Ball is stuffy and the question will be met with laughter by girls who play basketball and dream of careers in healthcare and law enforcement. Now in its sixth year, the group will hold its annual ball on Saturday to give these young ladies an elegant event that celebrates five soon-to-be high school graduates.

“Precious Pearls is an organization to help young girls in high school,” said MarRyah Stubblefield, a junior at Ardmore High School who is in her second year with the group. While the 16 young women between eighth grade and 12th grade who currently make up the program learn etiquette, manners, and confidence, they also learn about other aspects of being a woman in the 21st century.

“When we started [in 2014], we started out with like three or four girls,” said Debra Johnson. With a background as an educator, Johnson has been working with Precious Pearls Ardmore for about three years. Along with service projects undertaken by members, Johnson said workshops are also held to teach young women about things from formal dinners to self defense.

For example, Ardmore senior Martha Armijo talked about a recent workshop on household budgeting that taught her about gender pay gaps. “It showed us that they still pay men more than women now,” she said. According to the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit group that advocates for gender equality, women are paid about 82% of what their male counterparts are paid.

The young women interviewed for this story are confident they can make gender equity a reality once they enter adulthood. “Put ourselves out there, work together, and set examples for other women,” said Ardmore junior Larhyn Moore.

Precious Pearls Ardmore members not only attend educational workshops and team building exercises, they also work on community service projects. Johnson said the girls recently participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade and will soon volunteer at the veteran’s center.

While education and community service make up the bulk of the Precious Pearls Ardmore program, the highlight of membership may be the annual ball. Along with giving the young ladies an excuse to don white ball gowns and be escorted by a young man in a tuxedo, the Debutante Ball also celebrates high school seniors in the group. Johnson said each year of membership secures $500 of scholarship money that is awarded to seniors at the ball.

“Whether you go to college or not, that goes directly to you,” she said, adding that the largest scholarship given by the group was for $2,500.

That scholarship money will come in handy for many of the young women as many expect to move on to college. “I plan on going to school for criminal justice,” said Ardmore junior Bajarea Clark. “When I become a police [officer], then I’m going to try and become a detective.”

The Precious Pearls Ardmore Debutante Ball will be at the Ardmore Convention Center on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and include dinner.