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Black Youth in Action holding annual Debutante Ball this weekend

For Black Youth in Action, its annual Debutante Ball marks the glamorous finale of a year of cultural and social education, hard work and community service. On Saturday, Nov. 22, 15 young debutantes in white dresses and gloves will waltz across the dance floor at the Mansion at Martin’s East as they are welcomed into a world of higher civic responsibility and social awareness. 
Bonita Buchanan, BYA secretary and member of its debutante experience committee, said the event celebrates the end of an extraordinary journey for its participants. 
“The girls are all dressed up. … It’s a different way of seeing young people that you don’t usually see,” she said. “You hear a lot of negative things about kids these days, but the kids that are enrolled in this tend to be kids that are movers and shakers.”
BYA was founded in 1972 under the direction of Harford County public school teacher Mazie Taylor during the early years of social integration. 
“Mrs. Taylor felt that integration had shifted some of the creativity and talents of the teenagers,” Buchanan said. “She wanted to create a program that would support and empower black youth in the community.” 
According to its mission statement, BYA strives to educate black youth about cultural heritage as well as to promote a sense of unity and love for God, family and the community. 
“We help young people all over to develop their leadership skills and talents,” said BYA President Salina Williams.
In the time leading up to the ball, the debutantes take part in monthly workshops focused on communication, community service and poise and charm. These activities aim to help girls develop the knowledge and confidence necessary to become strong leaders in society. 

The program also includes young men, called marshals, who undergo a similar coming-of-age experience that culminates at the ball.

Some of this year's programs included a self-esteem, peer pressure and bullying workshop, an "Above the Influence" drug symposium and a leadership workshop with the Harford County Circuit Court Judge Angela Eaves.

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Debutantes and marshals also traveled to Dover, Del., to explore opportunities for higher education during a BYA-sponsored tour of Delaware State University, one of the U.S. Department of Education's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

"Our debutante girls raise funds [throughout the year] so that at the end of their experience they have a stipend for college," Buchanan said.

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Any African-American student from elementary through high school may join BYA. Most member students come from Harford County, Cecil County and Baltimore County. Students are primarily referred by their schools, but some hear about BYA's Debutante Program from friends or other organizations, such as a church or sorority, Buchanan said.

This year, the 36th annual Debutante Ball will present high school juniors and seniors into society who have undergone a year of philanthropic, cultural and social training.

"When the young ladies come out and curtsy, and the young men come out in their tuxedos and bow," Buchanan said, "it just really gives you a feel-good quality," Buchanan said.

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