By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Not many local fashion shows can draw the likes of LisaRaye McCoy, actress, entrepreneur, and humanitarian from Chicago, Illinois. Then again, not many people can draw a crowd like Donna Dukes, founder and executive director of Maranathan Academy.
Last month, nearly 100 city officials and citizens from Birmingham and the surrounding areas gathered at The Fennec, a dining-and-entertainment venue located downtown Birmingham, for the Focused and Fabulous 2022 Scholarship Luncheon and Fashion Show benefiting Maranathan Academy. The school focuses on critically at-risk students, some who have been expelled from other schools or have trouble learning and some who have little or no support system or may not have the best home life.
Dukes, who has been a passionate advocate for children for more than three decades, continually finds ways to raise needed funds to support her students, and she draws support from near and far.
“This year’s event is extra special because it marks Maranathan Academy 31st anniversary,” said Guy Rawlings, a news anchor with local NBC television affiliate WVTM 13, who emceed the event. “That’s a long time to be saving the lives of critically at-risk youth and breaking the cycle and dependency of government assistance—one critically at-risk youth at a time. Also, this year’s event is extraordinary because of its honoree, LisaRaye McCoy.”
McCoy—who has appeared in films like “The Players Club” and “The Wood” and on television shows like “All of Us” and “Single Ladies”—was escorted to the stage by Jefferson County, Alabama, District Attorney Danny Carr. The actress purposely did not come with prepared remarks.
“I was sitting there thinking to myself, ‘What I am going to say?’ I am the type of person that likes to be very prepared,” she said. “Actresses are noted to be prepared. I get paid to be prepared. I am not prepared this morning because I want to speak from my heart.”
During her speech, McCoy mentioned that her spirit had been stretched and pulled since arriving in Birmingham. After meeting Dukes and learning about Maranathan Academy, the actress will speak with several people about Birmingham and the Academy to get the help and support the school needs to have a positive impact on young people. McCoy added that the event was a moving experience.
“I must say, in this room I’ve felt so much grace, emotion, love, and support. … I live in Hollywood, and it is not there—it is here, it is among the people that really have compassion and passion,” she said. “I just happen to be an actress. I just happen to do what I do, but I wasn’t always here. I am much like the young people we are helping now. I came from a humble beginning in which I had to learn where I was, where I was going, and what I wanted.”
McCoy ended her speech by looking over at Dukes and saying, “I want to be part of your team. Please let me be part of your team.”
Getting McCoy to attend was “a blessing straight from God” and a testament to the work done by Maranathan Academy, Dukes said.
After McCoy wrapped up her remarks, the Focused and Fabulous fashion show, produced by the More Than Me LLC production company, began. The room was filled with flashing lights and smooth soul, funk, and pop music to set the stage for 11 runway models showcasing brands like basic., Bridge + Root, Hemline, ISHI? LUXE, and White House Black Market.
As the models strutted down the runway, Dukes cheered them on while singing and dancing with the audience. “The fashion show was an uplifting, incredible event that resonated on many levels, from fashion to social issues to philanthropy,” Dukes said. “We can hardly wait for a focused and fabulous 2023.”
Updated at 12:28 p.m. on 8/11/22 to clarify remarks from LisaRaye McCoy.
Maranathan Academy, located at 200 Beacon Pkwy W., Suite 206, Birmingham, AL 35209, focuses on critically at-risk students, some who have been expelled from school or have trouble learning and some who have little or no support system or may not have the best home life; the school does not receive city, state, or federal funding and is privately funded. To learn more about the school and how you can support it, visit maranathanacademy.com/ways-to-get-involved.