Suffolk teen has wonderful prom evening

Published 7:56 pm Saturday, May 27, 2017

Like many other high school girls, Amani Cooley spent the afternoon before her prom on Friday getting her makeup and hair done, donning a sparkly dress and taking what must have seemed like hundreds of pictures.

But she had to overcome a series of obstacles and difficulties to go to her first prom, with immense support from her family and community.

Cooley is a 21-year-old senior at Nansemond River High School. She was born with Down Syndrome and later diagnosed with autism. She is unable to speak and requires constant supervision.

Email newsletter signup

“We have just beat the odds with everything that she’s been through from birth to now,” said her mother, Shawanee Waters.

Amani Cooley, 21, stands with her father Allen Cooley before she heads off for the Nansemond River High School prom at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton on Friday. The blue and silver of her dress match the color theme of the event.

For the past three years, Cooley has been part of the Southeastern Cooperative Educational Program at NRHS. The mission of this program is to provide comprehensive education for students with challenging needs in a safe environment.

Students in this program attend separate ceremonies from the general student population for graduation and prom because of those concerns. But the prom for SECEP students was canceled this year due to a lack of participation, Waters said. During a meeting with SECEP and NRHS faculty, she made it clear that she still wanted her daughter to have that experience.

The decision was made that Cooley would be able to attend the traditional prom for NRHS on Friday at the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Hampton. Waters uploaded a Facebook live video to announce her daughter’s big night, which received more than 3,000 views in the past month, she said.

“It’s been overwhelming,” she said. “I’m just very happy. Words can’t explain how appreciative and thankful I am for the people that have come to support her in just a short time.”

Students responded to the video with kind messages for Cooley. Others assured Waters that her daughter would have a wonderful night.

“They said they were going to make sure that she was going to have as good of a time as they are,” Waters said. “That brought tears to my eyes when I read that.”

Family member Nicole Porter applied Cooley’s makeup, and LaTroy Brinkley of Serendipity Hair Salon volunteered to fashion her hair. Her dress was personally crafted by designer Ric Lamar for the occasion.

Numerous people offered to donate a dress, Waters said, but she wanted something special for her daughter.

“I wanted her to have her very own dress,” She said.

A large crowd of friends and family stood outside of Waters’ residence in Suffolk in support of Cooley as she was escorted by her father, Allen Cooley, on her way to prom.

“I love it,” he said. “Just to see her take that step and grow up. I want her to enjoy it.”

They all wanted to show Cooley that she looked beautiful in her brand-new dress.

“We’ve got a lot of love out here,” said her brother, Dayquan Eley. “I’m proud of her.”

In addition to the prom, Cooley will also be able to attend the regular NRHS graduation ceremony this year.

Her daughter has taught her patience and much more over the years, and she’s ecstatic for her.

“She’s a joy to all of us,” Waters said.