Gorgeous Gifted Girls Cotillion offers Milwaukee girls a chance to shine

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A cotillion may be unfamiliar to some people. Its purpose is to teach manners and etiquette, while also giving girls a chance to dress up and dance.

Demetra Lock started Gorgeous Gifted Girls Cotillion seven years ago on Milwaukee's north side. It has all of the elements of a traditional cotillion -- the hair, the makeup, the dresses. But Lock is also focused on making sure her students know they're beautiful inside and out.

"So take your hand and just sway," dance instructor Charmaine McLaurin said, showing a few moves. "Okay, so with the song, it's more like a call and response thing."

When learning something new, the first few steps are often the hardest.

"One, two, ready, go," she counted them in.

The music started -- the words "I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful" drifting across the room.

"I was actually scared at first," said 13-year-old Heaven Miller.

Miller stood front and center at the head of the group.

"Heaven, you start it off and then the girls are going to follow," McLaurin said.

Miller will lead the dance these girls will perform at the Gorgeous Gifted Girls Cotillion later this month.

"The dresses, the heels, the makeup, the hair," she said. "It's just a fun rush, and then the walking, the talking."

The dance is the culmination of months of work.

"Alright, so those are the first two moves, and now we're going to do it to music," said.

Founder Demetra Lock watched from the sidelines with pride. She sees herself in these young ladies. She also knows the most difficult steps they took happened months ago, when the program started in March.

"We take them to a whole other level that they never experienced at home, not school," she said.

Lock launched Gorgeous Gifted Girls because of her own experiences growing up.

"Because I went through some tragedy as a young lady and I didn't know how to cope, and nobody was there to help me heal," she said. "Matter of fact, I became a teenage mom at the age of 16."

Overcoming those challenges, Lock eventually had 12 children of her own.

"They call me Mama Lock," she said with a big laugh.

As her children have grown, she has turned her attention to the need she sees in the community.

"We're losing our girls. We're really losing our girls and the girls are losing their identity," Lock said. "And so the Gorgeous Gifted Girls Cotillion is bringing these girls back to who they are."

They hold weeks of sessions focused on confidence, entrepreneurship and mental health.

"And we gave the girls room just to talk. Are you okay? The pandemic. You know a lot of things came in the homes, struggle. Are you okay? The schools shutting down," Lock said.

Her team is focused on inner strength.

"Self-love. Being okay with who they are," explained communication coach Latanya Cosey.

The coaches focus on communication skills. Laneice McGee focuses on self-worth.

"Look at yourself. I'm beautiful. I'm worthy. I'm strong," McGee said. "Whatever those words are, those affirmation words, say that. Say it in your sleep! Wake up saying it!"

It can be an emotional experience for the coaches, too. Cosey said she teaches the girls things she wished she'd known as a young woman.

"When I realized I wasn't ugly I was 44 years old. Do you know how much damage I did to myself and allowed people to do to me because I thought I was ugly and wasn't worthy?" she said with tears in her eyes.

When you ask the girls, they understand what that confidence means.

"It means to be strong and not be afraid to do something," said former cotillion winner, 9-year-old Brielle Rhiming.

Jessica White experienced Lock's help before she became a coach herself.

"She has helped me in so many ways, by giving me wisdom, on how to be free from things. On how to be a better me," White said.

To that end, the program is free for all of the girls.

"Give me some smiles," McLaurin said.

So when that music starts they're ready to put it all together and feel the success they've worked so hard for.

"To watch these girls come here with one attitude and to leave with the confidence, leave with the courage, leave that they are loved. That is so rewarding to me," Lock said.

This year's cotillion will be held Sunday, July 31. You can find out more about the Gorgeous Gifted Girls Cotillion by clicking here.

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