I have been to tea on almost every continent and observed how people come to tea. But I had to revert to my over 20 years of experience in education and working with youth from economically challenged communities to create a program that would capture the imagination of urban youth. What could be learned at afternoon tea that could not be found in their environment that engulfed them every day. I had read many tea books to know the difference between afternoon tea and high tea. Afternoon tea is a light fare, dainty sandwiches, cookies, and scones. High tea on the other hand was served later and was a meal for working class people without any fanfare.
This was an experiment upon which I was ready to embark. There were no rules. I
live my life abstracting the best from a situation and taking it to a higher level so why stop now. I took the cultural universality of tea, the civility and charm of the tea ladies’ society, converted the everyday high tea into a program for Black girls to reflect the high expectations and high standards we would set for our Black girls. It was brewed in a teapot and served as the High Tea Society. There had to be an attention getting component, a special attraction to tickle the senses, of course hats and gloves. A hat will turn the mundane into the marvelous. Having the girls wear hats to tea will allow them to step out of their front door into the imaginary mirror and see themselves in the bright light of possibilities. For most people embodied in the wearing of a hat is the idea of doing something or going somewhere special.
The girls had a double treat. They went to the Bene Millinery Hat Shop, met Ms Vanilla Bean who helped the girls pick out their hats, decorate their hats, fit the hats and match the hats with their outfits they brought with to the shop. We had taken the girls to purchase outfits earlier in preparation for a yet to be disclosed experience. They were about to enter into a wonderland where they will catch a glimpse of their agency and the endless possibilities of who they could become. Ms. Fannie Allen, Director Allen Protocol and Leadership Institute would give the girls lessons in tea etiquette; explain the importance of demonstrating a positive attitude, best speech, decorum and demeanor. This was temporary transformation but a memorable one reinforced by an outpouring of support. Lots of oohs and ahs came from the admiring bystanders as they enter the premiere Four Seasons Hotel. Our goal was for the girls to capture this moment in a mental snapshot because this was the image we wanted our girls to take ownership. The message is this is who you can become; this is your potential being played out before your eyes.
Embodied in the afternoon tea experience are social and civility experiences and skills needed to be successful in the civil society. In the envisioned program we will build on the first impression that the girls have of themselves that will be the foundation for future program activities. Afternoon tea is the backdrop. In the calm elegant setting in their hats and gloves are protégés are poised to embark upon a journey into another way of life where exposure, exposure, and exposure will be the centerpiece. Exposure, environment, experience and expectation will lead to positive behavioral changes. The calmness of the tea environment slows our girls down long enough for us to get their attention, begin a conversation, and build trust. The hats and the gloves build confidence and self-esteem that provide a sense of belonging, well-being and self-worth. Like a tip of an iceberg where the true essence of our girls is yet to be discovered. What appears on the surface is an introduction: I am….. I want to be… I like… I can… I will. In the days ahead these sentences will be fulfilled and completed in the High Tea Society