Should You Just Because You Can? Philly Mom Spends $25K On Dubai Themed Prom Send-Off
Johnny “JJ” Eden Jr.’s prom send-off cost more than my damn wedding. In fact it cost twice as much as my wedding. And I’m undecided on if that’s a good or bad thing, or neither. I’m also undecided on if I’m being jealous and judgmental or just using common sense. But Saudia Shuler wanted to give her son an epic prom send-off, and three years ago she began planning an event that would go viral (for at least a weekend) and bring Dubai right to the front steps of their North Philly row home.
Philly.com reports that the “Dubai to Philly” prom send-off featured three outfit changes for “JJ” at least one including Versace Gold trim, three stunning dates who brought their own separate Emirati flair to the occasion, a Range Rover, a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini (all rented for the occasion) and a live camel to make it official. You heard me: Joe Camel came all the way from Ohio to hold it down for the soon-to-be Simon Gratz grad. Shuler says the every cent of the $25,000 was well spent if it meant celebrating her son’s accomplishments:
“Y’all don’t understand how big this is for me and my family.”
“And, yes, I splurged on my son. A lot of people criticized me. I spent a little over $25,000. Guess what? It was worth every bit of it.”
Shuler counted on support from friends and neighbors to make sure everything went according to plan, but said there were some hiccups along the way:
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong, but guess what? It all went right, do you hear me? My boy is going to college. Do you hear me? He’s going to college, whether it’s on academic or basketball scholarship. Either one, but he’s going. If Mama has to pay for it herself and sell six zillion [food] platters, guess what? He’s going….”
Shuler, owner of a local soul food restaurant, began working on the elaborate plan after a series of health issues including a stroke at age 40 and a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. She initially entertained the idea of sending her son to the actual city, but then she got generous:
“I figured, why not take everyone to Dubai. Let them see what it’s supposed to look like.”
Billy Penn reports that hundreds of came through the 3400 block of Clearfield street to witness the occasion and literally stepped onto three tons of sand surrounding a custom mural that Shuler commissioned. But the business owner admits that she may have been a little more involved in the plans than the person actually going to prom:
“You know, the funny thing about it, he didn’t even want to go to on prom.”
“He was like, mom you’re doing too much.”
If Shuler did the most to accomplish her goal of going viral, she nailed it with a video of the momentous occasion already hitting 30K views on Instagram. But the affair brought compliments and criticism alike with users tossing around words like “priorities” and “excess”. Despite the opinions which often come with the territory of going viral, Shuler maintains she wanted to do this for her son, specifically because when her health issues were at their worst, she thought she might not live to see the day of her son’s senior prom. She prides herself on earning her money honestly, filling up a plastic jug with $200 after work each day. She’s honest about the fact that she has family members who are drug dealers, but didn’t want to set that kind of example for her son herself. She also notes that although the hefty $25K price tag may seem like a lot, friends and family gave her discounted rates for their services. Lastly, for the critics who said that graduation and college acceptance letters might help to justify the spending, Shuler shares that her son maintained a 3.8 GPA and is planning on heading to Delaware State on either a basketball or academic scholarship, with his eyes set on the chemical engineering path.
But does Shuler need to justify hosting such a lavish affair with her son’s academic progress? Shuler used hard-earned money from an honest living to give her son a prom send-off that made head turns and made headlines, and also gave her community a night across the globe without the hefty airfare. So why does everyone have so much to say?
I think most parents can relate to Shuler’s desire to give her child more than she may have had growing up. For some of us “more” is camels and Versace robes, for me it’s flights to foreign places so that my child has a front row seat to diversity, culture and her place in such a big world. So as much as we like to preach about priorities, the truth is those look different for everyone. It isn’t everyone’s goal to move out of the inner city, invest in a business or even go to college and that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily flawed in their thinking or decision-making. At the end of the day Shuler’s own sweat, tears and effort went into her earnings, so who am I or anyone else to say what she spends it on?
I think what bothers me a bit more than the growing rates of prom price tags is the message we are sending to our children and the culture we’ve created. In 2001 when I graduated high school, proms were about family, friends, having one last epic night with your friends and maybe seeing the city, curfew-free in a limo. And not for nothing, but the send-off was merely a detail before the actual event. But now we live in an InstaFaceSnap kind of world and I’m worried. More and more experiences don’t seem to be about what’s happening and how we felt, but more about who saw it, double-tapped and shared it. As the bar gets set higher and higher in our need to go viral, it seems we move further and further away from actually enjoying our experiences and solely focusing on documenting them. So my hope is that “JJ” will be able to look back on his prom night through the three tons of imported sand and foreign cars to remember the fun he had and the feelings that were shared with his friends and family and not just how many views his send-off got.
Also, the million dollar question among many of my peers: Should you, just because you can? As mother to a two-year-old daughter I would like to think one day I’ll be planning a special prom send-off just for her and I wonder what messages it sends to her to invest the amount of a small family sedan into a prom send-off. As parents, you set the bar for what your children value and prioritize. For me moderation has always been key. I don’t want a mansion, where a four bedroom house would do. And I don’t want my daughter to ever feel defined by designer labels, foreign cars and Instagram followers. I would hope that the most valuable things I’m able to give to her are intangible and that even if I do find myself writing a check to a camel company that at the end of the day she’s the kind of girl who at least offers for the camel to give rides to the neighborhood kids. If as a parent I’m able to give her integrity, character and intelligence a long with a designer label here or there, than we’re all winning. If she knows that the things that I don’t have receipts for are actually worth more? Even better.
Lastly there’s the question of passing on a “poverty state of mind” to our children. I remember posting applaud emoji’s for days when DJ Khaled announced that his son Asahd would be listed as an executive producer on an upcoming album because even surrounded by yachts and expensive vacations, Khaled was making small steps to invest in son’s future long after he’s gone. Whether my bank account looks like Bill Gates’ or Barry, the UPS driver’s, I don’t want my daughter growing up thinking that wealth has to be worn or showcased. My parents passed on to me the basics of financial management: how to save, balance a budget and keep a good credit score, all areas Shuler doesn’t appear to have a problem in. But like many others in my income bracket, I struggle with delayed gratification most days and as Kanye said: “I got a problem with spending before I get it.” the language “stocks and bonds” and “return on investment” bore me, mostly because I don’t understand it. By no means is Shuler obligated to be an example of financial literacy for her community, but her extreme efforts are good for at least a conversation about how wealth is handled in different communities and what it mean for our children’s future. But for my daughter, I’d like to be able to give her “more” in terms of how to manage her money and make it work for her. It might be cliche’ but ultimately I’d like to teach her how to fish instead of giving her the Persian Gulf.
In a world where people want a literal thumbs up for every cent they spend or move they make, I hope to pass on to her the hidden talent of humility. And if I’m lucky we’ll look back at how beautiful my baby was on prom night and all that she’s accomplished. Because truthfully I want prom night to be about her and her friends, and not how much her mama spent on it.
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.