Community Spotlight with Lady Dunstan
First Ladies Youth Leadership & Etiquette Academy
By Sabrina T. Cherry
First Ladies International’s mission is to train and equip women and girls around the world to be global change agents; to dominate the seven cultures of the nations of our world with morals, wisdom, strength, dignity, joy, manners and grace.
As expected, most of my interviews begin once I encounter the interviewed – either via phone or in person. But for Lady Dustan (more on the title later), I felt as if I met her via email. Her personal shined through and it was almost as if I could feel her warmth through the emails. They always started with something wonderful and vibrant, like “Happy Wonderful Tuesday” or even words of encouragement … all from someone I’d never met and was corresponding with to coordinate an interview. As if our correspondence wasn’t enough, when she suggested that we meet at La Mongerie Bakery I should have anticipated that this would not be a run of the mill interview.
The venue alone set the tone for what I would encounter. An elegant little bakery on Ponce de Leon with chandeliers and plush sofas … quaint. I was greeted by a beautiful woman wearing a white button down blouse with FLI embroidered on the breastplate. Exquisite. The same smile that shined through the emails accompanied her handshake, followed by an embrace. Authentic.
Before we sat, I was introduced to her guests: Lady Pallas (a First Ladies Youth Leadership & Etiquette Academy participant) and Lady Dominguez (Pallas’ mother) and I introduced my friend who was visiting and would be remaining for the interview. The conversation that followed was natural, robust, filled with sincerity and passion.
Ms. Dustan is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University. Her passion for working with young women began during her college years. During that time, she encountered women who were insecure, depressed, had no support and had been taken advantage of or simply exploited in the fashion industry. The witnessing of these events stuck with her and furthered her plight to help and empower young women.
Her path took many unconventional turns, including becoming involved in the Miss Fulton County Scholarship Pageant via the Miss America Organization, being a crisis hotline advocate at the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center for women, working in marketing in the corporate arena and learning about the love of Christ, his kingdom and a woman’s biblical role as a daughter, wife and mother in the discipleship ministry, Women on the Path (WOTP), at her church. A ministry close to the heart of her Pastor and First Lady, participants of WOTP were from all spectrums of life- married, single, divorced and recent college graduates – were educated, encouraged, empowered and loved. From these experiences along her journey, Ms. Dunstan knew she was truly blessed to have been equipped and that she had to fulfill her purpose of helping girls re-discover their purpose.
During this time she recalls having an encounter with God when it became clear that she needed to ponder the question, “Have you done what I’ve told you to do?” From that encounter, First Ladies International was born! Ms. Dustan described that in 2008 she began to put on paper what God wrote on her heart. In 2009, she took her vision and made it a reality.
In 2009 First Ladies International was born. In2010 the journey continued with the founding of First Ladies Youth Leadership & Etiquette Institute. A 21-week afterschool program for grade 6 girls at Memorial Middle School in the Rockdale County Public School System. The first event was held at the Chick-Fil-A Headquarters. In 2012 the journey continued yet again with the initiation of the 21-day comprehensive First Ladies Youth Leadership & Etiquette Academy for girls in grades 5- 9 held at Eastminster School in Conyers, Georgia.
With the co-leadership of the First Ladies Curriculum Director, Lady Widza Charles Robinson, EdD, First Ladies has continued to evolve. Under the auspice of First to Love, First to Honor, First to Serve and First to Lead, First Ladies exposes young women to etiquette and leadership skills necessary to impact and change the world via several women who are “firsts:” Firsts in their respective professional fields, academic arenas or even first in their bloodlines. All in an effort to create the pathway of love > honor > serve > lead.
Ms. Dunstan also took a pause during my questioning to do a few things: introduce the concept of being referred to and referring to the young women with the prefix of “Lady” and allowing Lady Pallas and Lady Dominguez to share their personal experience with FLA.
It is not a surprise that how we refer to each other – how we show compassion to one another – can shape how we interact with them. Or the difference it makes when one replies with “yes” versus “yeah.” A similar premise is used when referring to the girls and their parents as “Lady.” Ms. Dunstan believes that it shapes the young women and reminds them that they are royalty … special and unique.
At this juncture, I saw Pallas’ eyes light up so I took the opportunity to ask her to explain it in her own words. And so she began … a 7th grader with the enthusiasm of an open mind and innocent spirit, detailing what its like to be called “Lady Pallas.” Pallas shared how strange it sounded at first, but after a short period it became natural to her. She giggled as she said, “Yes, I am a lady.”
Pallas went on to share how FLA has helped her begin to think about and shape her future in a different way. She has met new friends that she keeps in touch with and looks forward to participating in the program. She elaborated on how the program has helped me learn to care for herself (personally) and integrate the use of daily prayer and affirmations into her life.
Shortly thereafter, Lady Dominguez interjected how unique FLA is and that even she has learned a lot from the program. What started as her simply looking for other activities to involve Lady Pallas in has flourished to her having an extended family with Lady Dunstan, and the other young women involved in the program. She, too, expressed excitement and anticipation in the upcoming events and activities hosted for the girls.
After an hour or so, I knew I needed to begin to wrap up. Lady Dunstan closed with a story about a field trip the group took to the CNN Center was Lady Pallas was new to the program and only in the 6th grade. As they entered the CNN Center and saw all the monitors and cameras, she recalls looking back and seeing Lady Pallas’ face. Pallas’ eyes were filled with water as she looked around in amazement and said “This is it.” For Lady Dunstan, that moment … that day … that vision … her dream actually came true and the challenges in the journey all became purposefully perfect and worth it. Lady Dunstan could not end without thanking God for his grace, her mother for the foundation of etiquette, her church’s First Lady for showing that being a First Lady is first and foremost about God, family, love and service, her mentor for demonstrating the power of prayer and faith, her family and the amazing First Ladies family and friends that make transforming the lives of girls around the world possible… “for there is no I in team”.
For details on the June 8-29, 2013 First Ladies Youth Leadership & Etiquette Academy, contact Lady Dunstan at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit First Ladies at www.firstladiesintl.com and Facebook.com/First Ladies International. Space is limited to 15 girls each summer.