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SIMPLY JESSICA: Linda Hall holds her annual special-needs prom

The children dancing the afternoon away in wonderland on the dance floor in mad hatter hats made Linda Hall cry as she looked around the Alice in Wonderland-themed prom that she was at.

She just couldn’t stop those tears from running down her cheeks.

Hall was overwhelmed with emotion as she watched her 18-year-old daughter Djanai at her senior prom wearing the dress and dancing shoes that Djanai picked out as she danced in her wheelchair on the grassy road in Wonderland. Hall could feel her heart melting inside as she looked at the joy in her daughter’s eyes.

Djanai Hall has cerebral palsy. She is the oldest child of Linda and Pooch Hall. Pooch is an actor best known for his role on CW’s/BET’s “The Game” and is currently on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan.”

It was the joy that Linda was seeing in Djanai’s face that kept the tears running like water down her cheeks. Djania was sharing her June senior prom with other special-needs children who often don’t get to experience prom because they are excluded.

“Many parents told me how much this prom means to them and how often their kids are left out,” Linda Hall said. “Parents that have special-needs children are afraid to take them out because people treat their kids differently. People look at them funny and stare.”

The ignorance that the public has about children in wheelchairs frustrates Hall. She often finds herself upset when she encounters it.

“People don’t know how to be accepting of them and just be OK with them,” Hall said. “You can hear stories about this, but it’s one of those things that you have to experience to really understand it.”

This was the third year for her annual special needs prom.

It is usually held in March in conjunction with Cerebral Palsy Month.

Djanai Hall
Djanai Hall

“We like to raise awareness for cerebral palsy during the month of March, Hall said. “We had to push it to June because my newborn was in the hospital for three weeks. Being at the hospital with my newborn made it hard for me to plan the event.”

Hall needed to be with her newborn physically and mentally so she pushed the yearly special needs prom from March to June.

“It was more difficult to have the prom in June because there are graduations and stuff,” Hall said. “It’s a special day. We will go back to March so we don’t have to compete with anyone.”

Hall’s newborn is doing better. It was an allergy to a milk protein that kept the baby in the hospital.

Linda and Pooch have four children.

Djanai is named after a girl that Linda met on her first job.

The name means one love or love for all.

“Djanai is a bundle of love,” Hall said. “The name fits her perfectly.”

Linda Hall
Linda Hall

Linda created the prom for Djanai’s 16th birthday. She asked the community instead of a gift to make a donation to the organization that she had just started.  Her goal was to open a recreational center for families with kids with special needs.

She thought it would be a great way start a fund to get the organization started but to Hall’s surprise, the people that attended the event wanted to do it again. Djanai’s 16th birthday party turned into a yearly special needs prom that she has no plans to stop.

“This was Djanai’s senior year so this ended up being her senior prom,” Hall said. “Djanai didn’t go to her senior prom.”

Djanai is just one of many special needs children that do not attend their senior prom because they often don’t get an invitation.

Linda was determined not to let Djanai feel that pain.

“That is why we do special needs prom because a lot of our special needs kids don’t get the opportunity to attend their senior prom,” Hall said. “They don’t get told about tickets or the prom itself.”

Like most mothers, Hall would have loved for Djanai to attend prom.

“I told Pooch you can go as Djanai’s date,” Linda said. “I wanted Pooch to have that experience with Djanai with her in a typical prom experience but she was not given that opportunity.”

Linda was determined to make sure that all special needs children get the opportunity to experience prom if they choose to attend.

Each year the special needs prom has a theme.

The first year was “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“It was like going into the chocolate factory,” Hall said. “We make the experience come to life. We had Willy Wonka there.”

Hall offered some special needs children limo rides to the prom.

They got corsages and all special needs families can attend for free.

Her goal is to make it accessible so that every special needs family can attend. She knows that every family can’t afford to go to prom.

This year’s prom was held on June 5. The Alice in Wonderland-themed event was held at Studio 11 in Los Angeles.

The creative event welcomed children and teens living with and without disabilities to have a shared experience in understanding the needs of individuals who have disabilities.

Upon arrival, the children followed the white rabbit down the grass-lined carpet. At the end of the carpet, Alice escorted guests to Wonderland where they took prom photos.

The children were able to follow the queen of hearts to her courtyard where they watched live performances by Jazz Hands for Autism, and listened to story time. Down the rabbit hole allowed the children to do arts and crafts and games.

Adults were able to head up to the rooftop for the Mad Hatter’s Cocktail Party for a game of wine toss and bid on silent auction items while they waited for lunch to be served.

Proceeds from the event benefited summer camp for special needs kids. The special needs prom takes pride that all children can attend.

“It’s a place where the community learns to build bonds, learns compassion and patience, and together creates a stronger, more tolerant society,” Hall said.” It is also a place for families to connect with others going through similar experiences.”

Be yourself! I’m Simply Jessica JcAden. You can reach me at jess.gosnell@gmail.com.