Arkansas has a new young fashion icon. And virtual ticketholders will be tuning in on Saturday, to see that icon -- 14-year-old Taylor Murphy of Wynne -- shine in the Global Down Syndrome Foundation's 12th Annual Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show.
Billed as the largest Down syndrome fundraiser in the world, the show has raised more than $20 million for Down Syndrome research and medical care. This year's event will take place at 7:30 p.m. CST. A virtual VIP celebrity reception for "table" sponsors will be 30 minutes beforehand. Jill and Lou Rotella III are chairing the event.
More than 30 celebrities will virtually escort 25 models from eight states and three countries down the runway. The 2020 Global Ambassador Walt Snodgrass will be among the models. Celebrities will include Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx. Foxx lost his sister -- DeOndra Dixon, who also served as the foundation's global ambassador -- on Oct. 19. Other celebrities to appear: music composer and producer Quincy Jones, "Grey's Anatomy" actors Eric Dane and Caterina Scorsone, sibling actors Matt and Kevin Dillon, pioneering model Beverly Johnson, actor John C. McGinley, fellow actor Zach Gottsagen, who lives with Down syndrome, and professional athletes that include a handful of members of the National Football League's Denver Broncos.
Also on tap: performances by multiplatinum artist Rachel Platten, The Fray's Isaac Slade, and The Ransom Notes; a tribute to covid-19 survivors; and special recognition of special people, including a tribute to Dixon.
General-admission "virtual tickets" for the show are $25 at bebeautifulbeyourself.org or globaldownsyndrome.org. A VIP Ticket, $1,300, brings the benefits of the regular ticket plus access to the VIP reception. Sponsorship opportunities are available, along with the opportunity to bid in an online auction. Proceeds will support the foundation's fundraising efforts for Down syndrome research, medical care and emergency covid-19 relief services for families with children who have Down syndrome.
Even though Taylor is a member of the Down syndrome community, the daughter of Schunda and Stephen Murphy of Wynne is a typical teenager ... one who leads a full and busy life. "I have been dancing since I was 2½ -- ballet, jazz and tap," says Taylor, an eighth-grader at Wynne Junior High School, during an Oct. 23 phone interview. How'd she get interested in fashion? She likes to feel beautiful, show off her moves "and sashay down the hallway."
She even has a private YouTube channel on which she shares her life as a teenager with Down syndrome and displays her flair for all things fashion.
"She is addicted to YouTube Kids, so we have a time limit on the cellphone with the YouTube Kids because she is a typical teenager," says Schunda Murphy. "It's all about the eyeshadow and lipsticks. She does little tutorials on makeup brushes and different types of makeup. When we were able to go to the mall, she loved to go to the Mac and the Origins counters." The associates at these counters knew Taylor, who they'd give makeovers, her mother adds. After buying her makeup, Taylor would come home and shoot her videos.
Taylor is big into American Girl dolls, too. On her YouTube channel, she talks about the dolls, shows how to do their hair, shows off their outfits.
How did she get to be part of such a prestigious and momentous event as the Be Beautiful Be Yourself show?
"Taylor's always been about the glam, and I've always been about the research, and just finding out what I can do ... to improve her life," Murphy says. She follows a number of Down syndrome support sites, which is how she came across the Global Down Syndrome Foundation and found out about the show.
"And I said, 'Taylor, I think we should just give it a try because that will give us an opportunity to go to a different area, just learn more about Down syndrome and then meet other children and families from around the globe, not just in Arkansas or Texas. We can just find out how other families are improving the lives of people with Down syndrome.'"
They submitted a photo, Murphy continues, and Taylor was able to turn the hallway of the Murphy home into a catwalk. "And she was chosen. ... We were super excited."
A conventional show experience for Taylor would have involved a three-day visit to Denver, where the foundation is headquartered. The models would have had the opportunity to tour the foundation facilities and research center. They would have gone to Nieman Marcus to try on clothes and pick out their favorite outfits. The next day, they would have partnered with their celebrity escorts and practiced for the event the next evening. "But of course, covid had other plans," Murphy says. And most people with Down syndrome are considered to be at high risk for the virus, according to the foundation website.
For the virtual event, Taylor and the other models have picked out ensembles from their personal wardrobes and clothing sources and will model remotely. A few of Murphy's family members will come over to her home for a watch party. The rest will watch from their own homes.
"Taylor loves red, with her Mama being a Delta [a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.] so of course, she decided that she needed a red dress," Murphy says. "She picked out a dress, and we did her hair, and we were required to send in some photos with her with and without a mask." They came to Central Arkansas so that Taylor could take videos and still photos at the Old Mill in North Little Rock. The show will introduce a compilation of all the models' videos with a musical score ending with the song "We Are the World."
On Oct. 27, the models got together on Zoom to meet one another and build friendships. "Hopefully in November , we can all reconvene back in Denver, and we will all stay at the same hotel ... where the event is held," with models meeting face-to-face, Murphy says.
In addition to her other activities, Taylor is involved in a Sparkle cheer team at her school, which right now is meeting virtually. It's composed of students with and without disabilities. She's even in the process of earning her driver's permit. She aspires to be a veterinarian's assistant "to take care of a pet if they need help or they get sick or hurt ... and to be able to write the prescription," she says.
Murphy says she and her husband were determined to expose their daughter to as many things as possible and give her the opportunity to do whatever she wanted. "I have never put limits on what she could do.
"She has been saying ... that she just wants to be independent, and she wants to be able to show the world that she is just like them," Murphy adds. "With the fashion show, I just hope that individuals are able to watch, and to just be inspired."
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