SOUTH LAWNDALE — When she was 8 years old, Akilah Easter — a devout tomboy with three older brothers — went to an etiquette school.
“My mother dropped me off at a door and said ‘Go into that door,’ " Easter said laughing. “She didn’t tell me what I was doing there.”
The lessons stuck, and a year and a half ago the 32-year-old started EtiquetteFemme, a charm school that Easter now runs from her loft apartment at 2100 S. Marshall Blvd.
Before Easter started EtiquetteFemme, she was between teaching jobs and considering her next move.
During that time, Easter, a runner, was attacked while jogging along Lake Shore Drive. She fought the man until she broke free. Her attacker was never identified.
Two weeks later, she opened EtiquetteFemme.
“After that I was like, ‘OK, I have no fear.’ I realized how strong I was,” Easter said.
Almost immediately, Easter said, her phone was ringing off the hook with etiquette requests.
At first, to save money, Easter held her classes on Sunday afternoons at Deliciously Vintage, a high-end shop in Pilsen owned by Siobhan Strong, Easter’s friend and sorority sister from Chicago State University.
When Deliciously Vintage closed last year, Easter relocated to her current address, a space with lots of light and plenty of room for guests to practice at a mock formal dinner setup.
Strong, who was with Easter the day she was attacked, said while her longtime friend was shaken by the experience, she didn’t let it stop her from realizing her goal.
“I definitely think she’s happy and fulfilled,” String said of Easter’s etiquette school. “It’s her dream come true.”
Easter majored in biology and has a master's in physiology. Between correcting posture and fork usage, she teaches anatomy part-time at several Chicago area colleges.
“I can tell you about the body, and I can tell you how to properly order a drink,” she said smiling.
Though Easter grew up in Iowa, she said it’s her family’s roots in Southern hospitality that have taught her the importance of good etiquette and manners.
Aside from staying off your cellphone in public (Easter’s ultimate pet peeve) she said it’s the simple everyday manners that really reflect a person’s character.
“Please, thank you, direct eye contact and treat others the way you want to be treated,” she said.
Individual classes start at $75 for both teens and adults, and for mothers and daughters (or fathers and sons) looking to take a class together, Easter has a discounted $125 rate for the pair.
Her next charm school — a four-week program for young women ages 12 to 17 — starts April 13.