By Andrea V. Watson
CHICAGO — A photoshoot between high school friends became the launching pad for the creation of a new nonprofit that seeks to empower, uplift and motivate black teen girls.
Black Is Gold was created in January by Lailah Webster, Amber Anderson and Jillian Shogunle. After some regrouping and more planning, the teen co-founders plan to relaunch next month, they said.
They want to build sisterhood because there’s not enough love and support among African American women, they said.
“I feel like when dealing with black beauty, there’s a lot of divide and conquer within our own community like light skinned versus dark skinned and the different hair textures,” said Anderson, a 16-year-old Kenwood Academy student who lives in the Ashburn neighborhood. She’s also the peer mentoring group’s co-founder and executive director.
Shogunle, a 17-year-old junior at Bremen High School, said they focus on sisterhood, entrepreneurship, education, style and class.
“The impact I’d like to see are young black women embracing one another versus trying to compete with one another,” said the suburban Markham resident, adding that she wants to see more support within and the creation of “an unbreakable bond that will form from the roots that we planted as founders of the Black Is Gold organization.”
They will meet at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave. once a month on Saturdays. A full calendar can be found on their website at www.blackisgoldchi.org. Their target audience are Chicago teen girls.
“The idea started off as a photoshoot to try to promote black beauty,” Anderson said. “There are variations of the black woman and it’s not just body shapes, but hair textures and different skin complexions too.”
She said that after the January photoshoot she and her friends did for fun, they connected with a Spelman College journalism student through Twitter who encouraged them to “do something big that impacts” their community.
They soon began brainstorming and Anderson said she saw a need to reach young black women. In her opinion, there are far more programs geared toward boys, but not enough for girls.
“It’s like they think we’re already developed and ready for everything,” she said. “But there are a lot of low income communities with young black girls who don’t even know how to dress properly for an interview or do a resume.”
“A lot of issues are ignored that deal with black women because people feel like we have it all together, but there are some of us who need that extra help,” Anderson said.
The nonprofit will address those issues, she said.
The main focus will be on career and college readiness and networking and branding. There will be workshops and panels to discuss how to better handle the transition from elementary school to high school. There will be vision board parties and resume building workshops.
Shogunle said their workshops are necessary.
“Not every girl in the city of Chicago has people in their lives who can and will provide them with the necessary tools to help them succeed in life,” she said. “Black Is Gold provides these imperative tools for our young black girls so they can become the absolute best possible version of themselves.”
Giving back to the community is also a big part of the organization. In August the girls organized a back-to-school backpack giveaway with school supplies for students in the South Shore community. They passed out over 100 bags. Now, they’re currently working on a toy drive for students at Marcus Garvey Elementary.
Webster, 16, and a junior at Gary Comer Prep said that girls in certain neighborhoods lack the resources that can put them on the path to success.
“Some neighborhoods, including the one I am from, lack the structure or even the ability to help young women get on their feet when it comes to dressing for an interview, creating their own business, or being introduced to professionalism,” said the Auburn Gresham resident.
For Webster, one of the bigger issues facing women is simply having a voice and comfortably chasing their dreams, she said.
“As young ladies, including myself, we dream big, and in most cases when we present our ideas and goals, we are often told no or we can not do it,” she said.
Webster said they want to equip their young participants with the support and guidance to accomplish their goals, no matter how big.
Black Is Gold’s “Girl Boss 101” program is a series of workshops that teaches interview skills and explores career options.
“Every girl should be given the space and feel comfortable with going after their dreams, despite the people who tell them ‘no,’” she said. “Every young lady’s voice should be heard and every plan should go forward no matter how complicated or intricate it may be.”
The goal is to first grow the program locally and build partnerships with schools in Chicago and then eventually start local chapters in other cities. Anderson said she also wants to reach college students as they expand.