How These 6 Women Are Using Their Gifts To Help Other Women

Workin' Girl

There are many gaps our generation is working to close. Whether it's the pay gap, the education gap, the wealth gap, or a combination of them all, the disparities that people of color face in their careers and education stem from years of inequality in our institutions.

Those institutions are vital to giving the next generation an opportunity to build and thrive in an equal competitive world, leaving many of us to wonder how we can create generational impact. More than ever, women are using their talents and gifts to make an impact through programming. Whether they are leaving their full-time jobs or creating side hustles, women are taking their underutilized talents in Corporate America and turning it into an opportunity to teach, help others gain access, become leaders, find jobs, and build their businesses. We are doing the work, by using our influence, our talents, and our God-given gifts to solve problems and help others.

Here are six women who have created programs and organizations by using their gifts to help create space and opportunities for other women:

Nicole A. Tinson, 27, Los Angeles/Atlanta

Nicole Tinson's organization is HBCU 20x20, which is working to prepare and connect 20,000 HBCU students and graduates to jobs and internships by the year 2020. It was launched on Labor Day of 2017 and is approaching its one-year anniversary. Nicole is a HBCU graduate of Dillard University and she attended Yale University, an Ivy League, for graduate school.

After graduating from Yale, she moved to her hometown of Los Angeles to find a job but experienced a rough job search. "I began applying to jobs only to realize that securing a job was much more difficult than I would have imagined. I struggled in securing employment, despite having the work experience and a great educational background. After one month of applying for jobs, I was finally able to secure a job in my field. I realized that if I did not have my social capital, I would not have had a job," she shared.

Six months later, she quit that job to create her non-profit Jobs R 4 U.

"We began partnering with local and national organizations to host workshops and career fairs for free in LA. In doing this, I realized so many colleagues and friends of friends also struggled in finding opportunities, particularly people who graduated from HBCUs. I would come across people with high GPAs, internship experience, campus and community involvement -- essentially everything we are told we need to secure a job in the 21st century, but for some reason, it still wasn't enough," she explained.

After doing some research and investigating, she wondered what diversity and inclusion looked like in action. From there, HBCU 20x20 was born.

Nicole is using her non-profit grassroot experience and the art of hustling to make Fortune 500 companies aware of the talent that's bred at HBCUs and connecting HBCU students with opportunities. The organization offers a plethora of resources to its members, from social media and text messaging software that keeps you up to date on opportunities, to an HBCU 20x20 GroupMe. "HBCU 20x20 is disrupting the way companies recruit and engage with a diverse talent pool by allowing us to do a lot of the heavy lifting so they can't say 'no.' We review resumes and forward them to hiring managers like a headhunter without the cost. We are disrupting the ways students and graduates prepare and connect to opportunities. We aren't just a job board. We are truly interested and [we are] meeting people where they are, and assisting them in getting to where they need to go," she shared.

Leigh Lovett & Kay White, 30, Nashville, TN

Six weeks prior to their first event, Leigh Lovett and Kay White met at a burger joint in Nashville to discuss how to bring the budding Nashville blogger and create a supportive environment that empowered the area's bloggers. That meeting birthed The Blogger Xchange, which focuses on collaboration over competition. It's a group that provides bloggers, creatives, and entrepreneurs classes, social events, and various art and workout experiences in Nashville, Memphis, and Minneapolis.

They noticed many prominent black bloggers in the city were being excluded from brand events. Those that were occasionally invited to brand events would comment later on being the only person of color in the room. "Kay and I decided we need to show that bloggers of all ethnicities have the same power to be influential as their white counterparts," Leigh explained.

Through their individual skill-sets in marketing and communications, and their social media influence, the Blogger Xchange has secured high quality local and national partnerships including Bud Light Nashville, Google Bulletin, Macy's, Forever 21, Lyft, and Cracker Barrel. This month, they are hosting their first Blogger Xchange Xpo, bringing 11 speakers together to educate bloggers with branding workshops, informative panels, and fun breakouts.

Tola Lawal, New York, NY

Ursula Stephens' former position as CEO of Xerox was a great stepping stone for black women in C-Suite positions, but since her departure, there's been little to no improvement on the presence of black women and women of color in leadership positions. Gyrl Wonder was created by Tola Lawal to change what the vision of success in our country looks like. "Our call to action from the beginning was to create lasting, proven, inspired and sorely needed pathways to success for our young girls of color. Statistics show alarmingly low numbers of women of color in leadership positions in our country. And in order for our younger generations to challenge that trend, they need the opportunities, programming, mentorship, and guidance to launch themselves as leaders in a world that desperately needs their presence," Tola shared.

Through intimate conversations with professionals, programming, and constant reminders of the power of self-love, Gyrl Wonder equips their participants with the tools they'll need to shine in a world that may want to dim their light. This summer, Gyrl Wonder hosted its first Summer Leadership Academy where students were able to visit some of the top media and entertainment companies to hear from women in leadership within an intimate setting, and they plan to host another one during the winter season. "On all fronts, the images that our young girls receive from popular media and our national representation has grown more diverse, but the underlying messages are still clear: women who look like them are still too scarcely seen as leading figures in our culture and our national history. This is the narrative that has fueled our work and urgency to ensure that our young girls see and remember that they are in fact, Gyrl Wonders."

When it comes to getting the resources she needs for programs or finding mentors to spend time with her participants, Tola has been able to manage and grow Gyrl Wonder with her attribute as a connector. "I'm a connector, marketer, and entrepreneur by nature. I love connecting with like minds and have no problem sliding into someone's DM or sending a blind email. It's ALWAYS worked for me. LinkedIn is my best friend," she revealed.

Milan Rouge, 29, Philadelphia, PA

This founder took her apparel brand, Milano di Rouge, and turned it into an empowerment movement to remind women they can make their dreams a reality by creating the Womanaire Club. "After building Milano di Rouge to the level of success it has reached today, I would get so many inquiries from women, notably women of color, on how to launch a business or get to the next of level of success that I decided I wanted to launch the Womanaire Club as a way to help other women entrepreneurs. A space where fellow women building brands and businesses can connect and gain knowledge from each other," Milan Rouge explained.

The Womanaire Club hosts a variety of programming, including meetups, sleepovers, workshops, and retreats. She used her journey to success to help educate other women on how to manage and grow their businesses. "It's not just that t-shirt anymore, I have an entire brand," she said.

Michelene Wilkerson, 24, Staten Island, NY


Michelene Wilkerson used her experience working in book publishing to find talent and her love for culture and art to create a community for young, emerging black creators. That community is called Soul Elevated, an arts and culture hub created in 2017. "When I started it, Soul Elevated was a retro-minimal moodboard. Fast forward a year later, the page is evolving into a creative community, multidisciplinary forum, and discovery platform," she explained.

The moodboard that started Soul Elevated featured thousands of inspiring visual works Michelene had screenshotted and hoarded on her phone. "When I finished the first moodboard, I had this exhilarating aha moment. I saw a space, a fresh world. I saw what I believe is a new lane, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it."

What she envisioned was a community that highlights emerging artists and other cool creators, solely focusing on emerging talent instead of established names and trending artists to showcase fresh faces and content. "More people deserve to eat--- but are we willing to give them a seat at the table? Or are we going to leave the reserved signs up and keep the feast exclusive? There's space for bloggers, but what about the experimental photographers, designers, stylists, musicians, and video creators? What about the fresh entrepreneurs and publishers who are working towards their big break?"

She began curating Soul Elevated's Instagram page and worked her way from there. "I'm familiar with the Black creative ecosystem on Instagram, so it just made sense to stay in my lane and use Instagram to create the world I wanted to see," she explained.

From there, pure, genuine relationships started to form and her followers wanted more so she started to brainstorm offline opportunities to bring Soul Elevated. As a result, Michelene created the first quarterly event series Young, Black and Rising. She never put together event before, but since the first YBR, she's had over 100 attend each event and has partnered with brands like Urban Outfitters and Penguin Random House. "I think it shows how necessary this work is. It's bound to go far."

Her future goal is to turn Soul Elevated into a digital media production company and editorial website. "Right now I'm building my community and building my external network. If Donald Trump can be elected president, you cannot stop me from living and fulfilling my best Black life. Never."

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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