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• The Reese|Brooks|Gilbert Collegiate Leadership Initiative

What was going on in 1972? There was the Munich Olympics Terrorist Attack, digital watches became the new craze and the biggest political upheaval in those modern times, Watergate, shook the nation. It was also when Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, became the first Black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States. During her campaign, she advocated for domestic employees to receive benefits, fought for immigrants’ rights and sponsored a bill to expand childcare for women. Her list of political advocacy doesn’t end there. Fast forward a few decades and we see Black women engaged politically at the grassroots level but rarely engaging in policy-making or other areas of policy. For Black women to facilitate change in this political climate, we must engage in policy analysis, creation and execution. The Chisholm Project honors the legacy of Congresswoman Chisholm by taking her words, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” seriously. The Chisholm Project takes aim at this by educating Black girls and the community at large through policy analysis and also by developing policy. It will also provide information about legislation related to Black women and girls in the southeast, with the main goal being supportive policy development for these individuals. The project also seeks to bring attention to the current legislation in the State of Mississippi and region by providing report cards that rate legislators on policy they’ve written or supported and its effects on Black girls and those who love them.

They say well behaved women seldom make history. Wonder why that quote doesn’t end with “… they will be punished to the fullest extent imaginable.” It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is to be forgiven in a “Christian” nation. The reality is the system, as designed, is hyper-focused on punishment. This punishment makes it nearly impossible to recover and live up to one’s fullest potential. This project is named for Claudette Colvin, a southern/American/human rights heroine, though you may have never heard of her. She wasn’t perfect; outwardly, she didn’t fit the description for greatness. She was too young, too dark-skinned, and a teenager who was also a mom. But she was also true. She stood up and reflected the light she wanted to see in the world before the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Before Rosa Parks, a closer-to-perfect symbol was chosen. This Colvin Project concentrates on girls that have made choices some think might make them untouchable. Instead, they’ve dared to survive, learn and grow. That itself is a launchpad. We want to celebrate survival and help them thrive. It’s what Claudette Colvin did. This goal is achieved through a summer institute for these girls where they meet, fellowship and learn skills that aid them in overcoming personal challenges while supporting their sense of self. —jm.

My grandmother’s first three children—daughters, born while she was married to her husband, all have stories of life with mama and daddy before and after the split. More entertaining, however, are the stories of Ms. Leonard, the handkerchief song and a character named Hazel in grade school and beyond. The valedictorians and salutatorian, respectively, graduated high school with hopes of brighter days ahead. With little guidance their journeys, though different, evolved similarly. With starts and stops, graduate degrees and young families, what else might have happened with the support and nurture of a village catered to them? A village that considered their needs, contexts and visions for the future. The Evans Project is named for the star students of Henderson High School’s classes of ‘60, ‘61 and ‘63—Thelma, Carolyn and Vivian. And, in their honor, caters to college young women and their specific journeys. The Evans project provides opportunities for Black girls in college to take part in a two-year leadership fellowship, a Leadership Institute and other opportunities that hone and develop leadership skills to build their “village.” —nac.

The RBG Collegiate Leadership Initiative, a program of the Evans Project, focuses on honing the leadership skills of young women leaders enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs at four-year colleges and universities primarily located in southeastern states. During their tenure in the program, young women have the opportunity to participate in experimental and enhanced learning opportunities, develop relationships with advisors, and build a network of peers of support their long-term personal and professional growth.

Much of the literature on the life of native Mississippian and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer concentrates on her tireless efforts for Black voting rights and access to electoral politics. Equally important to her political activism, however, is the human rights work she spearheaded in the Mississippi Delta. In 1969, she founded the Freedom Farms Cooperative in Sunflower County, Mississippi, an agricultural cooperative built on nearly 700 acres. The co-op included a pig bank, Head Start program, community garden, commercial kitchen, garment factory, sewing cooperative, tool bank, and low-income and affordable housing. These were strategies used to support the needs of Black folks who were fired and evicted for simply exercising the right to vote. Freedom Farms offered sharecroppers educational and community training workshops, including health care and disaster relief, for those who wanted to stay in the Mississippi Delta. Hamer was able to weaponize agriculture into a resistance and implement alternative strategies for rebuilding and investing in sustainable Black communities. On the principles of communal ownership, Freedom Farms and the work of Fannie Lou Hamer offer valuable lessons on restructuring our communities and investing in sustainable means of survival. Named in her honor, the Hamer Project will build initiatives focusing on our communities’ holistic well-being. As such, the Hamer Project’s main focus is the teaching of human rights education in a variety of ways, including legal clinics, with a focus on communities and towns. —rnh.

As is the case with many black women born in the early 20th century and before, there’s not a lot to be known about Idella McGee. Even oral tradition is sparse about her. When she and her husband, who was nearly 30 years her senior, welcomed their fifth child in 1929, her eldest child, a girl, was 8 years old. Though she’d borne five children, only three of them would live beyond infancy, and before the youngest was six months old, Idella, who moved from her parents’ house to her husbands, had died at 27 years old. While historical and societal context can’t be ignored, it’s difficult to not imagine what Idella might have become if she’d had more days. Would she have decided to become a teacher? Become known in the community as a healer? Community organizer and homemaker with the best DIY tips? Young women in their 20s finding themselves professionally are warranted opportunity to find themselves with peers seeking the same. The spirit of Idella encourages them to do just that.

When I was a young child, my mother says I rarely talked. I was content with being in the background, observing and collecting data on the world around me— a color, a smell, a line my great-grandmother Nanny rasped into the phone while sitting on her porch during a stifling hot Mississippi morning. Sometime around the years when I learned how to string words together to make sentences, I became a full-blown storyteller. I can recall sitting on Nanny’s floor with an envelope torn open in front of me, the margins of both the front and back smeared with a tale of swords, magic and one antagonist who may or may not have resembled a red-headed former royal.

Storytelling has always been a way we’ve shared history throughout generations.  Over time, we’ve woven tales of triumph and despair, love and tragedy, blending facts and fiction and lending voices to those who have difficulty finding the words. The McGee Project seeks to tell our story as southern, Black girls and women. We don’t exploit our stories— we add detail, layers and a little bit of flair. We are the reliable narrators of our own stories, and this time, the Black girl wins. —mm

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Ida B. Wells

In about 10 years, according to Poynter Institute, a fact-checking journalism institute, newspaper newsrooms shrank about 45 percent. What’s more, in 2017, the American Society of News Editors discovered among 63 news-only websites and 598 newspapers, 16.55 percent of the organizations’ staff were from minoritized populations.  

The idea of democracy is dying partly because real journalism is.

The Democratic Journalism Institute is a news entity that trains, incubates, employs and deploys emerging and mid-career journalists. And with the flexibility a nontraditional news and storytelling outlet offers opportunities for participants to expand their writing and audience to communities that are too often information- and news-starved. The partnership between The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects, Fahrenheit Creative Group and Packard Foundation, provides a platform to do this important work.

A cohort of emerging journalist made up of high school and college students, and community advocates are joined during their training by experienced journalists. Pairing experienced journalists with emerging ones creates a juncture for an important conversation between people in the communities others write about. Traditional journalism suggests best practices extracts the writer from community; we find that untrue and exploitive. Just as is so with participatory action research, it is unreasonable to believe anyone can be effectively removed from the community she is part of. With that, reporting with any accuracy and fidelity is the same.

In their learning and commitment to the goals and visions of The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects, Fahrenheit Creative Group and Packard Foundation, the Institute participants explore topics of reproductive justice, human rights and other relevant frameworks. 

DJI offers two types of participant engagement: three-month intensive and a 12-month immersive fellowship. The intensive typically focuses on a specific topic (e.g., reproductive or economic justice), asking participants to dig deep and produce a project at the end. The immersive fellowship takes on a smaller number of participants who are part of The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects’ newsroom, covering multiple topics in journalism, including investigative journalism and storytelling.

She sat in her fullness, a little skittish but undoubtedly in control of the room, challenging older women, affirming young ones, and it was clear I needed to know her. C. Nicole Mason is a nationally recognized political scientist, author and thought leader. When we met she was facilitating the first of many focus groups and gathering data for a report she’d write about Black women in the rural south. I’d never met and connected with anyone who was both disarming and commanded a room the way she did. Her intelligence, understanding of history’s link to contemporary social issues, curiosity and homegirl sensibility assured each individual she understood them. The Mason Project, a premiere think tank dedicated to Black girls and young women in the southeastern United States, is named for Nicole. The Mason Project will focus on research with an ultimate goal of offering more data-driven resources to the changemakers who influence Black girls and young women in the southeast.


“With a name like Quinisha, I knew I had to be a doctor.”

My friend of 30 years, Quinisha Logan, understood from a young age she had the power to define her own name. Since 1880, the Social Security Administration has recorded only 288 babies born with the first name Quinisha in the United States. Our given names have power in our unique processes of individuation and in defining how others perceive us. What happens, though, when your name has no recorded origin or definition and its etymology has only 287 other reference points? What’s more, how does one overcome obstacles of perception in a society that makes negative assumptions about people with distinctively Black names before first meeting? Quinisha defined her name by becoming a doctor and choosing to bring awareness in practice to a field of medicine—obstetrics and gynecology—that lacks definitions of care tailored to the unique experiences of women of color.

We house all our sexual and reproductive health and reproductive justice programs in the Quinisha Project, in her honor. We seek to define what care means for Black girls and women by implementing programs that educate marginalized Black girls and women in sexual and reproductive health, inform them of their rights, advocate for policies that ensure accepted medical standards take into consideration Black women’s unique needs and perspectives and train a new generation of health educators and medical practitioners in appropriate ways to engage Black girls and women.