From someone getting shot right under our first-floor window to occasionally being in the middle of a police foot chase, I witnessed first-hand the struggles of poverty and living in a violence-stricken neighborhood growing up on the Southside of Chicago. Many of the people I grew up with ultimately dropped out of school, became involved in illegal activities, or lost their lives due to gun violence. The fate of my peers has often made me question why I made it out and not them.
My mother promised me and my sister that our lives would never become the lives we saw around us. By way of that promise, my mother made sure that we were involved in activities outside of our community, which is how I joined Ladies of Virtue in 2011. My first mentor in Ladies of Virtue was Sheilina – a Black woman who was exceptionally successful in her career. Sheilina not only helped me search, narrow down, and apply to colleges that fit my needs, but she also introduced me to other Black women who were either emerging or already successful in the psychology field.
After graduating from Kenwood Academy, I attended the University of Missouri-Columbia to pursue a bachelors in psychology and sociology. During these four years, Ladies of Virtue provided continued assistance – a text or email checking up on academic or personal matters and goal setting to ensure that I stayed on track. After graduating from Mizzou, I was denied from every master’s program I had applied to and didn’t have a plan B. But Ladies of Virtue didn’t give up on my dreams. Jamila introduced me to Faith, another mentor in Ladies of Virtue. At that time, Faith was a clinical psychology PhD student at Northwestern University. Not only did Faith guide me in honing in my research and clinical interests, but she introduced me to different fields within psychology that I had never even heard of before. She also allowed me to volunteer in her research lab at Northwestern three days a week.
She also helped me organize my application materials and prepare for graduate school interviews. I am proud to say that I was accepted into three doctoral programs and I am currently enrolled in a PhD program at Ball State University studying school psychology. Often times, when you come from a community where mobility seems like a distant fantasy, you can lose yourself, your sense of determination, and your sense of hope. Having a supportive network allows you to become resilient.
Ladies of Virtue has been that supportive network for me for over seven years now. I was able to see women who look like me, serving as tangible evidence that a Black girl from the southside of Chicago could become anything she wanted to be. They taught me how to overcome the struggles of being a Black girl at a predominantly white institution. They provided real advice on how to navigate a career where there will be very few people who look like me. They have proven to be a strong support system and held me accountable so that I could be on the right path to accomplish my dreams. If it had not been for Ladies of Virtue, I am not confident that I would be able to say that, although the odds were against me, I was the first person in my family to hold a bachelor’s degree, and now I will be the first to hold a PhD.
A report from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found that adults view Black girls as in need of less nurturing, support, and comfort. Ladies of Virtue stands in the gap through mentoring and by preparing girls, ages 9 to 18, for leadership through character development, career readiness, and civic engagement. Founded by Jamila Trimuel, Ladies of Virtue has served over 1,000 girls since 2011. I am proud to have served as a mentor for two years in Ladies of Virtue and I’m now giving back by helping our girls navigate through college just like the women in Ladies of Virtue did for me.
For more information about Ladies of Virtue, contact www.LOVChicago.org