Pearls for the Girls: Words of Wisdom for your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE

 

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BY KIARA

Let’s face it. Life ain’t always easy when you’re in a constant balancing act — balancing school, work, a social life, planning for your future, taking care of your family, keeping your finances afloat, maintaining your relationships and more. All these things bring challenges, especially while on your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. Struggle, hard times, low points and times of doubt are all part of the journey. 

You’re about to hear from 8 women who are movers and shakers, doers and go-getters, hustlers and game changers with one thing in common: they’ve all tackled their challenges head on. Now, they’re offering you their pearls of wisdom — advice for the toughest days of your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE.



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Racheida Lewis, M.E | Ph.D Student at Virginia Tech | BS in Electrical Engineering (VCU ’13); M.E. in Electrical Engineering (UVA ’15)

“The most meaningful advice I can give to a young woman in engineering (especially first generation) is that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I started out as 1 of 4 black people in my major and 1 of 4 girls. I come from a poor background with no exposure to engineering prior to attending college. Like me, I’m sure that there will be times when you feel like giving up. There will be times when you feel like “this isn’t for me” because you may be behind your peers. There may be times when you’re intimidated by the fact that you’re 1 of few, or the only one like you in your classes. You may feel like a different major is a better fit. And it’s ok to experience those feelings. You’re not a quitter for feeling like a failure sometimes. It’s how you get up and take your next steps that count. Make friends within your major and outside your major (because you need a sane place to escape to). GO TO OFFICE HOURS and DEMAND the assistance you seek. Some professors may be jerks and it’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day they are just as much responsible for your learning as you are – don’t give into the negativity of “this isn’t high school anymore”. Find something that brings you joy – an organization, a hobby, volunteering, etc. Lastly, find support that keeps you grounded – this can be your family, friends, church, the place and people you can feel most vulnerable with without feeling the pressure of judgment. College is difficult and being in a technical field doesn’t make it any easier – but there are strength in numbers and there are so many who have come before you that are rooting for your success. If you decided that this isn’t for you because you’ve found passions elsewhere then that’s perfectly acceptable – but whatever degree you decided to pursue, you make sure that by any means necessary you don’t leave that university without it!”


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Caitlin Eberhardt | Graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law | Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Hawaii

“One proverb that I hold close to my heart is, “Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid of standing still.” Following that thought, my advice to women struggling in school is not to measure your progress against that of your peers. Everyone starts at a different level and learns in different ways. As long as you are better than you were yesterday, that is success.”


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Mariah Williams | Virginia Commonwealth University Graduate Student | Founder, Black Girls Meet Up

“I remember being in middle school and listening to some girls say, ‘I don’t get along with females’ or ‘girls can’t be trusted so I don’t hang out with them.’ I never understood that because so many of my great friends were other girls and I loved being around them, especially because I learned so much from them. My advice for girls in schools would be to surround yourself with girls and people in general who uplift you. In the age of social media, it is so easy to be distracted from your purpose or to allow things like Facebook and Instagram to affect your friendships negatively. Don’t let it. There is so much you can learn from the women around you! Don’t see other women as a threat. Empower each other. Encourage each other, especially in the classroom.”


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Christine Marie Quilpa | School Counselor at Augusta County Schools | UVA Graduate (2012, B.A. Sociology with Asian Pacific American Studies minor; 2016, M.Ed Counselor Education)

“Some circumstances and some people, including yourself, will try to put you down, but don’t let your spirit to be crushed. You were born to be great, and in order to find your greatness, you will learn a lot of lessons and experience a lot of experiences along the way. There will be many times when you will feel disappointed, sad, angry, hurt, and other emotions, but instead of letting these challenges set you back, be open to them. Use your emotions and experiences to become a bolder, braver, better you. And if you ever feel uncertain about where your passions and purpose may be, think of a problem that has made you upset – and let yourself be the solution to it.”


“The best advice I could give would be don’t forget to live while you complete your

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Ashley Bond | Teacher | Graduate of University of Richmond

education.  One of my biggest struggles in school was that between not
having the academic skills I needed to do my work quickly, and having to work on the side to pay expenses, it took up nearly all of my time.  I would put in 18 hour days between school and work, and spent little time doing things that I wanted to do.  After
a while, I became very burned out, depressed, and bitter with my situation.  I was angry at the whole world for making my life so hard when it was really me who wouldn’t allow myself to take a break.  I moved from Utah to Virginia to go to school largely because
I had always wanted to see Virginia and the East Coast in general.  I didn’t take nearly enough time to go see the sights and experience the culture.  Looking back, I wish I would have spent less time on studies, let my grades fall a little bit (Getting C’s and D’s isn’t the worst thing in the world.  You will still graduate and end up in the same place; I promise.), and taken the time to enjoy myself.  School would have been so much more meaningful if I had,  and I may have avoided some of the terrible choices
I made after I graduated from school in an attempt to escape the life I hated.  A broken nose from a fist fight, an unplanned pregnancy, and a long journey later, I am finally in a place where I can start feeling at peace.  I have a job that I’m happy with, a great kid, and the best family ever.  And I can finally let go, relax, and spend time doing things for myself as opposed to being consumed by my academic and career goals.  Life really is too short to not spend time living.”


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Rev. Tanya Boucicaut | PhD Student at George Mason University | Adjunct Instructor and Research Affiliate, Virginia Union University | Founder and CEO, Perfect Love Community Theatre

“Dear Sister of Any Age:

First of all, you need to know that you matter.

The most meaningful advice I could ever give you in school is to celebrate small victories, advocate for yourself, and embrace the struggles. I share this analogy with my students all the time; one that I’ve heard many times, school is a marathon not a dash.

Celebrate your first test, your first paper of the semester. You deserve it! School is not easy or convenient for most of us, but that doesn’t mean isn’t worth it. School, at its best, in my opinion, is to help grow into our best selves. As you we celebrate, we also recognize that we are celebrating moments of growth. So please, even if it is just, having a meal (I’m foodie) or posting a status on social media, do it! Celebrate!”


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Anise Burkholder | University of Richmond Graduate | Active Duty Service Member, United States Navy

“The best advice I could give a young woman struggling in school is to keep your eye on the prize and realize this struggle is only preparing you for your purpose! It might seem hard right now but there’s something this stage in your life is teaching you. Don’t give up because you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t compare your walk to someone else’s. Just focus on yourself, your future and your dreams.”


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Rose Ann E. Gutierrez, M.A. Candidate, Seattle University | Research Associate, Center for Community Engagement | Project Manager for Community College and STEM Research | Resident Director, Cornish College of the Arts | Co-Editor-in-Chief of MAGIS: A Student Development Journal 

“Know who you are inside and out because when you have that sense of integrity and are honest with yourself, you can’t be false to anybody else. When school becomes challenging, remind yourself of your motivations whether those be intrinsic and/or extrinsic. I keep photos of my parents on my desk to remind me of why–why I continue to persist and remain resilient in the face of adversities. I am the first one in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree and on the pathway of attaining a master’s. I witnessed my parent’s arduous efforts, as they worked multiple jobs only receiving three to four hours of sleep for years to provide for my needs and wants. I have the educational privilege to not only give back to my parents, but also give forward to my community and others. We, women, need to leverage our education as a tool and see ourselves as social agents to truly impact society. Moreover, find strong mentors who are women, who share the same identities as you. My mentors have been pillars of support, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t guided and advised by some of the strongest and best.”

 


tiara

Just Another College Student Working Hard to Become Who I’ve Dreamed of 

 

“Hi Beautiful! Yes you! You know what your dreams are. You know what goals you’ve set. Now accomplish them. Pray to whoever you believe in, keep the faith, and WORK. Work hard to be that successful woman you’ve dreamed of becoming. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Don’t give up. You got this. “

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Kiara Lee, M.Ed | Founder, #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE | Editor, theblackertheberry.org |PhD Student, Virginia Commonwealth University 

“I think the most useful pearl of wisdom I could offer girls and women in the midst of their #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE is to never be afraid to think outside of the box. There is no one way to get from point A to point B, to earn a degree or even to achieve happiness and satisfaction in your life. If plan A doesn’t work, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of the less popular plan B, or C, or D or E. It’s your path and your path only. Own it, with all of its quirks, uniqueness, spins, turns and detours. At the end of it all, you WILL arrive at your destination, with gratitude and with grace.

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Find Your Core

BY SHENÉE

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The starting point of all achievement is desire. ~Napoleon Hill

Desire: a strong feeling of wanting something

The desire to read a book, the desire to post a blog, the desire to finish a project, the desire to graduate, the desire to be successful, the desire to have a family, the desire to…you feel in the blank.

Our achievements begin with a simple desire, a simple dream, a simple thought that is given life and takes shape over time through our experiences.  A hunger, an ambition, an innate feeling that belongs only to you. Your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE.

Recently, I have been in a place of, let’s say a one-woman circus, homeschooling my oldest son, helping my middle son navigate the tumultuous 2s, birthing my baby girl, working on my M.A. in Women’s Studies, launching a local task force for young women, oh, and supporting my husband while he serves overseas and the 20 other families impacted. Some days, I cannot completely comprehend what is going on around me and within, as there are constant ebbs and flows. Family, friends and strangers continually ask, “How are you able to manage?” And my answer is by HIS grace. And when I truly reflect on that statement it is HIS grace that has allowed my DESIRE to continue to ring strong and resonate, regardless of the challenges and obstacles.  My desire to teach my children, my desire to complete my degree, my desire to further my education, my desire to support my service members and families alike, my desire to be the best me that I can be. Desire — a six letter word that has so much power. Power to overcome circumstances.

Your education, your desired accomplishments have only one owner-YOU! Own it, rock it, make it work for YOU! Don’t lose sight of your desire.

Create a desire/dream board or one of those cool word clouds that lists your desires. Having a visual or tangible tool will help to motivate you when challenging times arise. Know that you are equipped to accomplish many things, great things, things that you desire.

Dig in your heels, dream big; your desires are limitless. Enjoy the journey and seeing your desires come to fruition.


sghpicSHENÉE LYNETTE SIMON is a Virginia native and is a respected professional in the San Antonio community with over twelve years of experience in for-profit and not-for- profit sectors in areas of Human Resources and Non-Profit Management. She has been actively engaged in program ideation, creation and implementation in both profit and not-for- profit arenas.  With concentrations in program development, fundraising, recruiting, independent education and sales, Shenée has worked in influential roles such as a United States Army volunteer, Director of Development-The Jeremiah Project Homeless Initiative, Senior Recruiter for CNL Financial Group, Inc., Sales & Recruiting Agent with Randstad North America, Assistant Director of Annual Giving with the Madeira School, Development Associate at Chatham Hall School and the Director of the Transition Welfare to Work Program with the Virginia Foundation for Women. She is a proven performer and woman of God who has dedicated her life to Christ 30 years ago and continues her journey to utilize the gifts and talents he has bestowed her with: possessing a servant’s heart and being a collaborator and relationship builder. She has recently accepted the task and gift of home-schooling her children in addition to working with the American Association of University of Women, Younger Women’s Task Founder San Antonio (Founder), Family Readiness Group, University of Richmond Alumni Board-Regional Chapter Leader, Rollins College Alumni Board-Regional Chapter Leader. She seeks out creative opportunities through domestic and international partnerships to address needs where she lives, works and recreates. Her #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE: Graduate of Henrico High School, B.A. in Women’s Studies from the University of Richmond, M.A. in Human Resources Management from Rollins College and currently pursuing a M.A. in Women and Gender Studies from Southern Connecticut State University. Shenée is married to MSG Ronald L. Simon and the proud mother of three-Ronald (5.5), Robert (2) and Rory (2 months). She enjoys reading historical fiction, travelling, spending time with family, French culture and the arts.

College is Not a Team Sport

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Me, graduating from my undergrad alma mater, University of Richmond

BY KIARA
When you’re in elementary school, you’re with the same people for every subject. You don’t even leave your classroom.
When you’re in middle school, you eventually befriend kids that look and feel just as awkward as you do. And in your shared awkwardness, you may ride the same bus, eat in the same lunch period or even study in the same classes.
When you’re in high school, you may find a clique with people who are starting to find themselves at the same pace that you are. You may go out together, dream about your futures and at last, walk across the stage together with diplomas in hand.
But after high school, school is no team sport.
In college, your friends may be with you at the party on Saturday, but they probably won’t be with you studying for your midterm on Sunday. Or at your job with you bright and early Monday morning.

 

Life can’t always be done in groups, so you have to get used to being with yourself.
Too many of us miss being with the group so much, we sacrifice ourselves. We let our grades slip to party with the team. We ignore our goals and dreams and take on what the team wants to do. Our lives and our souls get lost and confused in the team.
Don’t do it.
Don’t get me wrong — college, young adulthood and adulthood in general all have their times for the team…for the party. But it ain’t all the time.
If you play school as a team sport, the fouls will add up. In college, these fouls may be in the form of low grades, missed opportunities and even a missed degree.
Play smart. Most of the time, you got to be your own team. And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

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KIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.

10 Things I wish someone would have told me before going to college

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BY SHARRON

Think of college as a roller coaster: you stand in line with anticipation because you heard it would be fun, you get on kind of nervous for what’s to come and then you climb up the hill slowly preparing yourself to experience some of what you heard about and more. You reach the top and then suddenly you fall. You may fall feeling excited because it was everything you thought it would be or you may fall farther than you thought with a feeling of uneasiness.  With all the twists and turns you endure you will look back laughing at that fact that you were so nervous in the beginning and will be able to tell others that it honestly was not too bad. Well, I’m still on this roller coaster called college, but here are 10 things I wish someone would have told me while I was standing in line waiting to get on, so that I would be prepared for the big drop at the end.

  1. SAVE YO MONAAAY!

College is expensive. Don’t let people fool you into thinking that once you go off, everything will be dandy and your parents will always be there with a lil chunk of change to save you. No. You will need money for food, money for books, money to get your hair and nails did. You will need money. So, before you go off plan to look for a job or if you’re already in college take some time to make a financial plan. For me, I had to sit down and make a budget for myself. I had to downsize on my meal plan that was costing me thousands and decide to put money in my savings WITHOUT touching it. Budgeting is HARD (can I get a witness somebody?!) but it is a skill we all as women need to attempt to master.

 

  1. Friends will come, friends will go.

When I started college in my freshman year, I had so many friends. Some friends I knew from my hometown of Richmond, and others I gained while transitioning into college. As the years have gone by, I have lost a number of friends for a number of reasons, some I may understand and some I truly couldn’t even tell you. When I look back, I am grateful for the people I have lost, because it has taught me the value in true friendships. You soon realize that it’s about quality over quantity. Of course, you should be ok with mending broken friendships, but sometimes it’s best to move on to make room for positivity and prosperity for yourself.

 

  1. It’s ok to not be ok.

College is one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever encountered. You go from being surrounded by family, to having to decide who and what you want to be surrounded by for yourself. It can get very difficult and easy to feel alone, but in college you are NEVER alone. Most of everybody you may walk past is facing the same issues, if not more than you. If you are truly stressed out take some time out to destress. Listen to some inspirational music, hit the gym for a quick workout or even sit down have a talk with your home girl/homeboy that knows how to lift your spirits. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help if it gets too tough. Almost every college/university has counseling services.

 

  1. Get involved

College is all about NETWORKING. I cannot stress that enough. Once you venture out and figure out your interests you will soon realize that there are a network of people who have the same interests as you and can help you do bigger and better things. Join the choir or become a member of the intramural basketball club. Once you engage yourself, you’ll have a support system of folks just like you.

 

  1. Find your balance

Balance is the major key to success when keeping your sanity in college. The workload will become overwhelming unless you make time to hang out with your girls, hang out with bae or just hang out with yourself. Being involved can also help you find balance as well. I am involved in a couple service organizations, and I also model and African dance as well. These all together help me to have some stress relief and keep myself focused on getting my schoolwork done.

 

  1. A’s over Baes

Do not, I repeat DO NOT let your Man Crush Monday become the reason why you miss class on Monday. Make sure that you put your schoolwork as your number one priority. Spending time with your boo should never become such a distraction that you fall behind in your schoolwork or start missing out on important events for your professional development. Make sure that your mate respects your hustle and encourages you to stay on track.

 

  1. Make time for family

One thing I truly have missed out on while being away at college, are the simple moments with family. You get busy, overwhelmed and let’s be honest sometimes being around family can add to that stress. Making time to just be with family can remind you of the good people you have standing behind you. There may be family members who appreciate that even though you are bus on the go that you take time to call them or even stop by. You never know they may slide you some money and you can also get you a good home cooked meal too. Don’t miss out on the cornbread and collard greens!

 

  1. Be you unapologetically!

You are you and that is your power. Often times, it can be very hard to stay true to yourself. College makes this especially true, because of all the stresses and changes you may go through. While going through all of this remember to be true to who you are and who you wish to become. Do not be swayed by what everyone else may be doing, because we all have our own unique pathways to take. If you want to change your hair every week do that! If you choose not to drink while all of your friends do, then stay true to that. If you want to change your wardrobe every single year then DO YOU BOO BOO.

 

  1. Raise your awareness

College has taught me so much about myself, but even more about others. As a black woman I have experienced discrimination and misogyny, but as a student I have learned that I have to be aware of my privilege. What is privilege? Privilege describes the different advantages we may have over others that we do not necessarily have to think about. For example, I am a Black Woman and that has many disadvantages BUT I am able bodied, healthy, and also a college student. Some people do not have the same opportunities and that is what college has taught me. Be humble and raise your awareness of the world around you. We are the leaders of the next generation and it is our duty to be the change.

 

  1. Step out your comfort zone

College will force you to change your perception. It will force you to work on group projects with people you may not know or you may dislike. You have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Most importantly, college will challenge you professionally. You will have to unlearn so much that you have learned in high school and you know what? YOU WILL SURVIVE.

(photo: ebony.com)


SharronSharron is a 19 year old Emerging Professional in the VCU School of Social Work, double majoring in African American Studies with a minor in Psychology. She is a Richmond, Virginia Native currently working through organizations at VCU to reach out to the community and help those in need. In 2015 She along with a few other students majoring in African American Studies formed a student organization called the African and African American Student Empowerment Project (AASE) where she serves as the Founding President. Today, the organization caters to fostering a safe space for students to have conversations about issues in the Black community as well as giving back and serving others. In the fall of 2015, she was initiated into the Eta Theta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, Sorority Inc. where she serves as the 2nd Anti-Basileus on the Executive Board. Sharron wears many hats, but she is extremely passionate about being a part of the solution to the social issues surrounded around minorities. In her free time you can catch her vibing to Neo-Soul tunes to the likes of Erykah Badu, hanging out with her girls, or putting in work at the gym.

Don’t Ignore Your Student Loans

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BY FANTASIA

For many, bearing the expense of  student loans can be a hassle, especially if  you’re living on your own and can barely make ends meet. That  was the case for me. A year after I graduated high school, I decided to enroll at the nearest tech because it seemed like the right thing to do. Still, I wasn’t equipped for it and had no idea what I wanted my major to be,  but felt as though  I had to do something productive, something to make my family proud. I continued working full time all while helping my dad care for my younger brothers, so sadly school wasn’t a priority. In all honesty, I never took it seriously anyways because I didn’t care at the time  and I surrounded myself with people who couldn’t care less about me succeeding. Towards the end of the semester, those same “friends” encouraged me to take out student loans. I was told it would be help me catch up on bills and I’d have plenty of extra money to spend on whatever I wanted. Hearing that was music to my ears. When you grow up with nothing but struggles, falling into any amount of money you aren’t used to having  can seem like winning  the lottery.

Soon after the semester ended and all the money was spent, I started  receiving letters about paying off my loans, but always threw them away. Sometimes without opening them.  I knew I was completely broke, so I figured if I’d just ignore my problems, they’d go away. But nope, it didn’t work that way. Now that years have flown by and I’ve matured, I decided I was ready to pay off my loans and go back to school. I knew  what it was I wanted to do and I was ready to take  steps toward achieving my goals. I contacted the school I previously attended to get everything in order and was slapped in the face with bad news. I found out that I was in default and wouldn’t be able to get any financial help until after I finished paying off ALL of my loans. That meant I could pay off my debts, but school was out of the picture unless I was able to pay for everything out of pocket, and I wasn’t. That news was definitely devastating, but I had no one to blame but myself. This was a learning experience for me and I hope I encourage those of you reading to take school and paying off any debts you owe seriously so you don’t end up in the same situation.

(photo: heathervogelfrederick.com)


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.

Becoming U at the University

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BY AYONNA

Going to college will be one of your most life changing experiences. Not only is it frightening to be far from home, surrounded by so many different people, but what’s even worse is you probably haven’t even figured out who you are yet. That’s perfectly fine. Use that as fuel to figure out. Following the crowd and mimicking everyone else is so much less fulfilling than building yourself up to be the individual you were born to be. You have so much to offer and your potential is endless. Your own beauty, creativity, and intelligence is much more powerful and significant than a duplicate of someone else’s could ever be.

How do you make this happen you ask? How do you find that amazing, fierce woman hiding deep down inside of you? That’s easy. You relentlessly search for her. This involves a little soul searching and a lot of just living your life. Of course learning and making good grades are both vital to be successful in school. However, don’t be that girl who spent her entire college career in the library studying. Get out there, meet new people, get involved on campus, and find your passion. Not only because it will help you develop your own personal character, but also because a well-rounded woman will be much more prepared for life after college than the girl who studied her life away. Don’t get me wrong, do study your butt off; but reward yourself for your hard work and also put work into other parts of your life. As you will soon find out, college is just a big balancing act. You’ll have to learn how to balance your school work, social life, and your extracurricular duties. At times it will be stressful, but as long as you’re doing things that you’re truly passionate about, you’ll find the time. But if you’re doing entirely too much for illegitimate reasons, let a few things go.

As I reflect on the past two and a half years I’ve spent at Hampton University, there are a lot of things I’m glad that I did but there are many other things I wish I had tried to do. But I went outside of my comfort zone many, many times and it helped me discover things about myself that I never would have. Help yourself become the most awesome version of yourself possible by getting out there and leaving your mark. You’ll never know what that could lead to unless you take the leap.

(photo: campuslately.com)


AyonnaAyonna Thornton is a first year professional Doctor of Pharmacy candidate at the Hampton University School of Pharmacy. She is originally from Oxford, North Carolina where she founded the mentoring program Cheering Girls On in 2015. Her program caters primarily to the cheerleaders at her alma mater high school but she plans to majorly expand in 2016. Ayonna also enjoys volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in Hampton, VA. She loves playing with the young girls and helping them with their resident step team. She spends any other free time she has cooking, painting, reading, and writing for her blog, Solstice. She is also involved with several organizations on campus at her Home by the Sea such as the NAACP and her class’s executive counsel. She hopes that her involvement in all of her projects reflects her care for the black youth in the community and her desire to reach and teach them.

Never Give Up

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BY STEPHANIE

I was almost brought to tears when I heard a story about a young lady that I work with. She was deprived of an opportunity to continue her education after her freshman year of college. A man, who stalked and violated her physically, made her afraid to go back to school. The summer after her first year, she told her mother that she was too afraid to go back to campus. So, she decided to quit school, with the intention of going back. A few years later, because of the fear that he instilled in her, she has yet to go back to school. I could not believe it when she told this to me.

Putting myself in her position, I can’t help but think about how differently my life would have turned out if I had an experience like that. I never felt unsafe walking around campus during my undergraduate years at the University of Richmond. It was an incredible experience for me, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her shoes. It makes me so angry to know that there are people that will harm someone physically and emotionally, especially without any legitimate reason.

I have a younger sister who will be going to college next year, and it saddens me to feel a need to talk to her about how to prevent these circumstances. I understand the tears of excitement and anxiety that parents feel when they send their kids to college (especially their little girls who are becoming young women). When I think about all of the horrible things happening around the world, I cannot help but feel nervous at the thought of going back to school myself, but I will not let it stop me. I encourage any and everyone to not have their lives hindered and deprived out of fear. We must, unfortunately, take safety precautions as much as possible, but we must not let someone scare us into having our lives deprived of opportunities to live our lives to the fullest.

In the words of Whitney Houston, in her song, Never Give Up, “Hold your head to the sky, look them right in the eyes, Tell ’em you will never quit until the day you get it right….Even though some days you’ll have to cry, Shake it off and know that everything will be alright as long as you never ever give up.”


StephStephanie Granderson is a community advocate driven by her passion for education. Though she was raised in Richmond, Virginia, much of her cultural background comes from Trinidad and Tobago, where most of her family was born. As a first generation citizen and college graduate, she aspires to motivate her students to be successful just as others have done for her. While attending the University of Richmond, she was able to connect what she was learning in her classes about social inequalities with her experience volunteering in various schools and non-profits. Part of her experience was at Higher Achievement, where she had the opportunity to teach math and mentor students in under-resourced communities.  After graduation, she continued to serve Richmond through VCU’s AmeriCorps program where she tutored first and second graders to establish a stronger foundation in reading. She continues to tutor students in math, from kindergarten all the way up to calculus,
part-time after working at a middle school with students who have special needs in the City of Richmond. Stephanie loves to knit, dance, eat sushi, and practice speaking Spanish whenever she has the opportunity.

The Best Teacher is the Student

PROFESSOR PIC EDIT

BY KIARA

I’m a first year doctoral student.  Pretty soon, I’ll be teaching my very first university-level class as a full-time student. It seems that just as a fast as one exciting new chapter started, another fresh new chapter has arrived at my doorstep, and I’m bursting at the seams to open it.

The nitty gritty of it all is very simple – I’m currently a teaching assistant (TA), but another instructor has to leave mid-year and my department feels that I have demonstrated the leadership and wherewithal to conduct my own class and fill in for the instructor who’s leaving.

I am very excited about this opportunity. The reason I’m pursuing the big D-R in front of my name in the first place is to teach at the university-level. Some people say I’m taking on too much too soon and that I need to focus on being a student. But I feel quite the contrary. I feel like the best teacher is the student, for more reasons than one.

The struggle is the same – and it’s real.

He’s got papers to write, and she’s got papers to write…and I have papers to grade (and write also). I’m not far removed from the hustle that is school – matter fact, I’m still in it myself. Who would be better to empathize and push students than a person facing the very same obstacles? I’ve been up late studying for exams just like they have. Maybe I’ll be more open to pushing assignments back and giving a little wiggle room than the older, more rigid and farther removed professors. I also have just about the same amount of energy of my future students, and I know they know how to hustle just as hard as I do (and probably even harder).

Students can see themselves in my shoes

When I TA, I see the students’ faces light up – not because I’m special, but because I’m not too much older than them. I work with freshmen, and they’re young, indecisive and easily influenced. For them to be able to see a student who is only a few years older than they are leading class, giving assignments and running the show so to speak serves as motivation. They respect me as a TA but they also look up to me because they can see themselves in me. In general, they can see themselves as a professor or any other leader a little more easily. And the ones who look like me can see themselves belonging in an environment we have been traditionally excluded from. 

We’re all evolving…together.

I am far from having it all together, and I want my future students to know that. I’m 25 and still finding my way. I have educational and career goals that tend to fluctuate just a little as time passes. I try to define myself with my writing and I dream of starting a family in the next 5 years or so. I spend a  lot of time in deep thought, mulling over the worlds’ problems. And amidst all these serious thoughts, I change my hair and my nail polish all the time, expressing the different sides of Kiara and enjoying my dynamism. To boot, I still like to play jokes on my friends and ride in the shopping carts at Walmart. My students will be young adults still learning to navigate the university, attempting to find themselves in the majors and minors available. Some of them are grappling with living on their own on the first time. Others are discovering their sexuality or their spirituality. All of them will be trying to figure out how to enjoy themselves between the hustle and bustle of their first year in college. I’m evolving, they’re evolving and we’ll all be evolving together. We’ll all be learning from one another. No judgement will be passed and all standards and expectations regarding this evolution will be null and void in my classroom.

They say learning is not a spectator sport. Why should an aspiring professor spectate from afar and wonder what she could do with a classroom full of students? Why should a student sitting in a crowded classroom have to spectate and wonder why nobody who teaches her classes looks like her? When the student is the teacher, the sport is no longer a spectator sport.  I’m in it. They’re in it. We’re all in it.


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.

College Struggles

BY FANTASIA

Exhausted with too much work
Certainly underpaid
Laboring  30 hours a week
While maintaining  good grades
Occupied days
Restless nights
Trying to meet length requirements
But not knowing what to write
Lazy meals
Disbursing money wisely
Unable to spend lavishly
When textbooks are pricey
Tired of seeing paper
Fed up with gripping pencils
Pulling these all-nighters
Makes coffee essential
Though I have a few friends
I’m missing my family bad
But I’ll smile in everyone’s faces
So I won’t seem as sad
Sometimes I want to cry
When I think of crippling debt,
….how I miss my mothers cooking,
…Or how I almost failed that test
For a while my  impression of college
Was difficult to convey
But now I’m content with  knowing
This schoolgirl hustle will pay off one day

(photo: Forbes.com)


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.

When the Hustle Gets Real

hustlegetsrealpicEDIT

BY KIARA

Its 2 Am and my mind is doing that thing again

And I wonder and I ponder and I like to pretend

And think about life without school and how easy it looks

The trips, the parties, the laid back lives and the housewives I see all over Facebook

The jobs I could have, the money I could make, the different things I could do, the different roads I could take

But the clock tells me I need to stop and keep it movin’ cuz this paper is due at 8

I’m twenty five – two plus five is 7

Now I’m delirious and thinkin’ “damn, it wasn’t this hard in undegrad back in 2011”

Eleven. 11 years ago, I wanted to be a doctor — medical

But now I’m up in this PhD program, it’s technical

When I was little, grandma used to always say books were my friends

And my friends will give me the ends I see on Facebook

and I won’t have to pretend…

(photo: Coyote Students News)

meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.