CINCINNATI (February 2, 2021) — When Kimberly Huckleby looks at the girls who enroll in the nonprofit mentorship program she founded, Ladies of Leadership (LOL), she often sees younger versions of herself. And she understands their mindset.
I don’t fit in.
I’m not good enough.
I’ve made so many bad decisions, I’ll never succeed.
Huckleby, 40, was bullied as a child, and to mask her pain, she became a bully herself. Then at age 16, just before her junior year of high school, she gave birth to a child.
Despite what she calls many “self-inflicted wounds” early in life, she attended college and met the man she would marry. She and her husband of 18 years have eight children, and Huckleby, a former elementary school teacher, now owns and operates a commercial cleaning company. She is, by all accounts, a success.
But Huckleby knows many young Black girls, especially those living in poverty, never unleash the gifts lying dormant inside of them, which is why she founded LOL in 2007. More than 80 percent of girls in the program live in single-parent households led by mothers or grandmothers; more than 60 percent of those families receive public assistance. “(The girls) feel if they don’t have the money, if they don’t have the clothes, if they don’t have the friends, if they’re not depicting the image that social media is portraying, then they’re worthless. We’re here to tell them that everything they have, the world needs.”
Indeed, LOL exists to instill self-esteem and confidence so that girls can reach their full potential. And that, Huckleby says, will allow them to thrive academically, economically and socially. “The only thing we don’t accept in our program is negativity,” she says. “So, we build each other up.”
The program itself has built a solid foundation. Since 2007 when two mentors worked with 15 teenagers, the program has served more than 2,500 girls. Today, about three dozen volunteer mentors work with 200 girls ages 7 to 18 in group and one-on-one settings. In-person sessions are held at sites in Lincoln Heights and Avondale, and during the pandemic, virtual sessions are an option. LOL also operates a co-ed summer reading and enrichment program. And for the single mothers whose daughters participate in LOL, a program called Women of Worth was created to help them become independent and self-sufficient.
To build further on that foundation, LOL in 2020 applied for and received a $25,000 grant from United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s Black Empowerment Works (BEW), which invests in Black-led, grassroots programs that address poverty. BEW targets organizations that might not normally qualify for, or may have been traditionally left out of, other funding programs.
But United Way serves as more than a funding source. It also supports the work of BEW grantees by introducing them to other partners and resources.
For example, United Way connected Huckleby with several teams at Procter & Gamble. Among the benefits: Since last fall, 50 P&G employees have been tutoring girls in the LOL program. Another P&G team designed and printed Empowerment Journals for LOL participants. And when LOL opened a remote-learning hub to help students keep pace academically during the pandemic, United Way helped facilitate various in-kind donations to meet students’ needs: feminine hygiene products from a personal care product drive led by Ethicon Inc.; dental care kits from P&G; and personal hygiene items, school supplies, and healthy snack items from United Way’s Virtual Product Drive.
It’s all about providing support and showing love for girls, some of whom may be hurting, just as Huckleby once was, from self-inflicted wounds. “We’ll keep loving them and holding them on our shoulders,” she says, “until they believe they are unstoppable.”
This is the first in a series of stories about organizations that received Black Empowerment Works grants from United Way of Greater Cincinnati.