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Black Empowerment Works: The Key to Ladies of Leadership's Success

According to CEO Kimberly Huckleby, "Ladies of Leadership is more than an organization...It's like a family."
March 31, 2021
Photo Credit: Ladies of Leadership. Erica Brundage's high school graduation with Kimberly Huckleby presenting scholarship check..

CINCINNATI, Ohio — Ladies of Leadership (LOL) has been part of Angel Evans' life since she was 11 years old. Now 24, the Cincinnati resident remains closely connected to the nonprofit mentoring program for minority girls, and to its CEO, Kimberly Huckleby.

"Ladies of Leadership is more than an organization," Evans says. "It's like a family."

She is one of more than 2,500 girls ranging between 7 to 18 years old who have enrolled in LOL since Huckleby founded it in 2007. Their academic performance improves, and the girls' confidence and social skills increase, according to surveys returned by parents and caregivers at the end of each program year. The ultimate goal: equip the girls, many from impoverished families, with tools to help them achieve economic success.

Many of the girls in the program struggle with low self-esteem. Such was the case for Evans, who says she recalls "feeling like I was less than (others), feeling like I wasn't worthy of being loved." She says such feelings were rooted in the sexual, emotional, verbal and physical abuse she experienced as a girl.

"It takes a lot for me to trust people, because of what I have gone through," Evans says. The mentors at LOL, in particular Huckleby, earned her trust and helped put her on a path to success.

Like Evans, 18-year-old Erica Brundage has endured trauma. She has been raped twice, she says, and there were times that she wanted to take her own life.

In 2017, she signed herself up for Ladies of Leadership. What did she hope to gain? "Support," she says. "In every way. In life." She pauses for a moment to consider what she needed most, and then says: "Love. Yep. It was love."

She was showered with love from mentors such as Huckleby, Caharina McNeill, and others. "They have had a huge impact on my life," says Brundage, a 2020 Mount Healthy High School graduate. "I might have committed suicide; I might not have graduated, if they weren't in my life."

At weekly small-group sessions in Avondale and Lincoln Heights, girls and trained mentors discuss topics such as physical and mental health, academic achievement, overcoming trauma and more. "Whatever it takes to help them get through their challenges, difficulties, and hardships, that's what God graces us to do," Huckleby says. Sometimes that means connecting girls to outside professional help. "But we don't let them go through it alone," she adds.

LOL's annual membership fee is $220. Families that can't afford it are not turned away. One benefit of receiving a Black Empowerment Works grant from United Way, Huckleby says, is that LOL has been able to sponsor more girls whose families are in precarious financial situations.

She becomes emotional when citing other examples of how the partnership with United Way has had a positive impact on LOL and its families. A remote learning hub opened last fall to help students who had fallen behind academically during the pandemic. LOL families received in-kind donations from United Way partners. United Way connected LOL to a Procter & Gamble team, resulting in 70 P&G employees serving as academic tutors for LOL girls. And the LOL program has received greater exposure in the community.

"United Way's help and support has been transformational, especially during a global pandemic," Huckleby says.

She and her team continue to seek ways to improve and expand the program. They're trying to reach more girls and make a difference in more lives. They're trying to raise funds to buy two 15-passenger vans to transport girls to and from LOL meetings and outings.

Erica Brundage and Angel Evans always needed rides to LOL.

On the day last year that Brundage graduated from Mount Healthy High School, Huckleby and the LOL team presented her with a $1,000 LOL scholarship. Brundage now is working and saving money; she plans to attend Cincinnati State Technical and Community College next fall.

Although her formal involvement in LOL has ended, the relationships endure. "I talk to Mrs. Kim and another mentor, Lisa Allen, almost every day," she says. "They pray for me and look out for me."

Evans, too, knows Huckleby is still looking out for her and for her 5-year-old daughter, who has participated in the remote learning hub and LOL's summer reading and enrichment program. Evans works as a bank teller and attends Cincinnati State. After she earns an associate degree this year, she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in psychology. She hopes to work in the mental health field, helping people who have experienced trauma.

Evans enjoys giving back. She donates food, clothes and books to children and homeless people. She mentors children at a community school. Her first opportunity to be a mentor came a few years ago when Huckleby welcomed her back to Ladies of Leadership.

"She trusted me enough to pour into the lives of (girls)," Evans says. "It gave me a sense that I can't let her down, that I had a chance to prove myself. It gave me something to live for."

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