The premise is simple – provide space and learning opportunities for black girls from all over the country to share their collective experience, to grow as leaders, and then send them back to their communities to make a difference using everything from test prep, to using academic papers on feminism in Beyonce’s Lemonade, to heart-to-heart conversations
The academy started in 2011 with a focus on academics after Rev. Jacqueline Glass, Founder, graduated from Princeton’s seminary program. She was inspired after noticing that her own daughter was gifted, but did not perform well on standardized tests. At The Well quickly evolved over the years to also include a focus on leadership, womanhood and culture. About 50 girls attend the program at Princeton University in July for two weeks every year. The program grew this year, and in 2017, At The Well will also operate at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Application requirements are listed on the website. The cost of the program is less than similar Ivy League programs, and scholarship options are available.
Blavity spoke with founder Rev. Jacqueline Glass and intern Melissa Lyken from At the Well to learn more. Photo: Rev. Jacqueline Glass, Founder of At The Well Blavity: How did this program come about?
Jacqueline Glass: It was started as a mission to give back. We seek to empower young women to become effective leaders globally. We want them to make a difference in their community. They go back and advocate for themselves and their community.
B: Where are the girls coming from?
JG: They are coming from all different spaces. There were more girls from the upper middle class this past academy and one of the reasons is we lost one of our funders. We weren’t able to give the type of scholarships that we’ve given in the past. A lot of energy is going toward fund development so that we can reach the population we originally intended to reach. But we do get girls from all geographic locations and socio-economic backgrounds.
B: Your focus is to also bring together girls who may be the only, or one of very few, black girls in their school to talk about what it’s like to be in that environment and help build some sense of community there. What do the girls share about microagressions in their schools and how do you help them address it?
JG: Some of the girls expressed they’ve never been in a room with so many girls that look like themselves. We give them space to talk about it, to discuss it, to talk about what it is [microagression]. They may not know how to react to it or how to identify it. They may not know how to address it. We give them space to know they aren’t the only one. There is a commonality in their experience.
B: Melissa – you lead some of the heart-to-heart discussions for the girls. Tell me more about what the girls experience in their schools. Photo: Melissa Lyken, Intern at At The Well Melissa Lyken: They have so much to share with regards to some of the things that their classmates, their teammates and counselors have said to them. A few girls said their counselors outright called them the n-word. They really love the space to sit there and hold each other. Some of the girls are crying and someone will say something similar like that happened to me on my campus.
It’s really difficult when you’re in school and your very identity is being questioned. Your very personhood. It creates a community and a sisterhood that "I’m not alone." And they discuss what they can do about it when they go back to school...These spaces are definitely healing spaces and organizing spaces. We can talk about self-care and how to combat these issues.
B: What do you hope the legacy of this program will be for young girls?
JG: I hope to gather a sisterhood of dynamic girls that we help them believe in themselves and to think more highly in themselves. They don’t always see the promise in themselves that others see. My expectations that they are able to live the lives they envision for themselves. I came across a conversation at lunch three years ago between two girls. They were talking scientifically about how to reduce those cancer cells and that the cancer can be cured. That’s the type of legacy that I want to leave. That they have the space to be who they are. They need to know they are wonderfully and magnificently made.
I also had a chance to talk with Braxton, a high school student in Georgia and a former participant in the At The Well program. Braxton is heavily involved in school. She’s the current student body president, captain of the varsity track team and a member of other academic clubs in school. Braxton is starting a clothing company for women in male-dominated sports and followed up on her experience in the At The Well program by creating a mentorship group for girls at her school.
B: What do you love most about school?
Braxton: With the positions that I'm in, I have the ability to influence change, equality and fun in my community and my school.
B: What made you apply for this program even though you do attend a mostly black high school?
Braxton: I applied to expand my critical thinking. I wanted to learn more about myself and I wanted the chance to expand my thinking about women of color. In school, we only talk about issues that scrape the surface of black people. I wanted to dig deeper, and I got that at At The Well. Even though our demographics are majority black, we still struggle to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard.
B: What was your favorite aspect of this program?
Braxton: We had floor discussions. I learned a lot about myself and things I never imagined learning. Colorism, cultural appropriation, black hair and black love. I was able to share my experiences and we could talk about how we deal with racism and issues. Through this, I was able to connect with the experiences of other dark skinned women like myself. I also learned about things I never imagined enduring like the girls who are the only black person in their schools.
B: How was the work different than what you experience at school?
Braxton: The work they give you at school doesn’t always pertain to you. Like we had to analyze Lemonade. We didn’t mind that we had to read 20 articles that night because it related to us. One of our papers was a list asking us to identify examples of white supremacy. It’s the subtle things. It was mind blowing to me, because I didn’t think about it. It just seemed like stuff that happened every day. We wrote about different people that are like us...that look like us.
B: How did this program inspire you?
Braxton: Through the topics we discussed and learning different things about my history. I started my freshman and senior mentoring program called Black Girls United. There is a mentoring program at my school but it isn’t for people of color. Not purposefully, but that’s just how it is. I was struggling to figure out what we could talk about and what could connect us. At The Well helped me shape my program.
After completing the program, Braxton continues to use her experience to build up her mentoring program. She even won an award from the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Girls Who Rule the World foundation. Check out Braxton’s small business and mentorship program on Instagram @girls.got.game and @Black.Girls.United
Program like At The Well are essential to our community. If you're interested in supporting this program, applying, or finding out more, please visit At The Well or connect with At The Well on Facebook or Twitter .