Columbus summer program offers leadership to Black girls


By Micah Walker - The Columbus Dispatch



Columbus firefighter Felecia Jackson and Cincinnati Fire Lt. Falencia Frazier speak to the L.E.A.D. with Purpose summer youth academy.

Columbus firefighter Felecia Jackson and Cincinnati Fire Lt. Falencia Frazier speak to the L.E.A.D. with Purpose summer youth academy.


Tribune News Service

The Destiny Center was a flurry of activity Thursday morning as about 20 Black teenage girls filled the conference room at the Near East Side incubator space, listening to Columbus firefighter Felecia Jackson and Cincinnati Fire Lt. Falencia Frazier talk about their careers.

Frazier asked the girls to pick a significant fact about her, and they were ready. Five of them shot their hands in the air.

“You were the first Black woman to become lieutenant for the Cincinnati Fire Department!” one girl said.

The firefighters’ visit was part of a summer youth academy organized by the Columbus nonprofit, L.E.A.D. with Purpose. Founded by three friends in 2018, L.E.A.D. stands for leadership, empowerment, adaptability and discipline.

The inaugural program was geared for African American girls ages 12-16 and filled with lessons about professional development, entrepreneurship and career and college exploration. The academy began July 1 and ends Sunday with a culmination ceremony.

Co-founder Tonya Thurman said the girls also learned about journaling, affirmations and how to advocate for themselves.

“We have 20 wonderful girls that come from all different backgrounds and ZIP codes and socioeconomic statuses,” she said. “We really know that this program was God-sent. God sent every one of these young, impressionable youth, and we really do take a ministry approach to everything with them.”

Friends Natalya Jones, 12, and Naomi Cornelius, 13, said they have learned important lessons this summer through the academy.

“I’ve learned about affirmations,” Natalya said. “I’ve learned it doesn’t matter where you come from, you’re different. You can’t change who you are.”

“And I’ve learned that even though you’re taller or shorter, darker or lighter, you still matter,” Naomi added.

From an idea to a reality

Founded with her friends LaShanda Coleman and Charity Martin-King, Thurman, who works for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said the four pillars behind the organization are what the three women believe makes a person a well-rounded leader.

“We were just talking about things we wanted to see,” she said. “Even though there’s other programs out there for teens, we still saw loopholes that needed to be filled. So we created L.E.A.D. with Purpose.”

The organization offers workshops and trainings to adults, as well as event and business consulting.

Thurman said she and the other women were planning to begin the youth academy next year to allow more time to plan, but Martin-King wanted to get started this year. Martin-King took a month off from her day job to plan the program.

“She said, ‘This is what I believe. Our time is now,’” Thurman said. “And so, we said, ‘We’re here for you.’”

The free summer academy was made possible due to funding from organizations across the city. Coleman said they received assistance from I Know I Can, the Delta Foundation of Greater Columbus, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Columbus Commission on Black Girls.

The extra funds have allowed the three women to provide breakfast and lunch for the teens five days a week, as well as taking them on weekly field trips. The group visited the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium; met Gov. Mike DeWine and state Sen. Hearcel Craig at the Statehouse; and took a tour of The Ohio State University.

In addition, several guests have come in to talk to the girls, such as Jackson, Frazier and Columbus City Councilmember Priscilla Tyson.

Sunday’s culmination ceremony will feature a dinner and more.

“We will do some superlative awards for the girls just to talk about their experience here and how we’ve experienced them,” Coleman said. “Then we’ll graduate them out of the program.”

In addition, the girls are putting on a talent show.

“There’s going to be a variety of talent, from singing to a band to a dance act,” Thurman said. “They’re really into it.”

Coleman, the founder of Unleashed Sports and Fitness, said the program has helped some of the girls come out of their shells.

“We had some of them that came in the first week with hoodies on. They didn’t want to talk,” she said. “And now it’s like they can’t be quiet.”

One of those girls was 12-year-old Janet Knight. She eventually became friends with Alaina Robinson, who recently moved to Columbus from Colorado. The two plan to become lawyers when they grow up.

“My mom put me in this program, and I wasn’t really up for it,” Robinson said. “And then when I got used to it, it was fun.

“I didn’t just make a lot of friends, I’m friends with the whole academy!”

Columbus firefighter Felecia Jackson and Cincinnati Fire Lt. Falencia Frazier speak to the L.E.A.D. with Purpose summer youth academy.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/07/web1_20210731-AMX-US-NEWS-COLUMBUS-SUMMER-PROGRAM-OFFERS-LEADERSHIP-1-OH.jpgColumbus firefighter Felecia Jackson and Cincinnati Fire Lt. Falencia Frazier speak to the L.E.A.D. with Purpose summer youth academy. Tribune News Service

By Micah Walker

The Columbus Dispatch

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