Jelicia Clinton of Southern Black Girls and program participant London

Project Spotlight

Powering Black Girl Joy Across the South

Comic Relief US heads South to shadow Jelicia Clinton from The Southern Black Girls & Women's Consortium for a day.

June 10, 2024

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Comic Relief US heads South to shadow Jelicia Clinton from The Southern Black Girls & Women's Consortium for a day.

What does Jelicia Clinton love most about her job? Seeing the young girls under her care blossom right before her eyes. “I love to see them grow every day. It's amazing. I've seen girls go from not talking at all; just shy, now they just won't stop talking. It's amazing,” she explains.

As the Youth Engagement Manager for the Southern Black Girls & Women's Consortium (SBGWC), Jelicia oversees grant management, programming, and technical support for the #BlackGirlJoyChallenge, the Southern Black Girls Youth Ambassador program; as well as the Black Girls Dream Fund. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Jelicia was well aware of the barriers facing Black women and girls in the South before joining SBGWC. “I understood that Black girls were underserved, and there was no funding for Black women and girls in the South.” Founded by Black women in philanthropy, activism, and movement-building throughout the Southeast, SBGWC addresses this challenge. The collective works to fundraise and bring resources to Black women-led organizations that intentionally support and empower thousands of Black girls and women. 

“We went around to our states, listening to the girls,” says Jelicia. “We asked about what they need and what's going on in their communities.” She says they found that many girls faced a lack of essential services like housing and financial resources, but also, overwhelmingly, they highlighted feeling a lack of beauty, confidence, and emotional safety. “When they come to the consortium, they feel safe and welcomed with open arms, which led to the creation of the #BlackGirlJoyChallenge,” explains Jelicia. 

The #BlackGirlJoyChallenge introduces joy as essential to mental health and self-care by awarding $550 micro-grants to young girls and gender-expansive youth between the ages of 12 and 24 who have ideas for spreading joy to their friends, family, and community. Since 2020, the challenge has provided funding for over 1,000 creative projects across 13 states.

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The Southern Black Girls Youth Ambassadors act as valuable advocates for the #BlackGirlJoyChallenge, helping to promote the opportunity within their networks, supporting potential applicants, and selecting final winners. On this day, Jelicia has invited ambassadors Hannah (18) and Justine (16) to their Atlanta headquarters to meet with London, a 14-year-old cheerleader submitting her first application for the #BlackGirlJoyChallenge. In-person feedback for participants like London has proven particularly valuable, as it allows for hands-on guidance through the application process. “This approach ensures that applicants can present their projects clearly and comprehensively,” says Jelicia. 
With the help of Jelicia and the ambassadors, London is formulating her project idea for a cheerleader slumber party to bring joy to her peers. Previous awardees have organized a variety of impactful initiatives, including a “Paint Night” to spark joy through art, a robotics team for Black girls, and an initiative to advocate for low-income schools across Alabama to receive free period products, which successfully ushered in breakthrough legislation. “We have many girls come to us after doing the #BlackGirlJoyChallenge, saying it’s changed their life, [that] we’ve motivated them, [and that] they’ve never had anyone actually tell them, ‘you can do it,’” adds Jelicia.
The Southern Black Girls Youth Ambassadors is a leadership development program that teaches promising young leaders about Black girls and women’s roles in philanthropy. Hannah is one of 26 girls selected each year (two girls from each Southern state). The Alabama native is well-versed in the mission of Southern Black Girls, and here she explains the group’s origins to London. All youth ambassadors receive media training and technical/fundraising support for long-term projects and goals such as applying to college. Like most ambassadors, Hannah is also a #BlackGirlJoyChallenge awardee, making her uniquely qualified to review applications. They meet over a month-long review process to debate and advocate for their choices before selecting winners.
At the end of their meeting, the group receives a visit from mental health expert Ce Anderson. “As a doctor, she commended our focus on emotional wellness for Black girls,” Jelicia explains. The value of opportunities to learn from and network with like-minded women and girls is why SBGWC is investing in creating spaces for convening such as their annual Black Girls Dream Conference. “I think it's significant because a lot of these girls and women have never been outside of their county lines,” explains Jelicia. “They don't have many opportunities. And so when they come to [a] Southern Black Girls [event], they have the opportunity to dream, to find their joy, to find themselves.”
“Honestly, seeing the girls smile and interact with each other, actually enjoying the program. It's just them actually being involved,” says Jelicia when asked what keeps her so motivated. Despite her busy schedule, the 28-year-old has just completed her MBA, and she’s already plotting her next goal. “These girls wake up excited to do the work every day, and I feel like that gives me joy to do the work. ”

Southern Black Girls & Women's Consortium (SBGWC) is a grantee partner of Comic Relief US.

All images photographed by Lynsey Weatherspoon.

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