How The BOLD Academy has empowered Black and Brown girls in Columbia since 2017.
It all started in a salon four years ago.
As Dr. Melita Walker was getting her hair styled by salon owner Chrystal Graves, they started talking about the lack of support and activities for young Black and Brown girls in the Columbia community. As the weeks went on, the conversation started to become more serious, and the two women decided they wanted to take action.
“The conversation evolved into what we can do as members to support our community and to really put our money where our mouths are,” Melita says. “We don’t want to talk about it — we want to be about it. We really wanted to make a change.”
Thus, The BOLD Academy was born. A nonprofit youth-empowerment and mentoring organization, the academy was founded in 2017 to support, nurture, and enhance the leadership skills of Black and Brown girls in Columbia from the ages of 12 to 17 through enrichment opportunities, leadership training, education, and positive identity development.
A Social Network
The girls gather at least once a month in meetings called Bold Connections where the organization’s values are put in practice. At each meeting, speakers are brought in from various career paths to provide demonstrations, presentations, workshops, and mentoring. The academy connects girls with college students, professors, and professionals to give them opportunities for learning, building a network for girls to explore, and discover what careers they’re interested in pursuing after high school.
One key component of the mentorship program is empowerment through representation. “We need our kids to see people who look like them so they can aspire to be like them,” Melita explains. “If we have a kid who wants to be a doctor, we need to get them in front of Black and Brown doctors.” The academy is always looking for more representative mentors from different fields to show the girls what they’re capable of.
Networking doesn’t stop with mentors. One of the most important aspects of The BOLD Academy is how the girls build relationships among themselves. Despite going to different schools around Columbia, the girls bond through shared experiences.
“I think that the opportunity to get together once a month with girls like them — that look like them, think like them, and have similar challenges — is really awesome,” Melita says. “When they come together, they can talk about what they have in common and they can support each other.”
A Focus on Education
Apart from girls forming connections with each other and mentors, the primary goal of The BOLD Academy is education — aiming to prepare the girls for success in whatever field they decide to go into.
Girls are kept on-track through grade checks and tutoring if needed, and they also get new educational opportunities through the academy. One activity offered to the girls is a summer academy hosted through a partnership with Columbia College and Stephens College. The week-long course emphasizes the academy’s core values and provides additional networking. The academy also sets up college visit trips so girls can explore their options for after high school, and it provides school supplies to girls and their family members.
The academy is also trying to build connections in the community to find internships. “Our goal for the fall and next summer is creating bridges,” Melita says. “How can we connect them to a business, or an organization, or one of the schools, so that they can get into the field and learn as much as they can? And how do we connect our kids to different networks to impact our community more?”
However, the greatest way The BOLD Academy supports the girls is by establishing a 529 college savings plan for their future studies. With 20 to 25 girls in the program, each girl is provided funding for post-secondary education over the years they’re involved.
“We give them money for participating and attending all of our monthly connections,” Melita says. “And then we also give them money for any volunteer hours that they complete throughout the course of the year-long program.”
The academy also provides scholarships for girls to take online classes or to go to different college summer camps. “Although the money that they earned does go into their 529 account, we support them in other ways as well if they need it,” Melita says.
The support of the academy yields significant results. Of the nine girls that have graduated thus far, all nine have gone to colleges around Columbia. Furthermore, a few of the girls have stayed involved with the academy, becoming mentors and teaching classes.
“Not all the girls stay connected, but there are a few who want to stay connected,” Melita says. “And we encourage that because they become a part of our network. Also, they’ve been with our girls for so many years that they’re also their friends. Sisterhood is one of our values, and so they really come to depend on each other and support each other.”
Joining the Movement
In the past few months, the Black Lives Matter movement has caught fire around the nation to call for action, and The BOLD Academy has joined the fight. The academy worked alongside the Women’s Business League to sell BLM signs. The immediate demand was shocking.
“What was tremendous about it was that we had 400 signs the first day, and we sold out within 45 minutes,” Melita says. “And so we ordered another 800 signs. We pre-ordered those because the demand was so high, and then we ran out of those. So we decided to do an online store, and now anyone interested in buying the sign can go to our website where they can get T-shirts and signs that will be shipped for free directly to them.”
All of the funds go directly to The BOLD Academy, and the money will be used to support the girls and fund more college visits.
The movement has also provided a necessary space for conversations about race, Melita says. “Part of the issue of race and racism, and the way we see it in the United States and all over the world, is that there is a whitewashed history, and there’s so much of Black history that is not told,” she explains. “And so we have white friends who are engaging in this conversation in a way that they haven’t engaged before. And knowledge is power. That, to me, is what’s going to matter. It’s educating ourselves and engaging in a conversation in a vulnerable way.”
The Bold Academy
Mission Statement: The vision of The BOLD Academy Leadership and Excellence Academy is to support, nurture, and enhance the leadership skills of Black and Brown girls in Columbia. The BOLD Academy empowers and uplifts Black and Brown girls through enrichment opportunities, leadership training, education, and positive identity development.
co-founder and vice president
Dr. Melita Walker
co-founder and president
Dr. Teresa M. VanDover
Dr. Joi Moore
STEM committee chair