Defy the odds: Juneteenth mentorship program builds up young Black women

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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The 2024 #DefyTheOdds Mentorship Program, which helps provide cultural awareness, empowerment, and professional and personal development in honor of the Juneteenth holiday, is leading up to the Second Annual Miss Juneteenth Virginia Legacy Pageant set for 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 29, at the Hampton Roads KROC Center in Norfolk. Tickets are $20 for adults and $5 for anyone 18 and under.

Seals says the mentorship program provides 15 to 18 workshop sessions where participants are taught about the history of Juneteenth. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It marks June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all enslaved people were free, over two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“They have classes on confidence, black girl magic. They have classes on building wealth. Also classes on mental health, dealing with social media,” Seals said. “So, tools that they can use, not just in a mentorship scene or a pageant scene, but tools that they can use going forward into their adulthood path.”

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Seals calls the statewide pageant a “graduation of the mentorship program” while also celebrating and uplifting the participating young ladies’ dreams and aspirations. On what Seals has learned herself from the program and pageant, she says that “every day is a learning experience for everyone.”

“No matter if you’re a participant or a mentor in this program, because there’s just so much out here, and I am sure you can attest, there’s so much out here that people just don’t know. It’s not in our history books and it’s not told to us via our parents and our grandparents, there’s a lot of things that we just don’t know,” she said. “So for me, the most valuable attribute that I’ve taken from it, really it’s an age of discovery of finding things that weren’t particularly lost, but we just didn’t know about.”

Likewise, Seals says the program pushes “The Story of Us.”

“The Story of Us is not just for African-Americans, it’s the story of all of us: our caucasian sister and brothers, our hispanic sister and brothers, all of us. All of us,” Seals said. “Until we can really understand what our ancestors went through in the past and how they prevailed and how they kept up that synergy to just keep going, I believe those are lessons right now that our young people, and even people my age need. Because it’s hard just being in the world and just trying to maneuver around the world. But if you have some kind of support or understand that ‘Hey, you know what? They can do it, I can do it. If they can get through this and they’ve gotten through this, I can get through this…’”