NCNW, Ashley Stewart Campaign to Empower Black Women, Girls

Retailer opens doors as a safe haven, mentor center

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Dorothy L. Height, 96, president emeritus of the NCNW, far right, says she cherished her mentor, civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, and believes black girls can benefit from mentorship.

Ashley Stewart began their celebration of women’s empowerment four months ahead of National Women’s History Month, when they announced the “We are Listening” campaign last October. Now, every Tuesday in all 217 Ashley Stewart stores across the country, black women and girls join together with the support of the National Council of Negro Women to mentor, celebrate, and empower one another.

“We have to work harder at intergenerational sharing and giving,” Dorothy L. Height, chair and president emeritus of the NCNW, said after a press conference this week announcing the benefits of the program. “I think older people have a responsibility not only for sharing our history, but also recognizing the new changes and the new things to which we have to adapt and move forward.”

Sponsored by the Ashley Stewart Stores Community Foundation, the “We are Listening” program was created to provide “safe spaces” for young women under 35 and older women in the African American community. At the Tuesday meetings, the women and girls discuss topics ranging from domestic violence to education and cancer prevention.

Since the program’s inception in November, each week 1,800 women of all races have paid the $30 membership fee to join the NCNW through Ashley Stewart stores. This week the ASSCF presented Height and the NCNW with a check representing funds raised through the end of Dec. 2008. Customers who join the NCNW receive a one-time 20% discount and a 10% discount for one year on all purchases at Ashley Stewart Stores.

The intent of the campaign is to shed unflattering perceptions that are heaped on black women by society and even themselves, and help melt disparities that disproportionately affect black women.

“So often when we think of black women in this culture, it is just a sexualized image or an image of victimhood,” says Avis Jones DeWeever, an affiliate scholar at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the director of research at the NCNW. “I think it is a wonderful example of corporate responsibility and giving back to the community by a company that didn’t have to do it but they did,” says DeWeever.

Ashley Stewart, a division of Urban Brands, is not alone in its undertaking to empower women and girls. President Barack Obama has initiated a federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls with the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The council will ensure that all federal agencies take into account the particular needs of women and girls, including topics such as family leave and child care.  Three out of four low-wage workers have no paid sick leave, according to the White House.

DeWeever believes that paid sick leave is critically important, especially for black women, because they

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  • Robin Caldwell

    This is such a smart program. I hope it does well and the word continues to spread about it.

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  • Good concept but it is not focused enough.

    1. It focuses on Black Women and Girls. Are they doing something collectively or independently for those groups?

    2. Where are these mentoring places located? Physical? Online?

    3. What does a $30 membership pay for?

    4. How is ‘talking about’ things empowering people? Who is talking about these things? Community leaders and advocates? Professionals? What is the call to action?

    This article does not speak to me and the person who will probably need this most is probably not a subscriber to Black Enterprise Magazine or browsing this website.

    The program needs to be better defined and/or the article better written. Inspire me as a member of YOUR target audience to get excited about this program and want to get involved with it and make sure people in my network know about this.


    • Courtney Wise

      1.) The program focuses collectively on Black women and girls. It is a cross-generational discussion series.

      2.) The meeting places are Ashley Stewart stores in your particular area. The partnership is such that NCNW will plan the program while Ashley Stewart will provide the venue.

      3.) Your $30 national membership in NCNW pays for resources which are shared with NCNW sections so that they might operate effectively, i.e. leadership training materials, leadership conferences, national staff positions, and essentially all people/tools needed to make sure an organization as large as NCNW can operate. Additional section dues provide individual section treasuries; as you may well be aware, even in the nonprofit world, services cost money.

      4.) Talking about things empowers people by informing them of issues they may not have been aware about and giving them the tools to take action after they leave. Talking about things, particularly in a diverse group–in this case diversity will be found perhaps in age, socioeconomic status and personal background–enables people to grow their community perspective and community view by learning and interacting with people who actually aren’t like them–even if they share the same skin color. Talking about things, in this regard, will empower attendees to realize that there are women who want to make some changes in their personal lives and/or communities, and put them in touch with one another so that they may leave and connect later on. Talking about things in a forum such as this will allow attendees to expand their personal networks.

      NCNW Sections will allow not only community members/attendees to talk with one another, but will also bring in experts from whatever fields are being discussed.

      Essentially, the call to action is for the attendee to join NCNW and participate in regular community service at the end of the event, or take charge of her physical health, or financial health, or mental health or whatever health based on the topic of discussion. Quite frankly, that is the purpose of community-minded groups like sections of NCNW–to give people the tools to improve their individual selves so that those individuals may in turn become part of movements that transform their communities. To say that this article, or even the partnership between NCNW and Ashley Stewart does not speak to YOU is one thing; to say that the person who may need to attend the forums isn’t being reached either, because they don’t read Black Enterprise is quite another. Middle-class and upper-class, college educated Black women also struggle with weight, mental illness, domestic violence, aging parents, autistic children, sexism, AIDS, cancer, sickle-cell anemia, identity theft, foreclosure, and a myriad of other things which you only have to be alive to know. Should you find that such an approach doesn’t do it for you, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding masses of other groups which you might be interested to join in this age of new and massive media.

  • If you want to hear a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this article for four from five. Decent info, but I just have to go to that damn yahoo to find the missed pieces. Thanks, anyway!

  • Montrey (Lane) Suddeth

    I want to commend the prisident Dorthy L. Height for such a wonderful organization, fantastic information I want in, and I know several of my friends have been trying to get a program started like this , now how do I get such a program started in Akron, Oh?

  • allison salter

    how can i become a mentor inside the program with ashley stewart here in tampabay florida

  • Natasia

    Is this program in New Jersey? I would love to get involved.

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