by Hannah Langley ’21
This article is part of The Cowl’s Listening Tour, a series that aims to amplify the voices of BIPOC members of our community and bring awareness to social justice initiatives on campus.
When Dr. Ashley Smith-Purviance, assistant professor of Black studies and of public and community service studies, came to Providence College this year, she knew she wanted to begin a community outreach program for young Black girls in the Providence community. With the help of a $15,000 grant from the Nellie May Educational Foundation, she was able to begin her Black Girl Magic program at PC, giving PC students the opportunity to mentor Black girls in middle school.
Before coming to PC in 2020, Smith-Purviance was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she taught educational policy studies and gender and women studies courses and received her doctorate. During her time in school, Smith-Purviance realized that she had a strong desire to help young Black students, specifically girls and young women. It was in Madison, WI that Smith-Purviance began her first Black Girl Magic program.
Similar to the program she began in Wisconsin, the Black Girl Magic program at PC is an after-school program in which Black middle school girls meet with four PC students who act as mentors to the girls. During these meetings, the girls engage in a variety of ice-breakers, crafts, and other activities, said Brittney Smith ’22, a marketing major and Black studies minor, who is one of this year’s mentors.
“We try to tie in small lessons or things for the girls to think about while still keeping it fun and engaging,” said Smith.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Girl Magic program has been held virtually so far. While there have been challenges engaging with the girls sometimes over Zoom, Smith-Purviance and the mentors try their best to make the girls comfortable. They noted how many of the girls do not put their cameras on during the meetings, but Smith-Purviance and the mentors want to emphasize that they are beautiful just as they are and try to grow confidence within them.
Smith found out about the program when she received the email from the Black studies program about becoming a mentor and part of the program. She immediately knew she wanted to get involved. “I’m just so happy a program like this is here,” said Smith. As a Black student at PC, she noted, “There was no way I could be here and sit out on this.”
She hopes that a program like this will also help build a stronger connection between PC and the greater Providence communities. “There are people on this campus that are dedicated to seeing PC grow and give back to the community,” Smith said, and she hopes a program like this will exemplify that idea.
The other mentors include Kim Hussey ’24, Jennifer Merandisse ’24, and Brianna Harper ’22. Along with Smith, these four women have been mentors since the program’s founding in November and plan on continuing to work with the middle school girls throughout this semester.
When asked why she became part of the program, Harper responded, “I got involved because I believe it’s important to teach young Black girls the positives of being Black.” She continued, “We want to make sure they understand Black is beautiful!”
As mentioned, the current virtual platform for the program has made building connections with some of the girls more difficult, but they are all working towards making the girls more comfortable with each meeting. “Not all the girls know each other yet,” said Hussey. “It can be scary talking to college kids in front of other kids in your school, and we understand why they are nervous.” Smith noted that while she knows many of the girls are uncomfortable, she wants them to learn and know that they can turn to any of the mentors, including herself, for help and support.
Right now, the program consists of over a dozen middle school girls from Gilbert Stuart Middle School in Providence, but Smith-Purviance is currently working towards expanding the program to more local middle schools.
Smith-Purviance also hopes that the current and future mentors will use their experience in the program to make it their own and carry the lessons they learn with them in the future. She looks forward to working with the current mentors, as well as bringing new mentors into the program.
Not only does Smith-Purviance want the mentors and young girls in her program to learn from this experience, but she also wants to spread this entrepreneurial spirit to all PC students. Beginning next fall, Smith-Purviance plans on teaching a class focused on creating programs that build community relations through the lens of Black girlhood and appropriately and properly working with students of color.
Both Smith-Purviance and the current mentors of the Black Girl Magic program have high hopes for the future of the program at PC and hope that it will continue to build in the years to come.