Community Manager Spotlight

From Observation to Impact: The Roadmap to Spark Social Change

When it comes to community leaders creating real change, Nailah Reine Barnes is an amazing example. We were delighted to speak with her about her work founding The Brains with Beauty Project and how she has grown the organization with a community committed to helping Black girls feel limitlessness. Nailah founded this nonprofit in 2015 while in high school. She led the organization to increased impact while she was an undergraduate student at Spelman College. Over the years, The Brains with Beauty Project, has maintained its mission of equipping Black girls with tools to nurture their academic excellence and holistic wellness. The organization's motto, we can have it all, and its name, The Brains with Beauty Project, encompass its belief that Black girls are brilliant, beautiful, and boundless.

The project began with Nailah placing books for girls to read in hair salons while they got their hair done. From there, it has grown into a multi-pronged organization, including a vibrant online platform full of resources for coming-of-age Black girls to learn about college, beauty tips, and thoughts to spark change in their communities and within themselves!

EKOS: What motivated you when building this vibrant community when you were first founding The Brains with Beauty Project?

Nailah: "When I started the organization, I wanted to create spaces that helped Black girls feel brilliant and beautiful. Growing up, my family celebrated and nurtured my talents and made me feel beautiful. However, when I stepped out of my nuclear community, whether it be my high school setting or just the world at large, I wasn't feeling that same degree of love, care, or empowerment. I wanted to address this gulf.

All of our content is created with Black girls in mind as our primary audience. For example, when spotlighting scholarships, we scour the web for programs explicitly looking for applicants from minoritized groups. We then advertise the scholarships with graphic designs created by Black women artists that feature beautiful illustrations of Black women to signal visually to our audience that the scholarships are for them. We also focus on helping Black girls choose schools that will nurture their spirits and promote a love of self; thus, we spotlight historically Black colleges and universities. On the wellness/beauty side, we share myriad tips and tools created with Black girls in mind, such as the importance of understating hair porosity and the skincare company Topicals. Ultimately, a calling to help Black girls and young women see that they are boundless drives me."

EKOS: Why is building a community so important for creating social change?

Nailah: "When I first started, I was cold-calling salons and trying to create this movement independently. Everything got so much easier when I was able to get my friends from my high school involved. They were so eager to help. Learning that they, too, felt a lack of attention in beauty and wellness spaces, and academia on their needs as Black girls, I felt so much less alone. Once they joined, I felt a wave of confidence and certainty to continue on my path.

Change doesn't happen in a silo but rather in community. When starting this organization, my community connected me to resources like initial funding sources, grants, and even book donations from local libraries to help get the project off the ground. Now the organization is situated within Spelman College’s Bonner Office of Civic Engagement. I am immensely grateful for these connections. The organization would not exist without them. Community is everything."

EKOS: How has your experience building this nonprofit and community affected who you are today in your post-graduate career?

Nailah: "As The Brains with Beauty Project grew over the years, I had moments when I questioned, "Am I leading this well? Is it moving as fast as it could? Could I be doing more?" The biggest thing I learned was how to lean into my community. I know that if I need anything or if I'm feeling alone, I have a vast community of people that I can call upon to help me pull myself up out of that low point.

Additionally, I want to emphasize how this community has shown me that I am limitless. I can build a nonprofit with a dedicated vision but also build other things into my schedule, like an entire undergraduate course load and sports. Founding The Brains with Beauty Project has taught me that success in growing an organization necessitates two things. One: having a thesis – a guiding mission for who you are and what you want to accomplish. I unabashedly center Black girls and young women in all that I do and want to create spaces that cater to our well-being and success. And two: having a strong community to help build upon that mission and bring it to fruition. From my mom driving me all around western Massachusetts to deliver books to salons in 2015 to a robust team of twenty driven Spelman College students running the organization today, community is our heartbeat."

3 Takeaways

1) Look around in your own life for a problem you are facing that you can solve for future generations to come.

2) Community building is an asset for any company because it can connect you to the right resources to help your business take off.

3) Don't put your identity in a box- it sets arbitrary limits for yourself on what you can and can't do.

We loved getting to speak with Nailah and getting to hear her perspective on empowering yourself and others in a community.

Be sure to check out The Brains with Beauty Project's website and Instagram, as well as to share its resources with Black girls in your life.

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