HomeArticleBlog  →  Empowering Girls: La’Keisha Gray-Sewell and Girls Like Me Project’s Collaboration with Common Impact and The Allstate Foundation 

Empowering Girls: La’Keisha Gray-Sewell and Girls Like Me Project’s Collaboration with Common Impact and The Allstate Foundation 

By Common Impact | February 27, 2024

As the Founder and Executive Director of Girls Like Me ProjectLa’Keisha Gray-Sewell is committed to empowering African American girls. Her mission is to help them critically examine social, cultural, and political ideologies in media, including negative stereotypes. Her organization equips them with the tools and strategies to become influential, independent digital storytellers who transform their communities and foster global sisterhood. 

Under her leadership, Girls Like Me Project has positively impacted the lives of over 700 girls through transformative programs and events, fostering global sisterhood in just 13 years. In addition to her advocacy work, La’Keisha is a published author, having released her memoir and empowerment book, Move Beyond the Block, in 2018. She also hosts Move Beyond The Block TV show and podcast, aiming to uplift unheard voices and stories.  

We first connected with La’Keisha Gray-Sewell through our skills-based programming with The Allstate Foundation. When we learned about her exceptional work, we immediately knew we wanted to learn more about her mission and organization. We’re thrilled to share La’Keisha’s experience with skill-based volunteering and insights into her remarkable journey as a dedicated girls’ advocate. 

Can you share the story behind founding Girls Like Me Project and your personal journey that led you to become a girls’ advocate? 

When I was nine, my sister and I stayed with our father after our parents’ divorce. My father’s partner had a different parenting approach, and after an incident that put my sister’s well-being at risk, she and I walked eight miles through Chicago’s south side to our mother’s house. This experience instilled in me a sense of advocacy, particularly for girls, and a belief in speaking up for yourself rather than being a passive victim of circumstances. 

The idea for Girls Like Me Project began when my son was in fourth grade. I observed concerning behavior among the girls in his class – behaviors reminiscent of reality TV shows like Bad Girls Club. These girls, aged 8 and 9, were engaging in mean-spirited behavior and mimicking the adult confrontations they saw on TV. 

This troubled me so deeply that I decided to intervene. I organized a weekly lunch gathering for the girls in my son’s school, using the book The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake as a focal point. This book addresses various issues young girls face, including community violence, bullying, colorism, racism, and educational disparities. Through discussions, reflections, and positive reinforcement centered around this book, I witnessed a transformation in the girls. They developed a sense of sisterhood, holding themselves accountable to one another. 

The success of this initiative was evident when the girls requested to continue beyond fourth grade. These girls remained engaged in the program through middle school. In 2012, inspired by this work’s impact, I decided to formalize my efforts into an organization. The Girls Like Me Project was born out of this desire to provide ongoing support and empowerment to young girls. 

What is your organization’s biggest challenge, and how do you overcome it? 

Running a nonprofit comes with unique challenges, particularly regarding funding and operational flexibility. Managing our capacity while keeping up with the high demand for our services is a balancing game. While we receive programmatic funding, it often restricts our ability to cover operating expenses such as hiring and evaluation tools. This limitation slows down our growth and hinders our operational capacity.  

Diversifying revenue streams beyond traditional sources like foundations and grants has been crucial. Exploring corporate sponsorships and other avenues has helped us navigate this challenge. Our network of volunteers and donors has been instrumental in sustaining our operations. Building a strong reputation for our programs has also been essential in garnering support. Partnering with other organizations for pro bono work, like Common Impact and The Allstate Foundation, and leveraging corporate employee’s expertise has allowed us to serve more girls and provide comprehensive support to families. Emphasizing the importance of volunteerism and fostering partnerships is key to overcoming challenges and achieving our mission. 

You recently participated in a skills-based volunteering program with The Allstate Foundation and Common Impact. Could you share details about the project and the outcomes that emerged from this collaboration that you find particularly exciting?  

My organization has participated in two skills-based volunteering events with Common Impact and The Allstate Foundation. We focused on quantifying and communicating our impact effectively during the first project. We grappled with questions like: How do we measure our impact? and How do we articulate it? Our first volunteer team provided invaluable assistance by developing an impact report framework and template. A few months later, we produced an impactful video that distilled key insights and metrics into a visually engaging format. The volunteers brought many creative and inspiring ideas that made the video engaging and showcased the impact of our mission effectively.  

The second project’s objective was to formalize a teacher training program to meet the increasing demand for our services across multiple schools in Chicago, Illinois. The aim was to generate revenue by offering licensed programs to schools, enabling them to implement our curriculum independently. The Allstate volunteer team played a pivotal role in shaping this initiative, assisting with strategic planning, financial modeling, and benchmarking against similar organizations. Their comprehensive support encompassed various facets, from marketing strategies to legal considerations and program development. It was a well-rounded collaboration that yielded tangible results. Their genuine interest and eagerness to understand our organization and work stood out.  

Were there specific skills or expertise from the Allstate volunteers that stood out to you and proved particularly beneficial for the projects?  

I distinctly recall the comprehensive approach they brought. My strength lies in visionary thinking, envisioning the possibilities for our mission. The team of volunteers complemented my big-picture perspective with their practical and logistical mindset, with a special emphasis on revenue strategy. They empowered me to recognize our work’s value, asserting that our cause deserves support and resources while debunking the notion that nonprofits should settle for less. Their ability to translate our vision into actionable steps aligned with our objectives was impressive. 

Looking forward, what are your goals for Girls Like Me Project, and can you share any upcoming projects or initiatives that you’re excited about? 

My goal is to establish a media production and research center where girls can learn storytelling, filmmaking, and production. They’ll also receive training in data science, contributing to research projects on media history and market research. The center will empower young girls with the tools and opportunities to control their stories and participate in research and media, where they are typically unrepresented and misrepresented. 

I’m particularly excited about the upcoming 12th celebration of Chicago Day of the Girl, which coincides with the United Nations International Day of the Girl on October 11th each year. This day highlights issues affecting girls globally, from gender violence to educational equity and environmental concerns. Despite Chicago being a trafficking hub and faces alarming rates of gender violence against Black girls, these critical issues often go unnoticed within the local community. We pioneered the Chicago Day of the Girl initiative to ensure our girls are included in these crucial conversations. The immersive and interactive programming provides wellness education, art installations, short film screenings, and talent shows. Read about our 2023 program here. I’m hopeful that our efforts will lead to official recognition from the city.  

Our girls are doing a lot! They are exploring new forms of storytelling, such as mural arts and DJing, enabling them to curate positive media playlists and express themselves creatively. They are also working on projects to honor missing and murdered girls in partnership with the Damon Reid Still Searching Project. A lot of exciting work is happening, and I’m thrilled about the opportunities ahead. 

We at Common Impact are deeply moved by the meaningful impact La’Keisha’s work is having on the Chicago community. It’s an honor for us to play a part in supporting Girls Like Me Project. For more social impact content, follow us on LinkedIn and sign-up for our monthly newsletter. Ready to learn more about skills-based volunteering? Contact us.

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