4 Black Girls With Big Dreams & The 4 Women Living Them
These New York City girls answered the eternal question — “What do you want to be when you grow up?” — and met the women living their dreams.
In recent years, black girls have made themselves seen, felt, and heard in every field. There are more black role models than ever — and Refinery29 wants to shout them out.
From 13-year-old Marley Dias and her international campaign to promote inclusive literature to Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton (who is raising massive amounts of capital for under-funded black female entrepreneurs), to 10-year-old Mari Copeny (a.k.a “Little Miss Flint”) who continues to keep the water-poisoned Michigan town in the public’s mind, and most visibly from Serena on the tennis courts to Beyoncé on any stage, black women and girls continue to make history in defiance of expectations. As Statue of Liberty-climbing activist Therese Patricia Okoumou put it: "Michelle Obama said when they go low, we go high. And I went as high as I could."
The wisdom of showrunner Shonda Rhimes applies here: Having a dream is great, but doing it is even better. That’s doubly true if you consider the importance of role models. Increasingly, black women are showing how much they are capable of — and how much further they can go — by supporting each other and showing the way.
We paired up four black girls with four black women who have made their dreams a reality. One young girl wants to play for the WNBA; another intends to help people with mental illness; one teenaged beauty hustler plans to stock shelves with her own products, and a musical-theatre HAM uses her gift to fight school bullying. This is what it looks like to dream in 2018 — with a little black Girl Magic.
Paris Pristell-Clarke, 13, loves it when her acting roles come with a side of music and dancing. With the help of the Lower East Side Girls Club in New York City, where she goes after school, she has also learned how to deal with school bullying.
“I feel like when I perform, people start liking me, and it doesn’t matter what I look like,” Pristell-Clarke says. “Being a black girl means to be strong and be clever; a girl who accepts herself for who she is, and who tries to make her dreams come true.”
Actress Sydelle Noel embodies a similar ethos by taking on brawny, brassy, alpha woman roles. (See the ass-kicking “Cherry Bang” on Netflix’s GLOW and fierce FBI agent Samandra Watson on The CW’s Arrow.)
“I basically want to be the female version of The Rock,” Noel says. “Right now, we don’t have an African-American female that you can go to and say, ‘She’s my action hero.’ I want to break the barrier.”
Noel was a near-pro track and field athlete and transitioned into acting after college. Embracing that athleticism helped her secure powerful roles, like Dora Milaje in Black Panther.
“For the first time in my life, I had a stunt audition when I tried out for Black Panther. If I listened to people that tried to change my athletic side, there’s no way I could have been ready,” she says. Be yourself — because yourself is unique and it’s enough.”
Underestimate WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike and aspiring pro Nevaeh Moore and you’ll play yourself.
Ogwumike, a forward for the Connecticut Sun, “fell into basketball” when she was about 10 years old. She was tall, gangly, and “clueless” about what to do with her body, and basketball became an outlet to “be aggressive and fierce and female.”
“Playing sports at a young age sets girls up with a competitive mindset to understand that they belong and have a seat at the table,” she says.
Ogwumike was drafted into the WNBA in 2014 after graduating from Stanford University. In the face of two serious injuries over the course of her career, she has expanded her presence on and off the court, serving as the vice president of the WNBA Players Association, signing a multi-year contract with ESPN as an NBA correspondent, and working to advance girls’ participation in basketball in Nigeria.
“Sometimes as a professional athlete, people try to define you by your last game or your statistics. That’s just one portion of who you are,” Ogwumike says. “I’m passionate about my heritage. I’m not just a statistic. I’m a girl with a voice.”
Moore, a bright-eyed, rising sixth-grader from Brooklyn, has a similar level of determination. She tried out for her school’s basketball team in third grade and didn’t make the cut. But instead of giving her up, Moore worked with coaches on her form and ball handling skills. Now on the fifth grade-team, her layups and free throws are the shots to watch out for — and she’ll tell anyone who asks about her hoop dreams.
“For people that don’t know what they want to be yet, it might just show them what they want to be,” she says.
It took Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line for the beauty industry to celebrate a wider array of skin tones. Makeup artist Moshoodat Sanni and 18-year-old high-school grad Mathilda Bruny intend to keep that momentum going.
Sanni started doing makeup in her late teens and dropped out of college to focus on it full-time. She stuck with her craft even after her parents kicked her out.
“Sometimes in life, you’ve got to see what is worth fighting for. Makeup was one of those things for me,” she says.
Less than 10 years later, Sanni is an artist and creative director who has painted the faces of women like Leslie Jones and model Diandra Forrest and created a series of viral beauty projects that showcase the beauty of black women. She also went back to college to hone her business acumen as her influence grows. “First you learn the rules, then you break the rules, then you add rules,” Sanni says.
Bruny, who originally hails from Haiti, has a similar passion. She started wearing a bit of her grandma’s face powder in middle school to boost her confidence. By eleventh grade, she was watching YouTube tutorials and testing out her skills on herself and friends.
“I don’t wear makeup now because I need it. I wear it because that’s how I express myself,” she says. Mathilda intends to major in business administration when she starts at Medgar Evers College in the fall. The next step after that: starting her own makeup brand.
“When I started telling people I want to do makeup, a lot of them said, ‘Oh, it’s really hard to get into...’ But when I have a passion about something, I don’t give up on it,” she says. “Dreaming is what makes you, you.”
Dr. Catherine Adams “had no idea” what she wanted to do in college until her junior year when a volunteer experience at a domestic violence shelter opened her eyes to psychology.
“That the women felt safe enough to be in the room with me and disclose their stories of survival is something I really appreciated,” she says.
Now a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City, Adams works with women of all ages, including trauma survivors. She also serves as an alumni mentor at her doctorate program and hosts meet-and-greets for up-and-coming black women psychologists.
“To be able to talk to someone who has been there, done that, is something I never really had,” she says. “People tend to underestimate themselves, but you never really know what you can do unless you try.”
That’s exactly the kind of support 16-year-old Sandy Jacquet needs. A rising high-school senior, she set her sights on becoming a clinical psychologist after she learned about the field at school. Her parents are “very traditional” and initially steered her toward a “more stable” career in law or the hard sciences. But like Dr. Adams, Jacquet loves being a resource for others who need someone to talk to.
“I enjoy helping people, listening to their stories, helping them with their struggles, and helping them to be confident in themselves even when they’re feeling low,” she says.
Jacquet understands that her intended career path is a formidable challenge, but talking to experienced women in the field and researching online haves sustained her.
“Having a dream is important because you have something to look up to; you have something to support you,” she says.