CALHOUN CITY • Santee Ezell, founder and CEO of Black Girls Rock of MS, Inc., admitted that it was never a goal or dream of hers to form the organization.
It started when she held an event geared at girls in her hometown of Calhoun City. The goal was to meet other young girls and women and give them access to information about leadership and development, health, self-care, and other topics. After the event, women in her community posed the idea of doing the event more often and forming an organization.
Ezell said she and seven other women decided to host monthly meetings, have fundraisers, events to address self-esteem and bullying, and offer young women a space to come, learn and engage with other young ladies. The organization is completely run by volunteers and grant-funding. It has more than 50 members and also offers mentorship services.
“For the African American community, it is imperative that we see women that are in leadership who are accomplishing their goals, who are in different roles in the communities, in their organizations or even churches. Having mentors helps us push our young girls to interact with people they may not know,” Ezell said.
While the organization is structured in Starkville, they have a statewide focus. Through their Facebook page, they have received requests to create chapters in Grenada, Hattiesburg, Jackson and throughout North Mississippi.
“For us, we are always open to partnerships and expanding throughout the state,” Ezell said. “We want to make sure wherever we are, we are making a difference.”
Ezell has an educational and professional background in community-based work and currently serves as assistant director of Health Promotion and Wellness at Mississippi State University. She also has more than 10 years of grant-writing experience and was recently named one of the Top Women in Business by the Black Women’s Expo, in addition to having Black Girls Rock of MS, Inc. recognized as the Best Small Nonprofit 2019 by Youth Service America.
When Black Girls Rock of MS, Inc. first started, they provided canned goods, helped with tornado response, provided backpacks to low income families and made military packages and other tasks. They decided to broaden their focus to see what nonprofits in the community needed and work to ensure they program in different areas, such as service days, honoring women in the community, serving incarcerated people and focusing on breast cancer and health care.
Now in its sixth year, Ezell said they are looking forward to having their first group graduating high school and they want to prepare them for their next steps by letting them know what resources could be available.
“Our mission is that we strive to be a support vessel to young girls and women, to help them reach their full potential. I really hope we are leaving a mark on every young lady and every woman we come in contact with,” Ezell said.
The organization is partnered with more thasn 20 different organizations, churches and after school programs across Mississippi. Future goals include creating a community development center for youth and offering after school programs, as Ezell said that is a need they are still looking to address in Starkville.
“We don’t look at the numbers and crowd, but the impact around us,” Ezell said. “We don’t have to touch 100,000 girls, but if we touch one or two young ladies, then it’s made a difference.”