*In this day and age it appears as though the youth are loosing their minds and while it may appear as though these are the resentful rants of a man who is waning in youth, they are nothing of the sort.  While my cup runneth over with swagger, my heart over flows with concern for the future of black children in general and African American children in particular.  

If you’re looking for a statistical breakdown then you’re reading the wrong article, but after years of living in metropolitan areas on the east and west coast, as well as down south, I can tell you it ain’t good.  Not at all!  When it comes to dealing with circumstances that affect the black community, uplifting African American women is paramount.  

Author, and head of the faith-based organization Imani Phi Christ, Nicole Roberts Jones is aware of this and has spent the past 17 years of her life trying to turn the tide of darkness that appears to rising against black girls.  Her new book is titled “Define Your Own Way: Empowering Young African American Women.”  EURweb.com had the great pleasure of speaking with her about the book, her faith-based program and the issues facing young black women and girls.

“I had been working with young women for 17 years,” Ms. Roberts Jones told EURweb.com when asked what inspired the book. “I am a young woman from South Central Los Angeles. I started a program (Imani Phi Christ) to help teenaged girls get their dreams and thoughts out and help them realize their potential. Some 17 years later that program is doing very well. However, when my first set of girls started graduating from college and turning 25 they ran into a wide variety of issues: ‘I graduate from college and have the job of my dreams, but I’m not making enough money or I’m in a relationship with this guy and he just doesn’t get me or I didn’t get him.’  So, I really started talking to my young women one-on-one and they started referring some of their friends to me. I realized there was such a need, and as my youth program Imani Phi Christ was growing with 9 chapters in 7 states which kept my constantly on the road, I didn’t have time for the one-on-one work I used to do with young women.  So, I put the principles in a book thinking I could probably touch more people with a book than I could with a phone call.  That was my reason for writing this book so I could really share the same principles that I was sharing with young women on the phone calls, as well as a worksheet as well.”

When a group of people experience problems that are unique to them it may seem like all the forces in existence are amassed against them, but there are those that are in the trenches, fighting the good fight … and winning in many instances. Nicole Roberts Jones is one of those people.

“As you may know, every major movement was started in the black church, so I just continued that tradition with the Imani Phi Christ program being located in churches around the country. It’s an opportunity for them (young women) to work on self-development, working on self-esteem, helping them work on who they want to be.  In other words, what do they want to do when they grow up, and helping them carve out a path that helps them with getting there. Hopefully that involves college, it usually does. We help them plan for college, and apply.  We also teach them financial literacy skills for when they do go to college and graduate and get their first paycheck.  Right now our 9 chapters are in California in Los Angeles and in Orange County; West Palm Beach, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; Boston, Massachusetts; Longs, South Carolina, and Phoenix, Arizona.  Out of that program came Imani Life Transformations, which is for adults and the book comes out of that program.”

Angelic in presence, wise and possessing a level of patience as deep as an ocean, these are the attributes that come to mind, and heart, when many of us think of the black women that dominated our lives as children.  While they didn’t posses wings or halos, they weren’t video vixens either.  The transition appears to have happened slowly, but steadily over the decades.  Now we’re at a point where the least favorable role models are the preferred role models of young black women.  We asked Jones how this change in values could have happened.

“I think that what has happened over time, and what I’m getting ready to say has not been researched as far as I know, when we were segregated we could see a little bit of everything right in our own neighborhoods,” she told EURweb.com. “You might live across the street from a doctor, you might be a bus driver, and you might live next door to your teacher at your school. We all lived in the same community, but when we became desegregated and began to move out to wherever we wanted to live we didn’t see (that). I’m from South Central so I did not see a doctor or a lawyer or those kinds of professions.  What made the difference for me was different from a lot friends that I grew up with was I had a mentor who was African American. She was young, and even though she was saying some of the same things my parents were saying to me, she made it cool because she was closer to my age. It was cool that she was going to USC to be a lawyer and studying for the LSAT. It made me aspire to more and that is what made the difference for me, unlike a lot of the girls that were in my neighborhood. I think our young people need to see people that are closer to their age connect to them and say ‘You can do this. You do have an opportunity to become anything you dream of. All you have to do is reach out and grab your piece of the pie’.”

Though the African American church has been the launch pad for many historical movements in the black community, the number of church related scandals that have littered the news as of late coupled with a general distrust for clergy in American society as a whole may have eroded our community’s confidence in our churches, mosques and temples. If this is true can a faith-based program be effective in the 21st century?  We posed this question to Nicole and here’s what she had to say.

“Because I’m not a minister I would say that’s hard to answer,” she admitted. “Every church is its own small business; some are mega-business, so that’s a question that would have to be answered congregation to congregation.  I know for me, and the program I’m working on, when we say to a parent ‘Your child is coming to a program at the church,’ even if the parent is not a member of the church, it’s easier to allow the child to come to a program that’s sponsored by the church rather than saying ‘We’re going to be at the community center.’  Then they’re going to want to know whose up there, why?  For me, having the program be faith-based makes it easier because I would say 90% of black folks are Christians or have some belief in a high power.  So, continuing with that tradition has made it easier for parents to say okay.”

Though our Nicole Roberts Jones’ Imani Phi Christ program is geared toward young African American women, her mission is to help all black women. It is to that end that she founded her Imani Life Transformations for adults.  We asked her opinion on the current state of the so-called “independent” ladies of the day. However, all too often that independence is not true independence at all.  

“I have to be honest, being from the hood, we look for a way to get out of the hood,” she told EURweb.com.  “The easiest way out for a young woman, or so we think when we’re in it, is to find a man with money. That may be a ball player or a drug dealer; we’re trying to find a way that we can have the big house and the big cars and that sometimes becomes our focus.  My purpose for writing this book is helping young women take the emphasis off the outside and put it on the inside and focus on who you really are. It’s so sad that a lot of young women look at these videos and aspire to be a video vixen and some of them respond with that when I ask them what they want to be when they grow up. So how long do you think that will be? What will your next move be after that? What’s going to be the next move and what’re you going to do to move up to the next level? I think asking them those questions and having them think about things gives them a different perspective.  

“Lately black women have largely defined ourselves by the hair we buy, the car we drive … the designer purse on our arm and really those are not who we are,” she explained.  “Those are things that we have.  Those are things that can be a gift for great service but, again, it’s not who you are.  My goal in writing this book was to have women stop and think ‘Who do you want to be?  When you leave this Earth how do you want to be remembered?  What do you want your lasting impression to be?  Why were you put on this Earth?  What is your gift?’  We need to find a way to water the seed that was given to us when we were born.  That’s really the point of me writing this book.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting a nice purse or having a nice car or buying hair, but that’s not who you are.”

Nicole Roberts Jones book “Defining Your Own Way: Aspiring Young African American Women” is available in at bookstores now.  For more information on Imani Phi Christ, as well as Imani Life Transformations, log on to www.imani.org.