WOODLAWN — Young women of color are routinely underestimated and Delores Tomorrow knows that firsthand.
The Kenwood Academy graduate who worked for former First Lady Michelle Obama was once told she was “just not ready for college” by an academic advisor who was supposed to be helping her.
So Tomorrow set out to make sure other young black women know their value by launching iGlow Mentoring, a Woodlawn-based mentorship program that will take 21 teen girls to London next week — the first trip out of the country for most of them.
The group will leave Dec. 28 and return Jan. 3. In that time, they’ll sightsee, tour university campuses, network with professionals of color and tour a black-owned bakery 4,000 miles away.
For the trip, iGlow is partnering with an organization doing similar work with teens of color in London.
“It’s really cool to now be able to create new friendships, especially with girls of color in another country,” Tomorrow said.
Tomorrow said she did pretty well in high school, so when she went to college and was dismissed as ill-prepared, it was devastating. She said hers is a common story for Chicago Public Schools graduates, and that’s where iGlow comes in.
“I was in a system that did not prepare me, but I didn’t know I wasn’t prepared,” Tomorrow said. “I was completely clueless.”
This year, the mentoring organization honored the girls doing the most to overcome structural barriers through the first MiGlow Awards, which came with the international trip.
More than 2,000 girls applied, with the field whittled down to 300 semi-finalists and 45 finalists, according to Tomorrow. The finalists were interviewed with their families.
The 21 were selected because they submitted personal statements, letters of recommendation and video blogs indicating they would pay forward their international experience, she said.
“We wanted to make sure we were investing in girls that would one day come back and give back to their community,” Tomorrow said. “There was a certain type of girl we were looking for.”
Tomorrow said she was inspired to return to Chicago and serve girls of color after witnessing her then-boss Obama and Ellen DeGeneres donate prom gear to girls in 2012.
“I always had an affection toward teen girls, but no clear purpose for serving them,” Tomorrow said. “At that event, I got that clarity. I was given these resources — not to just go on Instagram and post about it, but to go back and give those same opportunities to teen girls.”
Only one girl going on the trip has ever been abroad, while 15 have never left Chicago. The trip was organized to “expand their perspectives,” Tomorrow said.
That work has already begun. A 12-week curriculum ensured the girls will take off with a basic understanding of some cultural and political differences.
For example, the group discussed how Londoners attend “college” at the age most Americans attend high school, while referring to post-secondary studies as “university.”
Taking the trip on holiday break made it more difficult to organize university tours, Tomorrow said. But some international students remaining in London for the holidays have offered to host, giving the girls a taste of university life in the United Kingdom.
Given the host of opportunities the trip will provide, it’s “so much bigger than the glitz and glam” of visiting London, Tomorrow said. “There is so much excitement around the trip, but the underlying heart of it is giving girls exposure and access to resources.”
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