For black women who hold degrees, navigating their post-collegiate careers can be difficult. With a lack of representation, mentorship, and sometimes opportunities, black women often find themselves at a disadvantage when compared to their white counterparts. Having first-hand experience in this, Ashley Obasi, founder and CEO of Chicago based organization, Black Girls Graduate, set out to create an online community for black college grads, to celebrate, inspire, and help to prepare them for life after graduation.
One of the ways in which she and her team gave back to this year’s graduating class was through an online virtual series called In Her Bag. Spread out over three days, In Her Bag showcased panels of black women professionals in the areas of healthcare, law, finance, and marketing. The attendees shared their experiences, encouraging, and, most importantly, being a visual representation of what their career path could look like. To further explore Black Girls Graduate, we discussed with Ashley Obasi its origins, the idea behind In Her Bag, and what the future holds.
Racquel Coral (RC): What is Black Girls Graduate, and how did you come up with the concept for it?
Ashley Obasi (AO): Black Girls Graduate has been in existence since 2015. The idea, however, came to me in 2013. I was approaching my college graduation and started to think about and look for outlets that showcased women who looked like me in my potential career. I studied Public Relations (PR) at Syracuse University, which is a predominantly white field. In my graduating class, there were only about four black women who shared the same major. I saw that there wasn’t a clear path for me that outlined how to become successful in PR, so that’s how Black Girls Graduate came to be.
In 2015, we officially launched online and would interview women from various career fields who would share their stories. They talked about everything from their college experiences, such as the classes, professors who motivated them, mentorship, and how they paid for school. From there, they would go into their current career, how they landed the opportunity, and what they have learned along the way.
Mostly, we had this idea of growing a community of two groups of women. The first being what we called “The Reader.” Those are the young professionals, college graduates, or students learning from more seasoned professionals or who we like to call “The Network.” The Network is comprised of women who are already working in their career and have gained a wealth of knowledge along the way. So it’s the idea of, “if I knew then, what I know now, then I could have skipped over some hurdles.” The goal is really to build a community of mentorship through an online resource where everyone has access.
RC: How has Black Girls Graduate changed over the years?
AO: Throughout the years, we have evolved. Our focus and reach expanded, where we’re reaching more women across the world due to our content. Over time, we’ve had less content on our website, and more on our social media platforms. Because social media plays a massive part in our everyday life, people are looking for quick content that they can connect with.
RC: What led you to do the In Her Bag series?
AO: Before COVID-19, we were beginning to have more events in Chicago, which is where we are based. However, the majority of our community doesn’t live here. I was looking for a way to reach more people, especially with the onset of Coronavirus. So many women didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate their graduations, and by May being our biggest time of the year, it was important for us to find ways to celebrate and encourage them. Also, with the changes in the economy, causing limited internship and job opportunities, we wanted to provide a panel of women who looked like them, in various industries, to be a source of encouragement.
We wanted them to see how their potential roadmap could look. It may be hard to predict what careers may look like due to the economy and unemployment; however, some so many women have overcome hurdles, boundaries, and fears to accomplish their goals. So In Her Bag, allowed us to make sure that we were able to provide this resource for women, no matter where they were. With this series, we hoped to inspire young women to stay motivated and know that other women are rooting for them.
RC: What’s to come following In Her Bag?
AO: We hope to continue to provide resources online, whether it be internships or job opportunities that may be going digital. We were unable to highlight some industries in this series, so we hope to develop In Her Bag into something bigger. On our site, we call it “Career Profiles,” where we individually interview women, and In Her Bag is a rebrand of that. So essentially, we’re looking to grow our community within our community, and focus on those who have graduated or are young professionals.
Much of the content on our social media platforms are pictures of graduates, but we always want to make sure that we are focusing on what’s next. At Black Girls Graduate, we always say that the focus is on creating a clear pathway from college to a sustainable career. We want to make sure that we are highlighting what that pathway can look like through various events and conferences.
I wish all graduates and young professionals that may be making a pivot in her career the best. Despite everything that’s going on, I want them to keep the faith and continue working hard because things can happen. What’s meant for you is truly for you, and I can say that because I’ve been in their shoes. I want to make sure that I’m always sending that message of positivity out there.
For more information on Black Girls Graduate, visit their website https://blackgirlsgraduate.com/, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram @Blackgirlsgraduate, and Twitter @Blackgirlsgrad.
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.