I remember it as if it were yesterday. I tied on my saddle shoes, buttoned my red cardigan, and put my Eleanor Roosevelt children’s-book biography in my backpack. It was my first day of kindergarten. As I entered my kitchen, I asked my mother a question.
“Mommy, do I look smart?”
I am a product of my parent’s belief in the power of intelligence. Growing up, even my Barbies had to be smart: President Barbie, Doctor Barbie, Teacher Barbie. They kept that mentality alive throughout my sister and my entire childhood.
As I embarked on the tumultuous years of middle-school mean girls and high school peer pressure, I kept that image of the smart girl alive, determined to be her. She was strong, independent, polished. She could accomplish anything.
There was a problem, though. Not every girl was as lucky as me. She was not told that she was smart or simply did not believe it. If one were to walk through the halls of any high school or college, they would see the consequences of this lack of belief. It is gossiped about on Monday mornings following a big party. It is seen on the faces of the girls who opt out of the advanced class for fear that they are incapable. Somewhere along the line, these girls forgot that they are smart.
When I was a senior, my sister, Sophie, was starting her freshman year of high school. In an effort to keep her smart girl spirit alive, I wrote her a book for Christmas called, “Big Sister’s Guide to High School.” After working on it for three months, there was a feeling of emptiness that emerged following its conclusion. On New Year’s Day, I made a resolution: I was going to start something that would empower the smart girls of the world. The Smart Girls Group was born.
It started out as a mini-magazine called Smart Girl’s Guide, and it provided content for the whole person; from news to fashion to career prep. Quickly, however, I saw a greater purpose. We needed to be connected by more than just a magazine. The Smart Girls Group transformed into a sisterhood that united the next generation of superstar women. My hope is for it to be a one stop shop for young women that would not exclude any girl who wished to be involved. It is time to start celebrating every kind of Smart Girl.
After 18 months, The Smart Girls Group has transformed into a sisterhood comprised of girls from India to Indiana, representing 39 states and 13 countries. Every Smart Girl Sister contributes in some way to the sisterhood, what we like to call “sharing smarts.” Many contribute to our monthly digital magazine, Smart Girl’s Guide, and our daily blog, Smart Girl’s Loop, which feature empowering, positive articles where young women are able to share their smarts on topics such as current affairs, health, and culture, to name a few. Along with our publications, we started campus chapters throughout the country, hoping that this would unite Smart Girls locally and empower young women to, as we say, Live the Smart Life.
Above all, we are a sisterhood. Haley, one of my Smart Girl Sisters from Virginia, has been a part of The Smart Girls Group since its inception. As a senior, she had determined her dream college, but was unfortunately deferred last December. Trying to figure out what to do next, she contacted our Smart Girl Sisters at the University of Alabama, where she was accepted. A few weeks later, we received word from one of our Smart Girls there, Amber, that Haley was spending the weekend with them. We could only hope that in some way The Smart Girls Group would help her as she decided where to go to college. Just one week ago, Haley started her freshman year at the University of Alabama and pledged Gamma Phi Beta, where our Smart Girl Sister, Sarah, is a member.
Quincy became a Smart Girl Sister in July of 2012, when she was a sophomore in high school, serving as a blogger and then a copy editor. She quickly took on more and more responsibility, taking great pride in being a Smart Girl Sister. Her passion for The Smart Girls Group was evident, and every girl in the sisterhood knew it as well. With that in mind, she rose through the various positions, always exceeding even our wildest expectations, and is now the Editor at Large for Smart Girl’s Guide. In June 2013, not even a year after joining The Smart Girls Group, Quincy came to me with an astonishing request. She asked me if she could propose a topic to be a keynote speaker for the We Are Girls Conference, where she would speak to high school girls on the importance of being smart. Quincy has a speech impediment that only makes public speaking more challenging. However, in true Smart Girl fashion, she said to me, “It is simply something I have to live with and I want to be a good public speaker. This is my chance to do that.” One month later, she was selected as the youngest keynote speaker for the conference.
This is what is possible when Smart Girls come together. It has connected girls in Peru to girls in Pennsylvania. It has landed girls internships at places such as Seventeen Magazine and Verizon. It has provided opportunities for girls to go on mission trips as far as Ghana. It has supported girls who are starting their own businesses and nonprofits. Most of all, it has empowered young women to believe that, yes, they are smart.
This is just the beginning. I am confident that someday, we will see our Smart Girl Sisters in corner offices, spearheading movements, leading nations, and sharing smarts in their own unique way. In the meantime, we will continue to grow and further develop our sisterhood so that we can arm young women with the tools and support they need to succeed in all facets of life.
With the support of Kenneth Cole and the Kenneth Cole AWEARNESS Grant, we have just relaunched The Smart Girls Group, an initiative five months in the making. We now offer a new campus chapter program fit for every student, online classes, a shop with merchandise that sponsors girls’ education in the developing world, a book club, various service opportunities, and a full fledge online community, exclusively for Smart Girl Sisters. Our publications and website have gotten a facelift as well, but most importantly, our sisterhood has grown extensively thanks to our passionate sisters.
With girls from every corner of the United States and across the globe, we are truly uniting the Smart Girls of the world. Because part of becoming a sister involves contributing back to the sisterhood, the young women involved are as invested as I am, with more joining every day. The world so needs Smart Girls, and I am proud to call so many of them sisters.
The time has come for every little girl to ask her mom if she looks smart and for every young woman to believe that she is smart.