Back in 2019, Yanna Williams hoped Dear Diary, an idea she had first jotted down as a college student more than a decade before, could take a City of Madison Community Building and Crime Prevention grant and serve as a mentoring program for 10 Black girls.
Today, the organization has contracts with three school districts and serves well over 100, with big plans for the future.
Dear Diary will celebrate and empower Madison’s Black girls this Sunday at the HER Space Brunch – HER stands for Harmonious, Empowering and Real – a free event for Black high school girls in the Madison area. The theme is “Confidence and Personal Brand.”
Actress Coco Jones, one of the stars of the hit series “Bel Aire,” will be on hand to share her own story.
“On the show, she is just boss, take over, she knows what she wants,” said Dear Diary program manager Krystal Tucker. “She butts heads with her mother Hillary on the show. And that kind of translates to how girls are, trying to grow into their own, trying to figure out what they want to do.”
Dear Diary founder Yanna Williams said no expense will be spared.
“I want it to be big. I want things for our girls to be big,” she said. “I don’t want these lackluster events and services for our girls. So when we serve our girls, we put money behind the work that we do. We make sure that we can find the best people to be there that that can truly like, not just bring our girls in, but also so that our girls realize that like, wow, they’re spending all of this money on a brunch for us. This is a girls’ day just for them.”
The event runs from 11 am to 2 pm at the Lodgic Event Hall, 2801 Marshall Court, just off University Avenue. Registration is open at this link, with only a few spots remaining available.
100 percent, out loud
Initially funded with a two-year grant, Williams hoped to serve just a handful of girls on Madison’s West side, focused on empowering them to be their authentic selves.
“We’re a mentoring organization for Black girls and Black women, with the focus of rewriting the broken narrative of Black girlhood and Black womanhood,” Williams said. “We really want to allow women, specifically Black women and Black girls, to truly be themselves out loud. When thinking about Dear Diary, what I wanted was some of the things that I would share with my diary that I wouldn’t tell people … I want girls to have space where they can share that out loud, and they can truly be themselves, 100 percent, out loud.”
Specific programs have included art classes, self-defense instruction, a partnership with Rooted to learn about agriculture and sustainability, and many more.
Williams said she feels Black girls are often excluded from support or mentoring programs because they’re seen as “resilient.”
“(Black girls are) seen as more mature as young as five and six years old,” Williams said. “Because we’ve been so resilient our entire lives, people feel like, ‘oh, they’ll be okay. They always figure it out. They always work it out.’ But that doesn’t make it fair to us.”
Tucker said Dear Diary works to make sure the girls they serve have support outside the program as well.
“We also support the families as well. We definitely do some family and community engagement with the girls that are in our programs to also make sure that their homes and that their households have the resources that they need as well, especially during this pandemic,” she said.
Williams said that includes providing simple financial support – for example, if a parent has to miss work to bring a child to a Dear Diary program, Dear Diary will cover those missed wages.
“I want no barriers to access,” Williams said. “People always say, ‘Well, what do you do when people take advantage of you?’ They don’t. They don’t take advantage of us. We don’t worry about that.”
With programs running in 10 schools in Madison and Verona, and soon expanding into Sun Prairie, Williams has her sights set even higher.
“Within the next couple of years, we would love to get us a building,” she said. “We want to get us a space. So we are going to be fundraising quite heavily for us to get a space for our girls. But what we’re wanting that space to be is a space for our girls, but also a co-working space for black women.”
She hopes such a space could connect Black girls with Black women entrepreneurs they can look up to and learn from.
Williams said she’ll look to the west side for that space, but, “I can see us all over town at some point.”
Anyone looking for more information or interested in supporting Dear Diary can visit their website at deardiaryofmadison.org.