Little Ladies, Inc. members and mentor pals work together on a recent service project. Photo courtesy of Pandora Cherry.
Realistic ideas can spawn from creative, young minds. Hardly out of her tween years, Ashley Cherry, founder of local nonprofit Little Ladies, Inc., needed little more than an encouraging hour watching Oprah to let her idea take flight.
“Her show featured young people who were making a difference within their communities,” Cherry said. “I vividly remember this young girl who was 16. She created her own magazine called Black Girls because she felt popular teen magazines such as Seventeen and Cosmo Girl didn’t depict the essence and beauty of African American girls. She wanted to have a magazine where young girls of color could embrace their dark-skinned beauty.”
Cherry said that after watching the show, she reflected on her own peer group and the issues they faced at that time, including peer pressure, insecurities, sexual promiscuity, pregnancy, drugs and bullying.
“I felt an urgency to start an organization where young ladies could come together to talk and be able to express themselves,” Cherry said. “Along with parents, I wanted this organization to help shape and mold not only myself but also my peers into powerful women.”
Taking the idea to her mother, Pandora Cherry, Ashley received encouragement, along with instruction.
“I told her to come back to me with a plan,” Pandora said. “And she did.”
That plan, made official under the name Little Ladies, Inc., will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. Since 2004, the group has evolved well beyond its original scope.
“Originally, this was supposed to be a small group for me and my friends,” Cherry said. “But after we incorporated and people became aware of the things we were doing within the community such as community service and having monthly workshops featuring prominent women from around Birmingham, word begin to spread.”
In Cherry’s view, one attribute that has helped bolster her group is its focus on each member’s personal development.
“There are so many wonderful organizations that help empower our youth to make a difference,” she said. “I believe Little Ladies distinguishes itself by establishing a great foundation for these young ladies to build upon. Each member has one-on-one sessions with her assigned mentor pal. We focus heavily on developing personal a relationship with each and every member.”
The mentor pals include a powerful network of professional women, including physicians, attorneys, engineers and teachers, several of whom are alumnae of Little Ladies, Inc.
The group’s reputation helped earn the group a Resolution from the Jefferson County Commission, which acknowledged the organization’s service and community impact.
This recognition speaks to the heart of the group’s mission, a commitment Cherry is dedicated to preserving.
“Along with inspiring these young ladies to become powerful women, we are also focusing on what it means to serve and give back to the community,” she said. “It is very important to learn the meaning of giving at a very early age.”