Advancing Women, Mentoring Girls

Pathways to Economic Success and Mentoring Network Intersect

Taking bold steps: Members of the Girls of Color Mentoring Network at a recent meeting.
Front row, L-R: Yvonne Jones (D.E.S.T.I.N.E.D. 2 Succeed); Randi McCray (RM Consulting); Samantha Williams (CMWP); Shirley Ellis-West (Urban Community Alliance).
Top row, L-R: Latisha Douglas (CMWP); Miriam James (NCBW); Paula Irvin (New Haven Alumnae Chapter - Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.); and Adriana Rodriguez (SCOW).
Photo credit: Kathleen Cei

Each week, new and established entrepreneurs talk about their weekly, monthly and long-term goals at the Collaboration of Minority Women Professionals’ (CMWP) Manifestation Monday meetings. Samantha (Sammi) Williams, co-founder and president, listens, then doesn’t mince words. “I find myself saying, ‘Now that’s a cute little goal. But how about a scary, audacious goal?’”

Williams and CMWP co-founder and vice president Latisha Douglas urge the women to push their ideas and their businesses forward, to keep taking bold steps.

Williams owns the 628 Digital Design agency and Melanated Business Coaching. Douglas is a data scientist, small business automation expert and data analytics consultant. They founded CMWP as a membership-based organization where Black and Brown women with years of experience as entrepreneurs and business owners “support other women who are coming up behind them, so they can learn from their wins and their losses,” she says. They grew the business CMWP Foundation, an entrepreneurial support organization (ESO) serving Black and minority men, women and children. As part of the Fund’s 2022 Pathways to Economic Success program, CMWP Foundation created MAGNIFY by CMWP to provide targeted support, resources and funding for Black women entrepreneurs. It includes an onsite childcare component, Kiddie KoWorking, so mothers can readily take part.

They initially started the Collaboration because of the lack of representation in entrepreneurial circles and support organizations, Williams says. “Instead of begging for a seat at someone else’s table, I’m going to build one on my own.”

Liplock LLC founder Athena Murphy (left) with her sister and co-owner Melissa Murphy. Photo: G. Gregory Geiger

Athena Murphy, a West Haven-based entrepreneur, says CMWP was just the kind of program she needed. In 2019, she created a lip gloss business after being dissatisfied with the products available on the market. “I started experimenting with different formulas and colors,” she says. Her sister joined as co-owner, and they launched Liplock LLC, which sells vegan-based, cruelty-free lip glosses, liquid matte lipstick, as well as soy candles. In April, they rolled out the company website.

“I was getting into the groove of running the business, but I didn’t have any direction, who to contact, or how to build relationships,” Murphy says.

She met Williams and Douglas at the Westville Performing Arts Center, owned by another CMWP member, Barbara (Babs) Alexander. Athena quickly decided to become a member, and from the moment she joined, she felt a positive and immediate impact.

“Girls and young women of color need mentors who look like them and who have walked the same paths.”

Sammi Williams / Collaboration of Minority Women Professionals

“I’ve collaborated with other Black women, strong women who share their ideas, and everybody helps everybody,” Murphy says. “I go to networking events and talk to women, and they help me get my name in the room. I’ve met with banking representatives, and I’m also looking into grants to stretch my business’ footprint.”

She says the women in the program understand her realities – that she is raising her young daughter as a single parent and works full-time in telecommunications while building her own business. When she needs to bring her daughter to events, “it’s very welcoming,” she says, “and the women there understand how things are.”

“On Manifestation Mondays, we start with a conversation about what’s going on with your business. These discussions have given me accountability and helped me establish strategic goals,” Murphy says. “So many seasoned Black and Brown women are sharing their ideas, bringing their knowledge to us.”

“That is one of the main goals,” Williams adds. “We’ve created a financially stimulated, melanated ecosystem,” she says. “Our members are empowered not just to reach their dreams, but to exceed their dreams.”

CMWP works with professional women and entrepreneurs to build a supportive network. Recognizing the power of working together, CMWP also works with girls, and is part of the Fund’s Girls of Color Mentoring Network.

Collective Power

In 2021, the Fund for Women & Girls hosted a series of focus groups for mentoring organizations. Nine organizations – including CMWP – created a collective, the Girls of Color Mentoring Network. The network comprised of long-established community-based groups and programs just getting started, all led by women of color. Some organizations provide a focus on college readiness, others on esteem building, and others on career or business development.

At a Women & Girls Fund advisory board meeting earlier this year, network members discussed their progress, successes and challenges over this last year. They found that while there was a great deal of emphasis on mentoring for middle and high school students, there was a lack of it available to young women ages 18-25. They recognized how vital it is for women of color in that age group to have career support, leadership development opportunities and support navigating healthy relationships. Network members also addressed the challenge of keeping middle and high school-aged girls engaged in mentorship programs when there are so many things competing for their interest; when they lack transportation; or are struggling with mental health issues; are unable to afford to take part; or when their parents aren’t aware of available programs.

Together, they discussed solutions, including:

  • Providing basic supports, including food and bus passes.
  • Creating leadership development opportunities for older girls to mentor younger ones.
  • Partnering with dance, sports and other organizations to get more girls involved in the mentorship programs.
  • Developing a parent orientation program.
  • Offering workshops on mental health to girls, young women and their families.

Williams and Douglas say they love being part of the Network. “We get to hear what other organizations are doing, how we can collectively meet the needs of girls and young women of color in the Greater New Haven community and make sure no one is overlooked,” Williams says.

“Girls and young women of color need mentors who look like them and who have walked the same paths.”

The 2022 Girls of Color Mentoring Network

  • CMWP Foundation
  • D.E.S.T.I.N.E.D. to Succeed, Inc.
  • Delta Foundation of Greater New Haven
  • Iota Chi Sigma Foundation
  • National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc.
  • New Haven Pearls of Excellence Foundation
  • Phenomenal I Am Inc.
  • Spanish Community of Wallingford
  • Urban Community Alliance

This story was part of the Winter 2022 edition of the Community Fund for Women & Girls' newsletter.