Ten years after her graduation, Bennett College alumna Marissa Jennings returned to her alma mater last week to launch the next chapter of her career in the place where it all began.
The 32-year-old says she took the first steps in creating her company, Socialgrlz LLC, an online social community for African American girls between the ages of 13 and 17, as a senior at Bennett in 2003. This week, she enlisted the help of Journalism and Media Studies majors at Bennett to help the company raise funds to create a Socialgrlz mobile app, the latest step in Jennings’ quest to empower and uplift black women and girls.
“I just feel like there’s been a misstep where African American females have not been celebrated the way that other females or even males have been celebrated,” said the Washington, D.C. resident. “One of the things that Socialgrlz is trying to do is really change the conversation.”
More than two dozen women signed on to take part in the War Room video shoot at Bennett on Monday, where Jennings and fellow Bennett Belle Natalie Jordan guided the students in creating videos, emails, tweets and texts to promote Socialgrlz.
“The girls are able to tweet, make videos and really talk about why Socialgrlz is needed and how it impacts girls’ lives,” explained Jennings, who conceived of the idea after speaking at Bennett recently and witnessing the broad-based support for the company’s mission that existed there. “It’s kind of like an opportunity for both of us (company reps and students) to get together and actually experience the same thing that Bennett has been doing for years, which is exposure, relationships and being our sisters’ keepers.”
“It’s really special to come back to Bennett to work with these girls,” added Jordan, a member of the Class of 2004. “…It’s just a humbling experience to come back to a campus that I love, a campus that cultivated an environment for me to learn in and grow so much.”
The event was the first in three scheduled “War Room” activities, a takeoff on the political outreach efforts of the same name, where those who believe wholeheartedly in the Socialgrlz mission were given the chance to parlay their enthusiasm into much-needed funds to create the app.
“I’m really excited to meet these girls that are going to be pushing Socialgrlz – they get the concept,” said Jordan, a native of Fort Washington, Md and Socialgrlz’s communications director. “They believe, like we believe that the conversation needs to be changed.”
With Sasha and Malia Obama growing up in the White House before the eyes of the whole world, black girls are in the spotlight like never before, Jennings said. She believes Socialgrlz – which offers resources, information, advice and ample opportunity for girls to speak out about the issues that affect them – could help ensure that the world, and the girls themselves, see black females in a more favorable light.
“I think the first step is creating a mobile app and meeting the girls where they are and highlighting women that are doing great things,” said Jennings, who was slated to participate in a White House-led panel discussion on Twitter about African American girls on Tuesday.
Despite being avid consumers of web and mobile content, African American women and girls are largely overlooked by the mobile app community, Jennings said. The Socialgrlz app will be the first of its kind to reach out to African American girls in the target age bracket, she said, and the company is eager to get it on the market.
“We’re meeting these girls in the palm of their hands,” she declared. “…We really need everyone to rally behind this concept to make sure that these girls are not overlooked anymore.”
Socialgrlz hopes to raise $50,000 in time to launch the application on Android and Apple platforms in March, National Women’s Month, and that will hopefully be just the beginning, Jennings said.
“I want this to go as far as it can go,” she remarked. “I really want to make sure that our girls are viewed in a positive light, here and across the country.”
For more information about Socialgrlz, or to contribute to the mobile app fundraising campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/socialgrlz.