The Talented Tenth Society: Cultivating the Next Generation of Young, Black Leaders in Austin

Growing up, my Saturdays were packed:

07:30 a.m. – Wake up and shower, walk across the street to the hair salon

08:00 a.m. – Hair appointment

10:30 a.m. – My grandma would pick me up from the salon. 

Every other Saturday, I had choir rehearsal at 11:00 a.m. On the Saturdays I didn’t have choir rehearsal, we’d head to the nail salon. Rehearsal ended around 1:00, and I had image development and etiquette class at 2:30. That gave us just enough time to get some lunch before class started. On Saturdays that we went to the nail salon instead, it gave us time to get across town to the side where church and my image development class two miles up the road from church were located. 

Image development class was combined with walk practice, and my 11-15 or 16-year-old self liked being able to tell my friends I was going to modeling practice. In retrospect, it was a genius model. I cannot find any of the old pictures from the fashion shows I participated in, but I still live my life according to the mantra I selected at the beginning of the class: “I will strive to pattern my life after a candle, radiating light to those around me.” 

It isn’t the things themselves that were so extraordinary, but the Blackness of them

I didn’t realize the importance of the program to my social development until I was much older. It wasn’t affiliated with my church at all, but like my church, everyone in the program, all the instructors, the owner, everyone was Black. It actually wasn’t until I moved to Austin in 2019 that I began to fully appreciate just how different the worlds I had grown up in — first in D.C. and its Maryland suburbs, then in Atlanta, where I went to college and started my family — were from everywhere else.

It isn’t the things themselves that were so extraordinary, but the Blackness of them, I’m finding. The Black cities who have been led by Black mayors as long as I’ve been alive, and the Black image development class, and the Black church, and the Black college, and the overall Black excellence on display everywhere you go.

But, Austin is very different. There are plenty of things I love about Austin: The weather, the landscapes, the space, the much lower cost of living (yes, I’m serious.). My alma mater’s motto is “I’ll Find a Way or Make One,” so my approach has always been if a thing doesn’t exist, I’ll find it or build it. So when it came time for me to find an image development program to enroll my daughter in, and one seemed not to exist in Austin (at least not the way I experienced it growing up – Black, and Black child affirming) I decided I’d have to build it. 

In that vein, I’m super excited to announce the launch of the Talented Tenth Society (another homage to my alma mater, where W.E.B. Du Bois taught and credits for helping him produce the most important pieces of his career). It is Black-owned and Black child-affirming. But most importantly, it embraces the vision of Du Bois to pair education with moral character development to cultivate a Black leadership class.

The program will consist of 12-weeks of image development and social etiquette classes, and walk practice for our culminating fashion show. There will be a business pitch competition, an oratorical contest, and a formal dining experience for the young men and women in the program. We’re capping participation at 12 for each cohort — so 12 boys and 12 girls — to keep the conversations rich and engaging. Applications are open now through March 1, and I’d love to see you there!

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