By Candice Wagener | Photography by Hillary Schave
Corinda Rainey-Moore wants Black girls to see themselves as the leaders they are, which was her catalyst for founding Queen Leadership Academy, which offers biweekly programming for students at East High School.
The program is aimed at girls experiencing attendance or academic challenges, who are at risk of dropping out or making contact with the juvenile justice system or first-generation college applicants. “I really wanted to work with those girls, particularly because I felt like our system was focused more on young males and not enough on young girls who I knew were also having issues and struggling,” says Rainey-Moore.
Rainey-Moore, whose day job is community outreach and engagement manager at UnityPoint Health – Meriter, didn’t see herself as leadership material until getting involved in an enrichment and mentorship program in Chicago when she was in eighth grade. Since graduating as a first-generation college student from UW-Madison, she has built her career around supporting mental health and engagement in the community.
With intention, the program was a blank slate when it started with five
girls, selected with guidance from East’s principal, in fall 2019. Rainey-Moore involved the girls in choosing the name and logo, deciding on rules and topics for discussion, and determining their meetup schedule. “I wanted the girls’ voice in everything,” she notes. Meeting over lunchtime, Rainey-Moore and an East staff member facilitate discussions on leadership development and bullying, and creating vision boards. (Although paused for the pandemic, Rainey-Moore says she is working to restart the program hopefully this spring.) She deliberately kept the group small, but hopes to widen the circle a bit moving forward. A recent grant from the African American Opioid Coalition will allow Rainey-Moore to expand her offerings to include shadowing Black women in careers of interest to the girls and mentorship efforts (particularly in the healthcare and STEAM fields).
With more consistency, Rainey-Moore hopes to accomplish her original goal of training the girls to be peer mentors to middle school girls, easing the transition to both middle and high school. She’ll also engage parents more, offering a debutante-type celebration at year-end for the girls to showcase their achievements.
“I want them to see that there’s a community here that cares about them … that’s ready to support them as well,” says Rainey-Moore, adding, “my goal and my wish [is] that all these girls see themselves as leaders, see themselves as making change, and they see themselves as creating the society they want to live [in].”