Dena McClain recalls the moment inspiration hit her not like a gentle tap, but like a ton of bricks.
“I was at home one afternoon watching Oprah’s Lifeclass,” explains McClain of the show that recounted the most profound lessons from the talk show host’s previous 25 years on air. “She was interviewing Sheri Crawley, the founder of Pretty Brown Girl, and Sheri was talking about the experience of her daughter as the only black girl in her class. Sheri said the realization of her daughter’s insecurities among the other children inspired her to start a movement centered around self-confidence and self-love.”
With a young daughter of her own and a niece just a few months apart, McClain said she couldn’t stomach the idea of letting them grow up in a world where they didn’t feel accepted and loved for who they were, regardless of skin color. Looking into the Pretty Brown Girl organization, McClain met founder Sheri Crawley at a local convention and started the process of establishing her own chapter.
“I started my organization in 2015 as a local chapter within the Pretty Brown Girl organization,” says McClain, who has since changed the name of her group to the Pink Blossom Alliance to put greater emphasis on the interracial nature of the group. “We had already been having meetings and doing small mentorship programs since 2013, but this made it official.”
Starting with weekly club meetings that featured speakers like healthcare professionals, domestic violence advocates and stylists who would discuss topics including hygiene, bullying, careers and more, the original goal of the group was to tailor talks to the individual needs of the girls who attended the sessions.
“What the group started out as was me working to bring out strengths and work on the issues of each girl in the group,” explains McClain. “But schedules are busy and I found that the girls who needed it most were often the ones who didn’t have a ride or couldn’t make it for some other reason. That’s when I decided to put greater focus on community events, rather than regular meetings.”
Maintaining a monthly support group, McClain and her team have also hosted events like Tiaras & Bowties, a father-daughter dance focused on teaching fathers the value of lifting up their daughters through positive language and presence, and Tea with Michelle Obama, in which girls dressed up as famous women from Louisiana to learn more about the boundless possibilities available to them. And while each event is different, McClain says her goal is to reinforce and strengthen girls’ self-confidence and curiosity by offering opportunities to help them get creative and engage with an ever-expanding support system.
“I want to show these girls that they can do anything,” says McClain, who notes that activities like coming up with a costume or working on a project show the hard work that goes into accomplishments. “When I was younger, the negativity of bullying would stay at school. But now, in the age of social media, kids are more blunt and the negativity is nonstop. I want to offer a positive place for these girls to come and talk about their problems and grow with new successes.”
In addition to all the Pink Blossom Alliance’s existing programs, McClain’s 10-year-old daughter Paris has recently started a new initiative—Paris’ Closet. An extension of her beauty pageant platform, Paris says that while her closet serves those who might not be able to afford things on their own, it’s “a hand up, not a hand out.”
“We partnered with Appletree Storage for a space and set it up like a store,” says McClain, who notes that the last thing she and her daughter want is for people to have to dig through boxes. “We took clothing donations at a brunch event we hosted, and we have clothes for all sizes that we distribute through referrals. We were even able to get prom dresses for two girls last year.”
McClain says she hopes to eventually move the Pink Blossom Alliance into a permanent space for holding meetings and casual afterschool programs.
“Right now, I am pushing to address food and hygiene,” explains McClain. “We want to eventually set up a safe haven in the 70805 zip code, an area that needs it most. We want to create a place for girls to come after school and have a snack, work on homework, and maybe even learn new skills.”
However, McClain notes that it’s all about taking it one step at a time.
“I know there are so many girls out there hurting,” says McClain. “I had my first son 30 days after I turned 16. I want to make sure these girls know that obstacles don’t mean you can’t move forward. They just mean you have to take another route. I want to be there for them to help them figure all of that out.”
To get involved, visit pinkblossomalliance.info.