Wealth does not always have a dollar sign in front of it, and sharing it can mean filling souls, being rich in spirit despite economic poverty, and helping others. It’s the philosophy that Loretta Lincoln, M.A. ’21, learned from her single mother, Dr. Susan Moore Lincoln. Having earned her graduate degree from the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Southern this May, Lincoln plans to use her newly founded S.T.A.R. (Special, Talented, Awesome, Regal) program to empower African American middle school girls, much in the way her mother and mentors did for her.
“My mother has always been my inspiration and role model,” Lincoln says. “As the oldest of four children, I was a witness to her struggles. We grew up in the Elm Haven projects on Ashmun Street, and I observed my mother overcome challenges to improve the lives of her children by pursuing her undergraduate and graduate studies at Southern while helping other children in our community.”
The seeds for Lincoln’s interest in issues related to empowering girls and women were planted early, when she was about 10 years old, because of what she saw around her.
“I remember the lessons my mother taught me and my young friends about having pride in ourselves as African American girls,” she says. “Our perspective about who we are and how we define the person we become is complex, starts at an early age, and manifests itself throughout our life experiences. Often, adolescent African American girls have experiences in society that can make them question their self-worth and capabilities. They are frequently ridiculed about their hair, weight, and skin color. The pressure to deal with the adversity can contribute to feelings of worthlessness.”
Not only was Lincoln’s mother instrumental as a role model, she enrolled her daughter in after-school programs, where other Black women served as mentors. Lincoln carried the lessons into adulthood, where she says the manifestation of her passion continued while she volunteered in organizations like the Connecticut Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Her professional career spanned the insurance industry, Yale University, and Girl Scouts of Connecticut, where she worked for 17 years. She also became a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She completed the Middle Management Institute (MMI) training offered by the City of Hartford’s Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation. She received a Service Award from the National Urban League’s Black Executive Exchange Program and was honored in The National Women’s Hall of Fame Book of Lives & Legacies.
Lincoln completed her undergraduate studies in liberal arts at the University of Connecticut. Still holding strongly to her formative memories, she matriculated in the graduate Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Southern, where she achieved membership in the Golden Key International Honour Society for her academic success. It was during her capstone experience at Southern, as she reflected on her life experiences and felt “encouraged to creatively express” her thinking, that her S.T.A.R. (Special, Talented, Awesome, Regal) program was born.
“As a Black woman, I believe it is critical for African American girls to build a strong mindset as a S.T.A.R. during the seasons of their life into womanhood,” she says. “The program is based on four cornerstones: [One is] self-love, self-respect and self-care,” she says. “Find your voice because you are unique and special. [Second is] diversity and tolerance. We come from a variety of backgrounds and have different beliefs. We are all precious human beings. [Third is] civic and community engagement and helping the environment. You can make a difference. [Fourth is] ‘my future.’ Imagine, think and dream big with the power of optimism.”
Lincoln envisions S.T.A.R. being implemented as an after-school program, where young women can receive the pivotal guidance and mentorship that so inspired her.
“Support from caring adults in a safe space allowing them to speak openly and honestly about their feelings can help them learn how to cope with life challenges, develop resiliency and improve their perspective during a critical time when they are defining themselves,” she says. “In my opinion, it is essential for girls and women to claim their power and soar with their strengths.”