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Valerie Ballenger has worked in non-profit organizations for the  majority of her professional life often conducting workshops at high  schools like Gardena and Locke. But it was a comment from a young  African American woman that totally floored her and prompted the  29-year-old L.A. woman to create Inspiring Divas.
I was doing  training, and part of that was spent on stereotypes, recalled  Ballenger, who said the comments that came out about African American  women were all negative.
They were nappy headed, big butts,  ignorant. One black girl raised her hand and said that they were all  uneducated and ghetto.
Those comments prompted Ballenger to veer  off course a bit and ask the young woman to name one positive black  woman role model. She was a senior in high school and said she could  not name one. It was scary, added Ballenger who noted that not one  student in that session rebutted the negative comments.
That  absence, compelled Ballenger to creative Inspiring Divas, which is a  nonprofit organization targeting girls 13 to 18 years old and designed  to help them develop a positive self image.
This is done through  afterschool programs, summits and a Saturday club program. We meet  every fourth Saturday over lunch, and there are quarterly mentor outings  to do things like bowling, nutritional classes and taking girls on  college tours. Each month we have a theme in the club such as  self-esteem, role models, friendship, conflict resolution, said the  Inglewood native.
The club meets from 10 a.m. to noon at the Red Dot  Gallery, and participation is free. This summer, Ballenger intends to  create a one-week camp where juniors and seniors in high school will  live on a college campus for one week, and learn what they need to do to  prepare for college. This includes prep for the Scholastic Aptitude  Tests, meeting college professors and touring the school.
Inspiring  Divas served 250 girls this year, and Ballenger wants to grow that  considerably. She is currently funded through grants from organizations  like the Weingarten Foundation and the Sketch Foundation as well as  individual donors. She is seeking additional funding to launch the camp  program.
For more information about Inspiring Divas, visit the web  site at or call (323) 799-1245.