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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.