It’s Fashion Week in New York City and the cast and crew of Basketball Wives LA are in town filming. But there isn’t a camera crew in sight in the space behind Salon 804 in Harlem. There, under the city’s iconic fire escapes, a makeshift classroom has been fashioned and Jackie Christie is teacher for the day. A dozen girls grill the reality star on her rise to fame.
Christie talks about her life story, taking care to smooth over any negative behavior they might have seen on her show. “I don’t take mess from nobody. That’s what you see on the show [with the other girls]” she told her attentive audience. “I always feel bad after. But, I’m a fighter and I have passion.”
It was a passionate, fighting spirit that led Rochelle Mosley, a celebrity stylist from Richmond, VA now based in Harlem, to start Project Girl. The program is meant to take the stigma off of living in public housing and channel the hustle it takes to survive that environment into something positive and entrepreneurial. Friday’s event with Christie is one of a series of workshops that covers an array of topics impacting girls’ lives.
Mosley started the program when she realized that many of the girls interning in her salon did not have the information they needed to prepare for the future. “This summer I took notice of how much they didn’t know,” she said. “My 17-year-old intern didn’t know how to address an envelope… I want to help them get where they need to be so they can live like Jackie, like the people they see on TV. She’s not living a lie, it’s real for her, and she can show the girls how to make it real for them.”
Project Girl workshops feature women from all walks of life. Last month a dentist came in to discuss hygiene and a life coach visited to assist the girls in working through their problems. At the request of parents in the community, Mosley opened up the sessions to girls age between the ages of 12 and 18.
The workshops are not only an opportunity for the girls to hear women share their experiences, but to support each other’s growth. The girls don’t leave Mosley’s influence once the sessions end. She uses her network to help the girls with any problem they bring to her. “I get emails all the time,” she said. “I got an email last night from a young lady who is in 11th grade and she’s in a school where there is one college counselor to 200 kids. She said she feels like time is running out and she doesn’t have the support for college.” Mosley connected her with scholarship and test prep experts.
Empowerment is the goal here. Mosley believes that fear is what holds many women back from pursuing their dreams. For her, fear was a motivator. “I’m just thinking about not being like my mother,” she said. “That’s not derogatory. I grew up a certain way. My mother never owned anything or went on vacations. I grew up like these kids. I want to tell them just because your mother isn’t talking about it, doesn’t mean it’s not possible. I’m the first entrepreneur in my family.”
Christie was brought in to impart wisdom on juggling a busy life in the entertainment industry. Although mostly known as a polarizing character on Vh1’s raucous reality show circuit, Christie has a myriad of projects going on at any given moment, including self-help books (she just released her latest, Proud to Be a Colored Girl) and a fashion line. Her advice to girls and women is to follow their dreams. “Google, Google, Google. You can never get enough education and information,” said Christie. “That’s how I learned to be a self-published author. And now I’m five books in, with three best sellers.”
If the girls are starstruck by Christie, they don’t show it. They ask everything from updates on her co-stars’ whereabouts to advice on launching entertainment careers of their own. That fearlessness makes it apparent that this small circle of girls in Harlem is the perfect foundation to forge a new crop of first-generation entrepreneurs.