Jelani Girls And Jelani Women Help Women And Girls Reimagine Greatness Through Travel And Service Throughout The Diaspora
Travel doesn’t just give you a break from your day-to-day surroundings, it exposes you to new ideals, perspectives, and ways of life. But many young African-Americans aren’t afforded the opportunity to experience the privilege of traveling the globe. Ashley N. Company wants to change that.
Company had been climbing up the corporate ladder, having been a District Manager with PepsiCo, when she got bit by the travel bug. She left her title and career comforts behind to follow her dream to see the world and now she wants to give others that same experience.
So, Company, who has a long history of mentoring and community organizing, created Jelani Girls, Inc., a non-profit organization aimed at turning urban young women into global citizens. Jelani Girls accepts young women ages 14-18 for its international cultural enrichment program. The organization’s primary purpose of the girls’ travel experience is to engage their African peers and explore a locale different from their own backyard.
Company, 30, has visited and volunteered in more than 60 countries and territories, raised over $200,000 for Jelani Girls Cultural Enrichment Program, and impacted the lives of more than 2,000 underprivileged children. In December 2013, Jelani Girls had its first International Youth Service Project in Ghana followed by a second group of young women traveling to Trinidad and Tobago six months later.
In 2014, Company launched Jelani Women as a way to engage adults to work with Jelani Girls, Inc. as supporters and also as a way to introduce more women to international travel.
Company, who once served in the rank of Captain as a Human Resources Manager in the United States Army Reserve, graduated cum laude from Hampton University where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management. In addition to being CEO of Jelani Girls, Inc., she is also a member of the African Leadership Network, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the World Affairs Council. Here she told us why it’s crucial for young Black women to travel throughout the African Diaspora specifically.
MadameNoire (MN): How did the idea for Jelani Women come about?
Ashley Company (AC): After creating my non-profit organization, Jelani Girls, I was looking for a more sustainable source of fundraising other than grants and individual donations. Initially, my goal was to have Black women champion and donate to our cause because they’re able to experience travel firsthand. However, in the last two years, I’ve seen how our trips make a much larger impact. After attending a Jelani Women service trip, women share testimonials about their experiences and describe them as inspiring, unforgettable, and life changing.
MN: Why do you feel travel is necessary?
AC: Black women deserve to have well-curated transformative experiences. With Jelani Women, they get just that. On our trips, women of color have safe spaces to let their hair down, embrace the culture, and connect to Mother Africa in a meaningful way. Jelani Women leaves a lasting impact on the women who join, the girls who benefit from the proceeds, and the youth that they serve during their day of service. It is the ultimate vacation with a purpose.
MN: Please tell me how it works?
AC: Jelani Women aims to be the TOMS of service travel for Black women and girls. When women sign up for an epic vacation with a purpose, underserved teen girls have an opportunity to participate in the Jelani Girls cultural enrichment program, culminating into their very own international travel experience.
The primary purpose for #JelaniWomenTravel is to help Black women and girls reimagine Africa by connecting them with other members of the diaspora through travel and service. We do this through: Exceptionally curated travel experiences designed by a Black woman for Black women; enriching conversations with women from the host country who work in similar industries; and a day of vacation dedicated to serving youth abroad based on the various skills and passions of our travelers.
MN: What have been some challenges to building Jelani Women?
AC: One challenge is striking a balance between selecting places travelers are more familiar with and selecting places I would want them to go because I know how much fun awaits them off the beaten path! For example, our Morocco trip sold out four times in a row, but our Kenya and Senegal trips have not. I have two major barriers to entry: The first is getting my target demographic to become interested in travel to countries in Africa and second is to have them choose to have their experience with Jelani Women. I know I can sell out trips to Thailand or France because those places are heavily marketed destinations, but my focus is on Africa. I have a responsibility to get more Black people to re-imagine travel to Africa and I want them to choose Jelani Women for their experience!
MN: Why the name?
AC: Jelani is an African-American name that means greatness or mighty. Our motto is to help girls and women of color re-imagine greatness through travel and service.
MN: How do you market Jelani Women?
AC: We have both a Facebook group and email list with thousands of members who find out about our trips first. The majority of our trips sell out before they reach the public.
MN: Goals for 2017?
AC: To curate and launch new Jelani Women trips specifically designed for women in similar industries. For example, we’ve initiated a soft launch for women in tech with interest from Black women who work for Google, Facebook, and Uber. I’m looking forward to witnessing the connections made and the impact these like-minded women will create on their day of service.
Personal goal: to make sure I go on a trip for myself that is not work related (laughs).
MN: What are your long-term goals?
AC: To grow and sell out our destination offerings from 5 African countries to 10. To collaborate with organizations like OkayAfrica on marketing campaigns to educate the world about the value of experiencing lesser traveled African countries and increase enrollment in Jelani Women service trips.
MN: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
AC: I enjoy the responsibility of getting professional, powerful, and passionate women to the Motherland for the first time, knowing how fulfilled they’ll be once they leave. It brings me so much joy to see how Africa inspires them and how they return home, ready to plan family trips, buy vacation homes, do business, and consider retirement in the Motherland.