Let It Shine

“My mother would always say, ‘If they can keep you uneducated, they can control you,’ says Tracy Wilson Mourning, who grew up in Miami, Cincinnati, and later Las Vegas, the child of a single mother.

Wilson Mourning, a graduate of Howard University who has a clothing label called Honey Child, credits her mother and other positive women with helping her navigate her adolescence. She felt inspired to reciprocate by starting an organization to help young girls develop the life skills she learned.

In 2002, Wilson Mourning founded Honey Shine (www.honey shine.org), a Miami-based mentoring program for girls ages 8 to 18 living in at-risk environments. The program-part of the Alonzo Mourning Charities, a not-for-profit organization headed by her husband, NBA player Alonzo Mourning-provides the girls with bimonthly workshops. On average, some 80 girls, affectionately called “Honey Bugs,” who are largely from the city’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods as well as several from the foster care system, attend these workshops covering topics such as health and nutrition, drug awareness, and career options.

“We stress things such as self-esteem and the importance of education,” says Wilson Mourning, the program’s founder and director. The young women also attend field trips that enhance their insight, exposing them to sites that are only miles away yet universes apart from the places they call home. Their summer day camp, launched in 2006, is now three weeks long, with a goal to expand to four weeks for summer 2008. Primarily funded through donations and fundraising events, Honey Shine’s 2007 revenues were nearly $375,000 with expenses totaling more than $260,000. Helping to fullfill the mission are two full-time employees, a volunteer steering committee consisting of 13 women from the community, as well as 20 to 55 additional volunteers throughout the year. Wilson Mourning is convinced that Honey Shine’s workshops, events, and activities bring balance to the girls’ lives and broaden their horizons by exposing them to experiences far beyond the confines of their day-to-day worlds. “I see a shift in their attitudes,” says the 37-year-old. “There’s more interest in learning.”

Wilson Mourning has begun to track the program’s impact on the girls’ lives in terms of school grades, high school graduation rates, and college enrollment. But the efficacy of Honey Shine is perhaps best noted in the thoughts of the participants themselves. “The workshops have taught me to hold my head up, to be proud of myself, and to have high self-esteem,” says Brittany Jean, a 13-year-old who sees Honey Shine as her family and an important support system.

But even the best good deeds have their hurdles: “The most challenging aspect is not having contact with the girls more frequently,” laments Wilson Mourning. Her dream is to ultimately open a full-time facility and a charter school for girls.

“We started out getting together once a month, but found that a lot would happen during the breaks-from pregnancies to abuse to skipping school,” says Wilson Mourning, who now hosts the girls at least twice a month. “You need that reinforcement as often as