Redefining Womanhood

When Tara Jackson was growing up in Fairfield, Alabama, she learned about proper etiquette through formal classes in school and church. Today, Jackson, now 37, is convinced that such lessons were instrumental to her development as a young woman with self-respect and respect for others — two things she sees lacking in many young girls today.

“I find children have pride but lack confidence,” says Jackson. “Pride when I was growing up was shown through self-worth and value. Today, pride is shown through anger and frustration and not having direction.”

As a result, Jackson decided to bring the etiquette training of her youth to her current home of Chicago. She has created Spirit of Beauty, a program that defines womanhood in a new way — one in which girls are taught to excel in the boardroom as well as the kitchen.

“They experience a money-management class, which gives them an opportunity to learn about business plans and entrepreneurship,” says Jackson. “We want them to learn not to be a cashier, but rather the store owner.”

The program meets for four hours every Saturday from August to May and exposes girls between the ages of 6 and 16 to fine dining, etiquette, social development, sportsmanship, and public speaking.

Today the program has 13 staff members and 67 students with a waiting list for next year’s class. But the program had its growing pains when Jackson started it on a shoestring budget from her savings. “My finances were very low,” Jackson says. “I started out with $500.” Though she couldn’t afford to pay them initially, “I had a host of staff members that supported me by facilitating classes and supervising the children. They believed in my mission and they shared my vision.”

Tuition of $50 per month helps defray some of the costs of running the organization, but Jackson also depends on local businesses to sponsor various events for the girls.

Sheila Lewis, whose 13-year-old daughter, Loren, has taken part in the program since its beginning, has seen a marked difference in Loren’s confidence level, a change that was underscored during Spirit of Beauty’s annual fashion show. “When they came out to do the fashion show, the first year she kind of had her eyes down,” says Lewis. “She wouldn’t give the audience much eye contact and you could tell she was very, very nervous. This past year, she came out with confidence — just the walk, the way she looked at the audience.”

With positive affirmations like this, Jackson, who continues to work a full-time job, is contemplating expanding Spirit of Beauty into a full-time venture. “Our slogan is ‘Celebrating beauty from the inside out,'” she says. By instilling confidence and building children up internally, “we get the results externally.”