(CHICAGO, IL – She does it for love, and because it’s in her. She also does it solo, without benefactors, a staff or board of directors—basically out of her own pocket. She’s a single woman and has no children of her own, but will tell you that she actually feels she has hundreds of daughters citywide and beyond who look to her as a mother. Minus media attention, sponsorship of any kind or public accolades for her work, Bernada N. Baker has spent the past eight years mentoring black girls—hundreds of them—throughout the Chicagoland area, and some even across the country and abroad.
Through her own The Princess Within Foundation, a Chicago-based non-profit organization, Baker has touched the lives of girls to instill within them a strong sense of purpose, pride and self-worth. Her primary focus is African American girls because when she peers into their eyes, she sees herself, and envisions their futures and possibilities in a society that too often decides their fate for them based upon where they grew up, how and in what circumstances. Baker herself is proof of what girls can make of themselves when excellence is expected of them. So, she creates that expectation within each and every mentee she encounters. She dares girls to dream their dreams, and empowers them with the drive to make them real.
A product of Chicago’s south side, Baker grew up watching the downward spiral of a drug-addicted mother. She heard predictions that she’d likely end up another high school dropout and teenaged mother, and initially saw that doomsday scenario as her future. But, embracing will, determination and faith, she opted instead to break the cycle; to counter the statistics, the skeptics and naysayers and make her fate her own responsibility. By just age 23, she had earned her bachelor’s, an MBA and a master of public health degree from St. Xavier University of Chicago.
A master’s of divinity would soon follow from McCormick Theological Seminary, also in that city (and she’s now on track to receive her Ph.D from National Louis University). Credentials in-hand, Baker then founded The Princess Within Foundation in 2004 after becoming a successful educator, community advocate, motivational speaker, life coach and counselor, an ordained minister and even emerging as a published author. Her best-selling book, Unlock the Treasure: Discover the Princess Within [© 2010 edition, 184 pp.; $15.00, The Princess Within Foundation] doubles as the official curriculum for the program.
The Princess Within Foundation works to enable girls aged eight to 24 to discover their purpose, while encouraging them to pursue it and their latent gifts with passion. The program’s objective is to increase girls’ self-esteem while also cultivating leadership and character development skills. The Foundation emphasizes teaching girls the value of social awareness, self-control and responsible conflict resolution and decision-making. It accomplishes this by conducting monthly workshops that feature mentoring, academic counseling, life coaching and team-building activities for girls in the city and suburbs.
Currently, 110 elementary, grammar school, high school and college-age girls are enrolled in the program. Embracing it as her life’s purpose, Baker has carried her commitment to youth across the state and nation, and she has even crossed the ocean to deliver her motivational message to girls—many the victims of sex-trafficking—in Ghana, West Africa. She also recently debuted The King Within program, a pilot organization for at-risk boys in the same age group, owing to repeat, impassioned requests from parents.
“I started the Foundation as a means to give back and to play a tangible role in helping to decrease the teenage pregnancy rate among minority girls,” notes Baker. “I was inspired to name it based upon what I wanted my girls to believe in, but TPWF wasn’t something I planned,” she adds. “Women who mentored me inspired me. And, when I started mentoring one girl, the next thing I knew there were 30.”
She continues: “I had one counselor who said, ‘Little brown girl, you’ve got to be somebody.’” It was a statement that resonated with Baker. Now, her own words are equally as impactful and transforming. She teaches her girls that they are a valuable treasure, and that they have to set the bar, as well as their standards high. “Love yourself unconditionally, and dream big,” Baker states. “Only you are responsible for creating a successful future. Live life on purpose, with full intent and dare to be extraordinary. There is no dream that cannot become a reality.”
If her former mentees are any indication, she has achieved some breakthroughs. “I love Bernada Nicole Baker,” says Roshea Williams, now an education specialist with Ada S. McKinley Community Services, a social service agency on Chicago’s south side. “She actually first mentored me at age 15. I’m now 22, and she has helped me through so many trials and tribulations. Bernada Nicole is a really good person. She gives me great advice, and she’s just a really passionate person with a really great spirit. She will give her all.”
Jasmine Mack, 21, a concessionaire at Chicago’s Midway Airport who’ll be a freshman at Talladega College in Alabama this fall, agrees. “Bernada’s been like a Godmother to me. After the first weekend I spent with her, we were inseparable. She’s a great person; a great role model. She keeps me on my toes. I have my mom, but with The Princess Within Foundation it seems like I have two moms. I’ve never met one person in my life as amazing as Bernada. If I haven’t called her, she calls me. If I forget and get too busy, she’ll phone my school. She’s a great motivator.”
One TPWF alum who’s already gone on to college is Dorian DeRamus, an undergraduate at Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. “I’m an only child, raised by a single mom. I met Ms. Baker when I was 15 after she heard me pray in church one day,” DeRamus states. “She just fell in love with me at that moment. ‘You’re a princess and we have The Princess Within organization,’” she recalls Baker as first saying. “She’s been like my second mother. She’s been sending me care packages, and sending along encouraging words to me while at school. She’ll yell at you like a mom, too now, but it’s all out of love. There’s no sugar-coating anything.”
ABOUT THE PRINCESS WITHIN FOUNDATION
The Princess Within Foundation [TPWF] is a faith-based, self-esteem initiative that empowers and equips girls with the tools necessary to discover the princess that lies within. The organization’s programming provides multicultural exposure, focus and access to academic, spiritual, financial and emotional resources specially designed to assist girls in their journey as they transition to womanhood. TPWF aims to empower girls to “become pregnant with purpose and not babies.” For more information, visit: www.theprincesswithin.org, or see our Facebook page.