By Janna M. Hall
If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would it look like? Many adults prefer to use two-word mantras—Love yourself. Be yourself. Be confident. Be fearless. —while some would choose to write a dissertation mapping out the complicated maze of life’s events and offering cheat codes to conquer them all. For Amanda Kimbrough, however, her “letter” came in the form of a non-profit organization, and her “younger self” is actually dozens of teenage girls in Central Virginia.
Kimbrough founded Brand New in 2015, determined to use her personal experiences to equip teen girls with the tools needed to navigate their adolescence. The truth is, growing up in 2016 is tough. Living in the social media age, the pressure to resemble the women who flood our Instagram timelines only grows heavier. Girls are constantly told that who they are, what they look like, and how their body is shaped is simply not good enough—they must be thinner, their hair must be longer, their heels higher. Unique quirkiness takes a back seat to trying to “fit in,” and if you aren’t paired with a guy to become #relationshipgoals on social media, you’re simply behind the times. In 2016, there are seemingly more reasons for girls to criticize themselves and less reasons to love themselves. There’s pressure to give in to self-doubt and seek outside validation, which is a recipe for destruction. In these precious years called adolescence, girls should be reminded that even without the validation of a boyfriend, a group of girls to make up the ultimate girl squad, and the best body in town, they are enough.
Kimbrough felt it was her purpose in life to reach out to these younger versions of herself and provide a safe space for them to learn, grow, and develop into strong young women who will one day change the world. The lessons she learned growing up were tough, but she knew it’d all be in vain if she didn’t take her pain and transform it into something full of purpose.
“As an adolescent, I lived with low self esteem,” she remembers. “I didn’t feel loved, and I didn’t know who I was. In middle school, I was bullied because of my appearance, and I carried that insecurity with me into high school.”
In an effort to feel accepted and validated, Kimbrough attached herself to the opposite sex, hoping that they’d define her and give her a sense of identity. But it never happened. This quest resulted in emotional damages and strongholds, and after leaving for college she found herself pregnant at 19. What was supposed to be an exciting time of exploration and trial and error turned into forced adulthood.
“I was forced to grow up, and forced to marry the man I had my son with. We were together for seven years, but it didn’t work because, again, I didn’t know who I was.”
It wasn’t until March 2015 that God nudged her to use her story to reach girls who might be experiencing her same teenage struggles. There is truly nothing new under the sun, and if she endured it back when she was a young girl, sure enough there were others enduring it today. Despite much apprehension about fighting through the shame and guilt attached to her past, Amanda launched Brand New in July 2015 and agreed to be transparent about her story.
Brand New is an organization for the girl who’s struggling to fit in. It’s for the girl who’s dealing with trauma—sexual abuse, domestic violence, or bullying. It’s for the girl who lacks the courage to have a voice and use it for good. It’s for the girl who wants to build strong, positive relationships with other young ladies. It’s for the girl who wants to grow into a strong woman who’s been equipped to lead and give birth to the next generation of leaders. Ultimately, Brand New is a safe space for girls to figure out this thing called life and be themselves every step of the way.
Every month, Kimbrough puts together group meetings that ensure girls are given that safe space. Through monthly events called Snack & Chat, the girls come together and discuss the various issues affecting them in their everyday lives.
“Our first meeting was about feeling beautiful in a not-so-beautiful world,” she says. “We addressed self-esteem issues, and I had girls dig deep into themselves to find out what’s beautiful on the inside and focus on those things.”
Kimbrough understands that while emotional issues are critical in a girl’s life, you can’t neglect the most obvious struggle of the adolescent years: school. In other Snack & Chat meetings, she’s brought in teachers to discuss test-taking strategies and help prepare them for the SOLs, giving pointers that’ll make the daunting test a little more bearable. And that’s something that, as the organization grows, will continue to be an integral part of its foundation. Brand New really is a one-stop-shop for the entire girl experience.
Her own personal passion project, Amanda’s personal life lessons are woven into the very fabric of her organization. She and her volunteers even delve into the topic of abstinence with the hopes of reducing teen pregnancy rates. Their message is that girls are valuable and should wait before connecting themselves with young men who will undoubtedly have an effect on their lives in ways both positive and negative. Her hope is that they won’t make the same mistakes she did, mistakes she admits she still deals with today. Through her teachings, girls learn that above all, they’re precious and absolutely worth waiting for.
Of course, the organization’s message couldn’t spread without the help of dedicated ambassadors. Through its ambassador program, to which girls must apply, 10 to 11 girls who are devoted to the mission, all about girl power, and are leaders in their school spread the word about Brand New and invite students to join monthly meetings.
Other events include vision board parties, annual December “Books Before Boys” Pajama Jams, and their popular transformation photo shoots.
“With our photo shoots, a girl is nominated and we give her a day of pampering. She gets a makeover, a new outfit, and then a photoshoot. And it’s not to be superficial, but sometimes a girl needs to see themselves in another light to see how beautiful they are on the outside.”
It’s through these monthly and annual events that Kimbrough has been able to see girls evolve in front of her very eyes. Girls who were once shy and quiet now have a voice. In a world that often tells them to be seen and not heard or to dim their light so that others’ can shine brighter, Brand New provides the safe space for them to speak their minds and feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly. Their thoughts do matter. Because of that freedom of expression, girls who were once afraid to make their voice heard are now ambassadors for the organization.
Though she set out to change girls’ lives, Amanda Kimbrough can’t deny the effect the girls have had on her.
“These girls have matured me,” she explains. “Sometimes I think I can’t do this because I’m not perfect, but these girls have pushed me to be great and have shown me that I’m needed and worthy. God has a great plan for my life. I set out to help them, but they’re really helping me. They’re teaching me how to be a leader, focus on my assignment, persevere, not procrastinate, and be present. So I’m thankful for this opportunity. God did it to change my life.”
Though primarily serving the Prince George, Hopewell, and Petersburg area, Kimbrough envisions a Brand New organization established in every state along the east coast, all run by the young women who have experienced first-hand the impact the organization has on girls. Her message is one that girls everywhere need to hear and internalize. And the “why” behind it is very simple:
“We want to give them the necessary skills to become leaders who will change the world. That’s what it’s all about. These girls will eventually be women who will raise children and build communities. So we need them to be strong, empowered, and take everything they’ve learned from us and build a strong and powerful new generation.”