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WMRA's Women of Interest series profiles just a few of the women in our region doing things... a little differently. These are women with unique perspectives, in new roles, or just approaching life along the road less traveled. Like many other women, they are changing the lives of people around them in positive ways.Listen for Women of Interest through September on WMRA.Support for this special news series comes from F & M Bank, a local, independent, community bank since 1908 with locations throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

A Driving Force for Young Black Women in Charlottesville

The local chapter of 100 Black Women will launch this fall. It has been in the making for the past year, with many local professional women pitching in. One of them is Shantron Franklin-Sims, who has taken a leadership role in the fledgling organization. And she is the subject of the next installment of our Women of Interest series.  WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini has her profile.

Born and raised in Charlottesville, Shantron Franklin-Sims is a mother of three – including two foster children – and is an office associate for Albemarle County Public Schools.

[Franklin-Sims at work]

She is also the organizing leader of the soon-to-be local chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Their mission is to advocate on behalf of young black women to promote leadership development and gender equity in three main areas: health, education, and economic empowerment.

SHANTRON FRANKLIN-SIMS: We want to be involved in our community as soon as possible so we're building our mentor program.

She had learned about the already existing 100 Black Men of Central Virginia. Their mission is to eliminate the achievement gap of African-American males in grades K through 12, by pairing black students with successful, local professionals. That way, children see the advantages of dedication in the classroom. While the two organizations have similar goals, they are not sister organizations.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: Obviously, they support each other in cities where they both exist, but they're totally separate.

The local chapter of 100 Black Men here is led by Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy. About a year ago, Shantron and other women asked him why there wasn’t an equivalent for black girls.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: He took all the contacts and he gathered people's names and emails and literally sent out the email and said ‘For all the women who've ever told me that you want to see mentors for girls, let's get together at CitySpace downtown, talk about it.’  So that's how it started. And every meeting, it was like you’re going around the room and introduce yourself, and give the reason why you’re here. Miss Leah Puryear, one of my mentors, was there and she's also in our group. And so my reason was: I had women that supported me, and I want to, now, do the same thing for some other young lady, just like Miss Puryear did for me.

Leah Puryear has been the director of the local Upward Bound program since 1981, helping high school students prepare to enter college. Shantron got into that program after she realized for the first time, during a career fair in 8th grade, that she could go to college.

FRANKLIN-SIMS:  From that point on, that was my drive all the way through high school, graduating, get into college. In my family there wasn't talk of college - not because it wasn't thought to be important but it just wasn't even what was thought about. It was more like ‘What are we eating next week?’

Shantron became the first in her immediate family to go to college. To help her, she had other mentors.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: Of course there were teachers. I had this one trigonometry teacher, and she was a black woman, which was rare - in the math field it's usually white males. There was a member of my church named Miss Mason, and when she saw you trying to help yourself she would try to help you with little things, so she would give me money and... Miss Morrison, she's also a woman that was an influence on me, like "Wow, you work hard, you can call the shots and decide what your life is going to be."

Of course, her mother was a big influence too.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: She might not have known anything about how to apply for financial aid and what I should expect on my freshman year, but she did understand ethics and values and working hard and being responsible.

After graduating from Charlottesville High School in 1997, she went to George Mason University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. She also became the first in her family to move far from home by starting her first real job in New York City, where she was an advertising sales assistant in various companies including Newsweek Magazine and Lifetime Television. She also experienced 9/11 up close, and lost one of her brothers to murder here in Charlottesville.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: My brother, he was a great guy, but unfortunately he had a lot of demons, and he dealt with them with drug use. The briefest way I can put it is that he angered a really bad group of people. There was a conflict, they decided to solve it by shooting him. Sadly, his killer was 19 years old at the time, and he has life in prison with no chance of parole – really 2 men were lost.

After these life-altering events and five years in the big apple, she decided to come home in 2006.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: When I left I never thought I would come back to Charlottesville. I came back home, to my mom's detriment; she was very afraid of that, because of her experience growing up here, which was like in a total different time. But I was seeing Charlottesville totally different at that point. My mom's neighborhood, she's lived there 27 years, and it's a predominantly African-American neighborhood, and has been for decades. And now you go in my neighborhood and there's all different ethnicities, and it's really interesting because, my mom thought ‘We never thought people from other ethnicities would be comfortable coming here.’ Someone who went through segregation, for her, it's very different. She has a neighbor, that's an interracial couple – she has no problem with that – but she'd never seen a black woman that was married to white man, that totally blew her mind, to see that much change in her life. So I think Charlottesville has come a long way and changed a lot. I do think that there’s still a lot that needs to change, but that’s not our whole story.

Shantron wishes to contribute to this change. And now, she might very well become the first president of 100 Black Women’s local chapter.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: I hate to assume. But it's assumed by myself and others that I likely will be the first president of this chapter.

It is not something she had planned for herself though.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: No one really wanted to jump in, and I was like ‘what are we going to do? Let's set some goals’ and so, you're leader at that point. To be honest, it's quite intimidating. I'm surrounded by a really dynamic group of women from all different professions... I'm an office assistant, and I'm surrounded by CEOs and principals…

The 100 Black Women of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area will be chartered on October 14.

FRANKLIN-SIMS: We're getting ready to send out invitations. I will also mention that we don't want anyone to be... We've had people approach us and say "Can I be a member? I'm a white woman" and we're like "Of course you can, if you're interested in the work that we're doing." We want to impact our community, period.

They have a Facebook page, and you can also reach the birthing organization at cvillementors@gmail.com.

Marguerite Gallorini was a feelance journalist for WMRA from 2015 -2018.