ABOVE PHOTO: Cheryl Ann Wadlington addresses her 2016 Evoleur House grads.
Philadelphians have known for years that Cheryl Wadlington, Executive Director of The Evoleur House, was a champion of change for young women. Last Friday, the White House made it official.
By Denise Clay
At a ceremony at the White House last Friday, the rest of the country found out what many of us in Philadelphia had known for years.
Cheryl Wadlington is a champion.
The White House honored Wadlington, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Evoleur House, for her work with young women of color in Camden and Philadelphia as a Champion of Change for Extracurricular Enrichment for Marginalized Girls. The Evoleur House is a non-profit organization that works to empower young women by giving them the tools they need to succeed and change their own lives.
Using the style and determination that took her to the top of the fashion industry as a leading journalist and consultant, Wadlington has helped more than 1,200 girls in Camden and Philadelphia. As part of the Champions of Change ceremonies, in the field, Wadlington participated in a panel in which she shared her insights about how she does what she does.
In addition to the panel discussions, the group of “champions” heard from White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Beverly Bond, the founder and CEO of “Black Girls Rock!”
The SUN spoke to Cheryl Wadlington about her latest honor, the foundation that inspired it, and why now more than ever, we need to pay attention to young women of color.
SUN: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me Cheryl. For our readers who might not be familiar with The Evoleur House, can you talk a little bit about what it is and what it does?
CW: We started this about 12 years ago as a program with the Camden Department of Community Services. We later started working with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation and did the program in 24 Philadelphia Housing Authority housing developments and community recreation centers. The program was going simultaneously in both cities. We then started Evoleur House.
SUN: Congratulations on being named a Champion of Change. How did you find out about the honor and how did this make you feel?
CW: Thank you! A lot of work went into getting this honor. I had no idea it was coming. I was sitting [in Evoleur’s offices] one day and I got a phone call. The caller said, “Is this Cheryl Wadlington?” and I said yes, and was told it was the White House. I almost fell out of my chair! I was in shock! I was very humbled and honored.
SUN: Tell me a little bit about that day. I was watching some of the live stream from the event and saw your panel.
CW: It was a great opportunity to connect. The minute that I walked in the door, I started connecting with the other nine champions being honored immediately. They were all there from other girl-focused organizations and it’s a celebration, a day to bond and a day to network. It was magical!
I have nothing but praise and can’t express how much gratitude I have to the White House for starting this initiative to focus on girls. President [Barack] Obama has always said that change begins from the bottom up and that’s exactly what we’re doing at Evoleur House. [First Lady] Michelle Obama has been consistent in her mission to uplift girls in marginalized communities and Valerie Jarrett has also been consistent. They didn’t forget about us. Now that the alarm bell has rung for women and girls, they’re listening.
SUN: When you say “the alarm bell has been run,” in terms of the issues of young women and girls, what exactly do you mean, and how has that figured into the mission of Evoleur House?
CW: When it comes to helping our young people, there was a lot of focus on Black boys getting help, but not much for girls. People tend to believe that girls don’t need help, but there’s data that shows that girls are dealing with discrimination and mistreatment across the board. Black girls get suspended more and are funneled into the criminal justice system for non-violent crimes. Once you get into the justice system, these girls become traumatized. When the School District of Philadelphia got rid of all of the counselors due to budget cuts, these girls have no one to help them.
Those are the girls that we’re working with. We focus on the education and healing of Black and brown girls. These girls come from all kinds of circumstances; girls who are first time offenders, girls from homeless shelters, even girls from high-end schools. There are unique barriers that all girls of color face. All of the girls in our program have graduated high school on time and many of them go on to college, some getting advanced degrees. We’ve had girls who have graduated from places like Spelman and Villanova.
A lot of these girls grow up in unhealthy environments. You cannot punish a girl for growing up in an unhealthy environment, which is why they’re so quick to be singled out by schools enacting zero tolerance policies. The compassion and understanding isn’t there. You just have to care.
SUN: Wow! That’s kind of impressive.
CW: When you take the time to address these issues and educate a young girl, she can thrive. Every girl deserves the opportunity to achieve her dreams.
SUN: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Cheryl, and congratulations again on being named a Champion.
CW: Thank you.
The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists will also be honoring Cheryl Wadlington for her work with young women and girls through The Evoleur House with the organization’s Community Service Award during the organization’s 11th Annual Awards Gala. This event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 22 from 6PM to 10:30 PM at the WHYY Studios, 150 N. 6th St., on Independence Mall.
Tickets are $65 if you buy them by Oct. 15 and $75 after, $25 for students. Go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pabj-2016-awards-scholarship-gala-tickets-27768314777 for tickets.