As a young girl, Jamila Trimuel’s dad used to tell her “You’re an African American girl. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Trimuel, a Homewood-Flossmoor High School alumnus, is committed to instilling that message in other Black girls and to help them achieve their dreams through Ladies of Virtue. It is a nonprofit she founded nearly 12 years ago that provides mentoring, leadership training, mental health support and other programs to empower Black girls. It has served more than 2,000 girls since 2011, said Brittany Taylor, operations manager.

The Chicago-based organization, which targets girls in underserved communities, is seeking applicants in fourth through 11th grades in the south suburbs and Chicago for its nine-month Saturday Institute, a mentorship and leadership development program. More than 700 girls have enrolled in that program since it first launched with six girls, Taylor said.

Participants will complete 35-plus hours of leadership development training, be exposed to different careers and earn 12-plus service-learning hours researching, planning and implementing projects that are beneficial to their community. Sixth through 12th graders will have the opportunity to participate in college tours, and participants ages 16 and older will have the opportunity to be placed in summer jobs and internships. Girls will be matched one-on-one with a mentor and have access to the group’s network of 48 mentors, who are positive role models.

Participants build confidence, learn about the college preparation process, gain job readiness skills and learn effective communication and social skills. Fun also is part of the mix, said program representatives.

Trimuel, who is CEO of Ladies of Virtue, has more than 10 years of experience in strategic planning and community engagement for nonprofit organizations.

She said she began to realize while a teen that some of the young people she knew weren’t planning for life after high school and lacked sufficient positive role models.

“Positive role models can literally change the trajectory of your life,” said Trimuel, who has mentored girls in the program and was a mentor to girls before launching the nonprofit.

Her organization’s mission is “to instill purpose, passion, and perseverance in girls,” prepare them for college, careers and to become change agents in their communities. That is achieved in part through exposure, said Taylor. Ladies of Virtue showcases successful Black women and sisterhood.

“That’s so important,” Taylor said. “It lets you know what’s possible and that you aren’t alone. We introduce them to new possibilities.”

Trimuel and Taylor said the organization provides a safe space where girls can be their authentic selves and provides a support system for them as they begin to navigate though life.

“We’re constantly rooting for them,” said Taylor.

Prior to launching Ladies of Virtue, Trimuel worked for nearly eight years in strategic planning and business development roles at Northwestern Medicine. She was recognized as a “change agent” and invited to the White House United State of Women Summit in 2016, and was one of 100 community leaders from Chicago and 500 from around the world invited to attend the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit in 2017.

Her nonprofit focuses heavily on instilling in participants the importance of postsecondary education. Trimuel holds a bachelor’s degree in community health from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Science in health systems management from Rush University. She also holds a master of education in educational leadership from The Broad Center for Management of School Systems.

Among participants in Ladies of Virtue’s 2022-2023 Saturday Institute, 100% of the girls were accepted into four-year colleges and/or universities and 88% placed in summer internship, program representatives said.

Mentorship extends beyond high school and college graduation. Participants are mentored and supported for an additional six years as alumni to help further their development and success.

Cheyenne Harmon, who was a mentee in the program, at the Black Women's Expo at McCormick Place last year.

Markham resident Cheyenne Harmon first became involved in the program in 2015 while a sophomore at Bremen High School in Midlothian. Today she works as a risk analyst. She graduated from Saint Xavier University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“I’m a first-generation college graduate,” Harmon said. “Not many people from my community went off to college or graduated from college. I learned so many things like how to research college, how to fill out the FAFSA (student aid) application. It helped with self-esteem and just seeing so many professional Black women. That extremely resonated with me.”

She said she also learned about keeping a journal and engaging in daily affirmations, attended sessions on healthy living and healthy eating and enjoyed fun activities. She has continued as a volunteer helping recruit mentors and mentees.

For the Saturday Institute, ideal applicants are girls who are open-minded, looking to meet new people and have new experiences, and who may be the first generation in their family to go to college, Trimuel said. Girls aren’t selected based on academic achievement. Decisions are based on one’s willingness to participate in all activities, an interview, commitment and positive attitude.

The program will take place from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. the first and third Saturday each month, October 2023 through May 2024, at Bronzeville Classical Elementary School in Chicago. Applications close Aug. 31. Potential participants must attend an information session and an interview will be held in September.

To apply visit For more information email

Francine Knowles is a freelance columnist for the Daily Southtown.