Akilah Blount, a 22-year-old employee at the Athens-Clarke County Library, poses for a portrait on Saturday, February 2, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. Blount, a University of Georgia alumni, began the BEE Club at the library, aimed at empowering local teen girls. (Photo/Christina R. Matacotta, crmatacotta@gmail.com)

When she was denied acceptance into a women’s organization at Westlake High School in 2013, Akilah Blount began her own club, Becoming Empowered through Education Inc., to create a safe and supportive environment for high school girls.

“There’s always this pressure about how pretty you are, or how smart you are, or how many things you’re already involved in, and there wasn’t just a place for everyone to belong,” Blount said.

Blount, now a University of Georgia alumna, is hoping to create a similar sense of community for girls at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens.

The B.E.E. club was originally established as a mentorship program between high-school upperclassmen and lower classmen, with club activities to help the girls build confidence, assist them with scholarship applications and provide advice about how to apply and get into the college of their choice.

The club also provides opportunities such as guest speakers, field trips and service projects with women’s shelters and other local organizations.

Blount described feeling like there is “a double negative” in many communities. When girls do not have a sense of belonging or worth in their own community and they do not have access to resources, their sense of self-worth is challenged.

Unlike the Westlake chapter, the Cedar Shoals chapter of B.E.E. club is free in an attempt to increase accessibility.

High school club turned career

Once she became a UGA student, Blount said she did not initially plan on continuing her involvement in the Westlake club. The club needed assistance in order to become self-sustaining, so Blount committed to commuting back and forth every other week to teach the girls at Westlake how to facilitate the program.

After six years since its development, Blount’s commitment to the program has paid off. She said Westlake B.E.E. club has trained approximately 300 girls to become mentors and community leaders.

Blount decided to major in women’s studies and public relations as a sophomore at UGA because she felt that those majors would help her give back to the program and help her build it.

Blount is hoping to return to UGA for graduate school in nonprofit management and leadership in the UGA School of Social Work. Her other plans for the future include spreading the B.E.E. club to low-income communities in Georgia to provide access to resources for teens.

Right now, Blount is looking forward to building a sisterhood connecting girls to their community at Cedar Shoals.

“Come as you are,” Blount said. “We love and appreciate you for that reason alone.”

Blount plans to involve other UGA students in the Cedar Shoals chapter through community leadership positions like outreach and fundraising coordinators in the future.

Building community bridges

Ouida Burke, Westlake’s B.E.E. sponsor, described the sense of community the club has created between girls at Westlake. B.E.E. club is open to all, and Burke said there is also a mentorship program between B.E.E club and students with special needs.

“They really felt like that sense of sisterhood and connectedness was something they wanted, was something they could see, that they kind of don’t have here at this school simply because there’s not a space for it."

-- Akilah Blount, B.E.E. club founder

Blount’s impetus to bring the club to Athens was realized through her internship at the Athens Clarke County library. She said teens are unaware or unable to access many of the resources around them that could connect them to the community.

The B.E.E club at Cedar Shoals is only in its first month, but Blount said one of her most rewarding moments in six years as the club leader occurred at the Cedar Shoals kickoff on Jan. 16 where Westlake members attended.

“They really felt like that sense of sisterhood and connectedness was something they wanted, was something they could see, that they kind of don’t have here at this school simply because there’s not a space for it,” Blount said.

At the kickoff, B.E.E. members from Westlake came to speak with the new members at Cedar Shoals. Blount said, “the girls from Cedar just saw something in the girls from Westlake that they felt like they could become.”

Several Westlake B.E.E mentors currently attend UGA. Sophomore student Janae Gillenwaters became involved in the club as a freshman at Westlake in 2013. Gillenwaters remembers how Blount would tell the high-schoolers in B.E.E. club about her experience at UGA and give the girls a sense of what college is really like.

“Sometimes somebody can feel out of place, so the B.E.E. club served as a way not only to mentor some girls but to just give them people they can trust while also serving the community,” Gillenwaters said.