Angela Patton Listens to What Black Girls Need, and Shows Up

When Angela Patton’s parents moved recently, her mother found a yearbook of Angela’s from high school. Fellow students had written, “You’re going to lead something one day” and “You’re going to change the world.” Angela had written that her goal was to make a difference in people’s lives. 

“I don’t remember feeling that way as a senior in high school,” Angela says. “My mother had to come up to school a lot when I was in school suspension. That wasn’t where she and my father thought I was headed. So they are definitely proud.”

Angela has achieved her goal of making a difference, and then some. She’s the CEO of Girls for a Change, a non-profit based in Richmond, Virginia that seeks to empower and uplift Black girls. Through the organization’s programs, girls learn problem-solving, movement building, and a range of other skills while also engaging in social change projects. 

“Our mission is to prepare Black girls for the world, and the world for Black girls,” Angela says. “It’s all about making sure Black girls are seen, heard, and celebrated.”

In 2004, Angela founded a program that eventually merged with Girls for a Change — Camp Diva Leadership Academy. It’s a summer camp for Black girls that teaches life skills and provides social and emotional support. In addition to her CEO duties, Angela still runs Camp Diva, which she named in honor of a friend’s daughter who died in a firearms accident. 

Angela originally intended Camp Diva to be a one-time event, focused on healthy eating and practices like yoga and tai chi. She explains how it evolved: “Those girls taught me what they needed. They needed tai chi, but they also needed healing and relationship building. They needed their voices to be heard. They needed to address colorism, and their hair texture, and their bodies being policed.”

Seeing Herself in the Girls She Helps

Angela started out in nursing school, hoping to become a midwife, but then earned a degree in business administration once she changed her goal to leading a nonprofit. “I needed to know how to run a business,” she explains. “I was good at planning and organizing, and already was a leader. But when I was a little girl, I wasn’t manifesting it that way. I was manifesting in being more bossy, fighting, getting kicked out of school.” 

Because of that personal history, Angela wanted to uplift girls who face similar challenges. “I see myself in them,” she says. “I know that if they cultivate some of those skill sets that they have, they can turn them into positive ways of changing the world. They just need somebody to see that potential in them instead of saying ‘You’re disrespectful, you’re rude.’” 

Listen First

In addition to Camp Diva, programs run by Girls for a Change cover a broad spectrum of personal and professional development: Girl Action Teams, which identify challenges in their communities and come up with creative solutions to address them; the Girl Ambassador program, which prepares girls for the workforce; and the Immersion Lab, where girls of color in high school and college learn digital and entrepreneurial skills. At the organization’s center in Richmond, they offer after-school programs, cooking classes, and a garden for the girls to work in.  

When asked what Girls for a Change needs most from supporters, Angela says, “Just follow us and continue to champion for us. Because our girls need it. It’s been a long road for Black people in America and beyond. And we’re basically just saying, it’s our turn to be heard.” 

She encourages people to listen. “With my girls, when I decided that I was going to show up for them, I wanted to make sure they knew that I was there to listen first and to partner with them, not to tell them, but to work with them in partnership. And I do fall short sometimes. But then I just say ‘Girls, I want to let you know what I see, give you some advice, and ask ‘how do you feel about that?’’”  

The philosophy Angela first embraced through Camp Diva now guides Girls for a Change: “I tell the girls, you are here for us to nurture the potential that’s already within you. And we’re going to figure it out. And we’re going to make mistakes along the way. Nobody said it was easy. But you’re going to be resilient, and you’re going to know that you’re not the only one.”