A passion for mentorship: modeling success for young Black women
Founder, Black Girls Achieve
2017 Fulbright U.S. Student to Trinidad and Tobago
Less than five years after earning her Master’s degree in public policy, Taniqua Huguley was named as one of Hartford Business Journal’s Top 25 Women in Business for 2022. Huguley is the Director of Economic Mobility Initiatives at United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. This honor was only the latest recognition crediting her accomplishments as a leader and dedicated mentor to young women. She has also been recognized as one Hartford’s Finest, 100 Women of Color, and 31 Exceptional Women, as well as Trinity College’s 50 for the Next 50.
Her proudest achievement is founding Black Girls Achieve, an empowerment program for Black girls around the world. Her inspiration came from her own life, as well as the research she conducted during a Fulbright U.S. Student Study/Research award year from 2017 to 2018 in Trinidad and Tobago. There, she interviewed young women in Trinidad’s St. Jude’s School for Girls, the only all girls’ juvenile detention facility in Trinidad and Tobago, while researching factors that led to girls being arrested and incarcerated.
When she returned home from her Fulbright year, she began working for a civil rights organization in the field of housing equity. In 2019, she became a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Alumni Ambassador, speaking at in-person and virtual events nationwide to help connect students from diverse backgrounds and institutions with Fulbright opportunities like her own. In 2020, she started her own consulting firm, TKH Global Consulting, to help prepare girls for college and careers.
The opportunity to work with the girls and staff at St. Jude’s gave her valuable insights for her work with Black Girls Achieve, which she founded in 2020, with help from the Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and implemented in partnership with the Partners of the Americas. “Not only did I learn about their experiences through the interviews that I did with them, but truly by immersing myself in the culture of Trinidad and the facility, and … just being a part of the community while there.”
Huguley found that the girls at St. Jude’s had been “called ‘beyond control,’ which means that a girl could have easily been sent to St. Jude’s just for acting out or having an argument with their parent.” In her interviews, she found that many of the girls were not in St. Jude’s due to a violent crime. “Many of the girls were in the facility as a result of running away from home,” says Huguley, specifying that there were usually multiple factors, including “physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, disagreeing with parents, and poverty."
She explains that the work she did while on her Fulbright experience in Trinidad opened her eyes to issues that girls are facing elsewhere in the world. “I wanted to not only share their story, but to find opportunities to assist girls back at home who were in the same position.”
Providing mentorship has been a driving motivation throughout Huguley’s life. After high school in New York City, she moved to Hartford, Connecticut to enroll in Trinity College as a Posse Scholar, taking part in a program that provides peer support to students from diverse backgrounds. As a sociology student at Trinity, her passion to serve as a role model in her college and local communities became increasingly clear.
As a student, Huguley was president of Trinity College’s Black Women’s Organization for three years. She also helped to establish a Girl Scout troop in Hartford, and served as Cultural House Coordinator for the Umoja House, a gathering space for Black students designed to foster intellectual connections and discussions among Trinity students, as well as between them and the surrounding Hartford community.
Huguley had always known she wanted to mentor young women at the Queensbridge Houses, the public housing development in Queens, New York, where she grew up. "Growing up, I didn't see a ton of successful women. And so I wanted to make sure that we reshaped what success looks like," Huguley told NBC Connecticut.
An unexpected turn of events during the Covid pandemic brought her back there earlier than planned. In 2020, with schools and after-school programs shut down, she found that girls were not able to access the social supports they needed. Not only were they trying to study remotely, but many had to take on family duties while their parents worked front-line jobs. Many of the young women were confined to small apartments, and some were put in dangerous situations trying to earn money outside the home.
She wanted to create a space for girls to be comfortable sharing with one another, and to create a virtual support system they could turn to during these difficult times. “When you think about mentorship,” she says, “oftentimes it helps fill a void that you're not receiving at home, or some type of advice that you're not getting at home, or conversations that you're not getting at home.”
Black Girls Achieve began as a weekly online meeting with about 25 girls from New York City, and grew from there. The program has expanded to work both in-person and virtually with girls in the Hartford area and Queens, while also staying connected to young women in Trinidad. In July 2022, Huguley furthered her goals of international exchange by bringing a group of Black Girls Achieve students to Kenya. There, they learned more about Kenyan culture, and both the American and Kenyan girls shared their experiences through organized workshops.
Huguley wants to ensure that the young women she mentors know that “there may be obstacles in pursuing their dreams, but it's important to never give up and never let others deter you from your journey.”