In 2010 during the first semester of her freshman year in college, Ashley Obasi lost her father suddenly. He died of a heart attack unexpectedly in her hometown of Chicago. She took some time off from school and returned to the Syracuse University campus in her own time. "Returning to school was crazy, and for a while, I was walking around campus dazed or just crying in the middle of class," Obasi recalls. "It was a really tough experience for me. My 18th birthday was like four months away and I could not even fathom what four months would feel like. It was really difficult to want to move forward."
Something still felt different when she returned to campus. Over time, she found her groove again, and she knew that she wanted to help make a difference in the lives of other young Black women like herself in pursuit of a higher education, which led to the birth of Black Girls Graduate in 2013.
Since then, Obasi (in pink) and her co-founders, sister Ijeamaka Obasi (in back) and best friend Tikkara Cooper have been devoted to celebrating women of color who graduate from univesities and colleges both big and small across the country. They also provide them with a resource for career advice, job and internship leads, scholarship opportunites and a space to simply acknowledge the accompishment of being Black, educated, boss women around the world.
With a social media presence of over 14,800 followers (and growing!) on Instagram, in just four years the site has become a welcomed dose of inspiration that empowers Black women to keep going.
Name: Ashley Obasi
Current Title/Company: Sales Digital Coordinator at Crawford Broadcasting/Co-Founder of Black Girls Graduate
Location: Chicago, IL
Hometown: Chicago, IL
LinkedIn: Ashley Obasi
The journey: I started Black Girls Graduate back in 2013 and I initially kept it secret. It was just my sister Ije and I who knew about it. But I really trusted my fellow co-founder, Tikkara. She and I were roommates my junior and senior year at Cuse and so from the moment I told her about it our senior year, she absolutely loved it. We moved back to Chicago after graduation, she just started calling me and texting me about BGG and really showed that she was passionate about being involved so we just began working from there to get it to where it is today.
Their mission statement: Black Girls Graduate is an online resource dedicated to improving educational attainment and collegiate graduation rates among Black women and providing strategies to career advancement.
Their vision: Our vision is for Black Girls Graduate to be the first place Black girls and young women look for inspiring content to uplift and motivate them to reach their full potential academically and professionally. It is by seeing women who look like us in these leading roles that dreams become more tangible and the journey that can get us there becomes more realistic.
Top tip for Black girls graduating: I would say write down your goals. Writing down your goals helps you turn those goal into reality. Doing so will give you somewhat of a roadmap as to where you want to go and where you see yourself in the next two to five years. Write down both short term goals as well as long term goals, both personal and professionally. If you're looking to travel more, if you're looking to potentially go back to school, if you're looking to jump right into the work place. I think writing this list down will help navigate you in the right direction.
Best advice for new college grad: Take advantage of that alumni network. Join the alumni group in your city and definitely keep those lines of communication open between some of your classmates that you graduated with. We were taught by the same professors that have pushed us to reach our full potential, whatever that might look like. People that we've gone to school with are doing great things. You just never know where forming and maintaining those relationships could potentially take you, so always remember to keep those networks open.
Her best networking strategy: Take those business cards that you get and take a picture of them with your phone. That way if you lose the business card you have the information right there, but as a follow-up, I would also look the person up on Instagram and follow them as well as look them up on LinkedIn.
Her biggest accomplishment: I would say at this point in my life I'm not sure I would want to measure the different things that I've done. I've really enjoyed all my experiences and where I'm at thus far. I'm just proud of that alone.
The smartest advice she ever received: Never stop learning and never stop perfecting your craft.
Advice to her freshman year self: Well freshman year was a tough experience for me, actually, so the advice I would give myself is that there's going to be brighter days. [My freshman year] I lost my father, so it was extremely tough and it was unplanned, obviously. He died of a heart attack, so it definitely shook my entire family and it shook me being so many miles away from home, that I went home for a while. So the advice I would give myself is that there's going to be brighter days because just to see the way that I've grown from that experience is just amazing.
Her power accessory: I never leave home without my planner, actually. My planner and my phone and my chapstick because you might have chapped lips around here. You just never know!
Her theme song: Right now? DJ Khaled's song featuring Beyoncé and Jay Z, "Shining!"
On her bucket list: I would say one thing that's on the top of my career bucket list right now is to make the Forbes list 30 under 30. It might sound far fetched but it's crazy the way that after you maneuver through life and grow, some of the people that we've gone to school with I know people that have made the list personally. So it's kind of crazy and I hope to achieve the level of success to be considered for that list.
What's next for Black Girls Graduate: The site hasn't been updated as often as we would like it to be, just because life has happened. With myself and Tikkara, we both work full time, and my sister, Ijea, she's actually in school right now at NYU getting her JD/MBA. So her time is also limited. But we haven't been able to update the site as often as we would like, but that is something that we're looking to do now, actually. We're looking to get the site back up and running to have articles at least on a weekly basis so that we can continue to be a great resource for our fellow graduates.