Ni’cola Mitchell is a successful author, entrepreneur, publisher, and speaker. But more than that, she’s an overcomer. A Jamaica native who now lives in Atlanta, Mitchell was a victim of childhood bullying and rape, became an unwed teen mother, and was incarcerated, all before reaching the legal driving age.
“People laughed at me when I said I was going to be successful and do the things that I do,” Mitchell said.
Now, she’s empowering other at-risk girls with the life skills and confidence to flourish as they move into adulthood.
Three years ago, Mitchell founded the nonprofit Girls Who Brunch, an event-style tour with celebrities, entertainment, and workshops on topics as varied as sex trafficking awareness to STEM careers. The organization offers mentoring opportunities and panel discussions to give girls ages 9 to 17 a chance to open up about their own struggles and dreams.
The tours are currently offered in 21 cities, including Philadelphia, where it hosted an event in September. The nonprofit brings the program, but depends on volunteers in each city to do the groundwork like getting the word out and arranging for ongoing workshops and classes.
At each tour event, Girls Who Brunch will sponsor 50 to 100 at-risk girls in foster care and those who have been sex trade victims and teen mothers, among others. Some girls are selected to serve as ambassadors to inspire and encourage others.
When the girls first come in, they’re not very confident, said college student Kimani Edwards, one of the ambassadors. But, as she goes around and talks with them, they start to open up.
“What I love with Girls Who Brunch tour is the hands-on experience,” she said. “We’re not just us telling them, but asking them: How do you feel? What are you going through? What do you need help in?’ We’re able to communicate with them and, sooner or later, they become an open book.”
Girls Who Brunch has garnered much praise, reaching more than 6,000 girls so far, and Mitchell was recently named as a national top 10 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth Honoree, giving her a monetary award and a platform to talk about her organization.
Mitchell is not shy about telling her life story to give at-risk girls reason to hope.
She said she experienced “culture shock” when immigrating to the United States at age 9 and settling in Las Vegas. Being from the Caribbean and having an accent, “I was labeled an outcast,” Mitchell said. She was raped at age 14 by an adult she trusted, had a baby five days after her 15th birthday, and felt confused and alone.
Despite this, she was an A student who started writing as an outlet to get her thoughts out and communicate with the world. She was involved with Las Vegas Upward Bound and found people there who invested in her and made sure she was part of the programs for at-risk youth.
“I always told myself I’m going to be great and, once I come out of this, I’m going to give back to underprivileged kids the way they invested in me. They made sure I went to college and got to do a lot of things my family couldn’t give me. They sowed that seed into me,” she said.
Mitchell’s first self-published book became a best-seller in 10 weeks, and her career took off from there. The award-winning author of contemporary fiction now runs her own publishing company and tours the country as a motivational speaker and literary consultant.
Mitchell always meant to give back, but life and career success got in the way. She thought about her intentions again in 2015 after her 7-month pregnancy ended in miscarriage, followed by the death of her mom two weeks later.
“I was depressed, but instead of wallowing in pain or guilt, I threw myself into work and overbooked myself,” she said.
During a book signing in Charleston, S.C., she met 15 girls from the Gullah islands who had never met a black author at a bookstore. Girls Who Brunch was birthed that day, Mitchell said. Still, without a name or concept, Mitchell kicked it off in Charleston, adding workshops for girls to her speaking event. It turned into a regional tour with people bringing her checks and urging her to keep going.
“Girls Who Brunch was supposed to be just a two-city tour added to my media tour," Mitchell said, "But, when you try to take control of your life, God laughs at you.”