Photo: Black Girl Joy grant recipient London Mathis stands next to her Affirmation Wall with her grandmother at the July 9 Day of Affirmation at Moragne Park. (Submitted photo)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
At 12 years old, London Mathis was named a winner of the Black Girl Joy grant.
Mathis, a rising eighth-grade student at Emma Sansom Middle School in Gadsden, received the $550 award from Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium.
“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been told that I’m just a sunshine of happiness,” Mathis said.
According to the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium website, grant winners were chosen based on “their ideas for spreading joy with their friends, families and communities.”
The award, officially referred to as the #BlackGirlJoy Challenge, accepted applicants from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.
“I think the grant was really a great door-opener for her to be able to realize, ‘I can do more than I’m doing now,’” said Mathis’ mother Lishala Carter. “The opportunities are endless.”
Winners of the grant were challenged to use the money to bring their ideas for spreading joy to life. Mathis held her “joy project” on Saturday, July 9, inviting friends, family and community members to join her in Moragne Park for a “Day of Affirmation.”
“I was really excited with the way that we planned,” Mathis said. “It was really fun.”
Photos of the event provided by her mother show Mathis packing sack lunches, talking with attendees and writing individual affirmations.
Mathis described the centerpiece of her project, an affirmation wall.
“On the wall, there were long [strings] of rainbow yarn, and we took affirmation cards and rainbow clothespins and put them on the wall,” she said. “There were handwritten ones, and then there were ones that were printed off. During the whole thing, if you would see an affirmation that you wanted, you could take it home with you or put it on your clothes.”
Yellow balloons sat atop the display, which was hung with affirmations on each row of yarn.
“This really has been her project, and we have just been able to support her,” said Carter. “I’m really proud of her for being able to be so responsible and mature and taking initiative. That has brought me a lot of joy.”
Mathis and her family also provided free lunches to attendees of the Day of Affirmation.
“There was so much joy in the air,” Mathis said.
Carter praised her daughter for her work and thanked those, including Mathis’ grandparents, who helped make her idea a reality.
“I really want to shout out the grandparents, too,” Carter said. “We’re a blended family, so I think London had a total of four or five sets of grandparents there. And they worked really hard, and they had sponsored the food and things like that, so that we didn’t have to use all the grant money for those types of things.”
Carter said that Mathis also took the initiative to complete the application process.
“It wasn’t like I did the grant for her, and I did this, and I did that,” Carter said. “London answered the questions, and then we worked together to come up with the idea (for her Day of Affirmation), and then she provided guidance.”
Mathis said the application process was “fun and exciting.” Learning the news that she had been chosen was also memorable for Mathis.
“I was super happy,” Mathis said. “When I got the call, I was super nervous, thinking like, ‘Am I going to get declined? Or am I going to win?’ So when I found out that I won, it was super exciting and relieving.”
As a rising eight-grader, Mathis noted that she was honored to have “such a big voice” at her age to serve her community. Her thirteenth birthday will be later this month on July 24.
“I’m really excited about her future,” said Carter. “She makes me extremely proud.”
Carter explained that through the Black Girl Joy grant, Mathis will be invited to attend a celebration event with fellow winners and other community members in September. Mathis will also be able to apply for the grant in subsequent years, including throughout high school.
Carter made clear that her daughter was not done spreading her joy.
“I think it’s important to know that she’s a 12-year-old Black girl who lives in Etowah County, loves her city, her community,” Carter said. “I just think her future is so bright.”