In a society where the divide seems to get bigger every day, it’s encouraging to know that there are young people working to bridge the gaps. Janet and Jennifer Martin are sisters on a mission. As founders of the Beauty and Brains Organization, they’ve been a hot topic in the media. The Chicago-based organization helps young women build their confidence and professional network by offering scholarships, ambassador opportunities, and career development workshops. TSL spoke with the Martin sisters to learn about their vision and advice for discovering your purpose.
TrueStar.Life: What neighborhood are you from?
Janet: Currently, we live in Orland Park. Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields was [where we spent] the majority of our childhood.
TSL: What high school did you attend?
Both: Marian Catholic.
TSL: What colleges do you attend?
Jennifer: I’m in undergrad at Cornell University.
Janet: I went to Emory University for undergrad, and then I got my master’s at Loyola. Now, I’m in medical school at Southern Illinois. I want to become a dermatologist.
TSL: When was the Beauty and Brains Organization founded?
TSL: I grew up in the south suburbs my entire life. It wasn’t until I moved to the city that I began to really understand how poorly funded some of Chicago’s south and west-side neighborhoods are. Describe the events that made you realize, “We should step in and help other young ladies.”
Jennifer: The rest of our family grew up on the South Side. So that’s where we would go after school. We’ve seen that there are disparities and inequalities between the two sides of the city. That was one of the driving forces behind why we started Beauty and Brains. As far as our educational and financial resources, that came from the fact that there is a lack of access, and we see the way that it affects Black girls.
Janet: For us, we always saw that dichotomy. Every day was like seeing two different worlds. As we got older, we were like, “What can we do about this? How can we help bridge that gap?”
TSL: Beauty and Brains is celebrated for awarding scholarships during the summer. How can our readers learn more about the open application period and qualifications?
Janet: For standard purposes, our application usually opens in June every year. The applying period goes through July and then we have our scholarship event the first week of August.
TSL: I’m sure that the Beauty and Brains scholarship recipients have learned a lot from the two of you as examples of what poise, confident, and giving young women look like. What are some things that you’ve learned from your scholarship recipients?
Janet: As we’ve grown over the past three years, we now have a team of 20 ambassadors. Everyone who’s received a scholarship thus far is one of our ambassadors. Up to this point, we’ve given five scholarships. But with our application, we also offer the opportunity to become one of our ambassadors. With our ambassador program, I’ve learned how to lead a group and how to manage such a big team. From them [the recipients], I’ve learned what people need. I’ve learned what our purpose is. We’re giving a sisterhood. We’re providing a foundation for a community. To make people feel comfortable and grow in their spirituality. To hold each other accountable. To accomplish our goals.
Jennifer: We have all become really close, like a sisterhood. We do things like bible plans or spiritual workbooks together. Yes, me and Janet are the founders, but it’s never been a hierarchy type of relationship or anything like that. Very genuine. As much as we try to pour into them, they definitely pour into us.
TSL: The Beauty and Brains IG page is full of tips to help other young women maintain healthy personal and professional lives. Also known as how to be “blessed and balanced.” Tell us what you do to stay blessed and balanced in your own spaces.
Janet: The Blessed and Balanced app that’s coming out has all of the tools that we’ve used throughout our lives. That involved journaling and talking to God daily. We’re super Christian, we’re super prayerful, we want to talk to God. We like to write out our visions because we feel like it helps us form coherent and concrete thoughts. We started our new year by creating vision boards. By the end of January, I’ve seen so many things on my vision board come to life.
We’re super huge on planners. I know Jennifer is super excited about this planner she just ordered. We live our lives based on our to-do lists. Regardless if I did a lot or a little, I did something. Checking off those things are helping form healthy habits.
Jennifer: It’s the little habits. The things you do every day that lead to the big changes. That’s just what we try to build in to our lives and promote to everyone else.
Also, it’s who you associate with. That’s why through Blessed and Balanced, the networking portion is a huge deal. Those groups with different careers, or your peers who are on the same path as
you, might have something to offer. You have something to offer. Like they say, nobody supports Black women like Black women. So, we feel like we’re doing God’s work by bringing together a community of Black women who love God, who are passionate about their purpose, who are walking in their path, and just allowing people a space to really be who they’re meant to be and feel encouraged to do that.
TSL: Your signature Beauty N’ Brunch event brings together all types of young women for the chance to learn from one another and develop a sisterhood. Are there any plans to host this event, and others, virtually this year?
Janet: Because of the COVID pandemic, we weren’t able to have our Beauty N’ Brunch last summer. But we’re really hoping and praying that this summer we are going to. Last year, we found a way around that. We had an outdoor block party and Black lives celebration event where we were able to present our scholarships outside. Virtually, we held an Instagram Live for people who weren’t able to be there.
Something from last year that we are going to bring back this year is Pajamas and Purpose Week. This was a virtual series we did on Instagram Live. One of our events during that week was Testimony Tuesday. Everybody was so vulnerable and there were so many people tuned in. Everybody was sharing their stories. We were all crying.
We do have other workshops, like Linkedin workshops that we haven’t had a chance to do in the pandemic.
Jennifer: We have our speaker series on [Instagram] Live. The fact that most of our information comes out virtually hasn’t been as dramatic as a shift, but it has changed the way that we want to run in-person events.
TSL: What would you say to young women in Chicago who may be struggling to discover their purpose?
Jennifer: I would tell them to relax. Opportunities present themselves when it’s time. Trust, have the faith, follow the path. Don’t let anything deter you. Don’t seek something so much that you let the blessings miss you.
Janet: Know that you can’t make any mistakes. Everything that happens in your life happens because it’s meant to. Whether that be a lesson you needed to learn; that God is trying to teach you something in order for you to grow and elevate to that next level. Everything is out of your control. You just have to live your life. Yes, have a plan. But know that God is leading the steps in front of you. A motto I like to live by is, “this or something better.” If you want something, go for it all you want and know that God is going to give you “this.” And if you don’t get “this,” it’s because there is something better for you.
Don’t compare yourself, successes, or timeline to anybody else. You are on your own unique path. You have your own unique lessons to learn. You are going to get to your purpose in your time. Just trust in the process. Every “L” is a lesson.
TSL: What is your favorite hobby?
Janet: Blessed and Balanced app. It’s not work. It’s not draining. It’s literally what we love to do.
Jennifer: We see this as a passion project. I am also really trying to get back into reading.
TSL: What’s your top vacation spot and why?
Janet: We travel way too much. At least once a month, it seems like. I think our favorite vacation spot is Turks and Caicos. We just went for Jennifer’s 21st birthday and it was the most fun trip we’ve ever had. It was so beautiful. Great vibes. Great energy. We went on a trip with 20 people to Turks and Caicos. For my 25th, we got a trip to Jamaica coming up. Jamaica might top Turks we’ll see. [Both laugh].
TSL: What female artists’ music do you have on replay right now?
[Both] Kehlani! We don’t even need to elaborate.
TSL: Favorite TikTok challenge?
Janet: I just became a TikToker. This is going to sound so corny, but my favorite challenge so far is when they’re acting like their hand is stuck in the cup. And they’ll fake pull it out and the person doesn’t notice. That’s kind of funny to me. I did it on my parents when we were in Arizona a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, I like the funny stuff. I like to laugh a lot.
Jennifer: I won’t let myself get on TikTok. I can’t get sucked into the vortex. [Laughs]. I have to have discipline. But, I like what she [Jennifer] shows me.
TSL: What TV series has you hooked?
Janet: I just finished “Snowfall” and highly recommend. Ten out of ten. But, “Half and Half” is what I’m watching now. We’re both big TV people. TV over music for sure. I’ve just been watching all of the old sitcoms. So, I finished “One on One” and “Girlfriends.” Both of which are classic shows. Everybody needs to go re-watch them. So funny.
Jennifer: We love throwback TV also. Like, “Gossip Girl,” “One Tree Hill,” “Vampire Diaries.” We’ll watch an old show before we turn on something that’s on right now.
Janet: Literally, I don’t think we’re up-to-speed on any new shows. Except “Power.” I love “Power”!
TSL: Describe your most cherished Chicago memory.
Janet: I would honestly say my birthday last year. It was literally right before the pandemic. It was so strange. I just wanted to have a party and invite our whole family. I eventually had a party at my house, and everybody that I really loved was there. My grandmother was there who just recently passed away.
I remember that we did a toast and I was crying, “I’m just surrounded by so much love.” I loved being able to celebrate my birthday at home.
Jennifer: [Hanging with] one of my close friends. We used to chill and then get up and go downtown. Having that convenience is something that can’t be taken for granted. It’s such a beautiful city. That would just make our night.
For more information about the Beauty and Brains organization visit bbgirl.org.
By Marilyn Koonce, Northern Illinois University Alumna