Memphis organization empowers young women

MDL’s Chief Executive Officer, Tavis- Wade Jones at their annual black and white affair party.

It’s 8 a.m on a Saturday and nearly 60 girls are cleaning a community center gym and setting up play areas.

Around 10, they begin to prepare sack lunches and snacks for area students.

Just as noon approaches, several young children of the Orange Mound area begin entering the gym excited to see what’s in store for the day.

Members of Modern Distinctive Ladies Inc. (MDL) prepared a day filled with fun for their monthly community service event.

This organization was created to help empower young women in the community and teach them both life and leadership skills.

Prima Atwell and Tavis Wade Jones founded MDL in 1988 to prevent young girls from growing up without help, an outlet to surrounding problems and basic survival skills.

Current goals that members of MDL have set are to increase high school graduation and college acceptance rates for young women of color. Members have also set a goal to avoid teen pregnancy.

According to Youth Villages counselor April Stanback, organizations like this are needed desperately, not only for African American students, but for all students.

Youth Villages is a treatment institution that serves boys and girls with severe behavioral and emotional issues along with other problems. Stanback counsel’s girls of all races ages 9 to 12 daily who have suffered from abuse, have delayed development or simply display disruptive behavior.

“Most of these problems come from children not having an outlet, or no one they can trust,” Stanback said.

When girls are admitted into the program they show up with nothing. Some are foster children while others come from troubled homes.

“Growing up, you need someone involved in your life, even if it’s not a parent,” Stanback said.  “Most of these girls don’t even get visitors.”

MDL’s goal is to help prevent those things.

Sisterhood, honesty, community, unity, commitment, love and respect are the seven words that were kept in mind when Modern Distinctive Ladies Incorporated was founded.

“We live by those words. I treat each girl like a child of my own,” Jones said.

MDL members are enrolled in several Shelby County and private schools in the city.  They are encouraged to recommend potential candidates to join.

Every month, there’s a community service event and a MDL Sunday which requires the girls to attend a church session together. Service events include working for Books for Africa packaging books for children. They have also assisted Med-Share with the collection and packaging of supplies used for hospitals in third world countries lacking appropriate equipment.
“The amount of service hours I’ve gained has gotten me two scholarships already,” said current MDL member Janai Walton. She is set to attend Ole Miss next fall and chemistry to eventually become a pharmacist.

“ MDL is the kind of organization that gives young girls something to strive higher for,” Stanback said.

Jones plans to continue MDL forever and pass it on to an alumna when she is older.

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About the Author

Erika R. Draper
Erika R. Draper writes for the Black Reflections section of the Memphis Mirror. When the U of M senior isn't working for the Mirror, she enjoys public speaking, being on camera, photography, dancing and writing. She interned during the summer of 2015 at KWTX’s News 10 in Waco, TX. She is currently a Digital Production intern for WMC Action News in Memphis.

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