Damali Elliott is living the dream. The former P.R. maven-turned-philanthropic queen founded Petals-N-Belles, a non-profit organization that serves as a mentoring program for young women, after her 9-to-5 at an agency failed to satisfy her need to help others.
“A little after a year of doing entertainment P.R., I decided to leave [because] I was just really unhappy with the work,” she tells VIBE. “I didn’t feel connected to it and couldn’t see myself doing it long-term at all. It pushed me to try new things.”
New things didn’t mean clicking a new TV series on Netflix. In 2010, Elliott started the NPO after hosting weekly dinners on Thursday nights at her parents’ home where a group of adolescent girls would talk out their feelings.
Discover how Elliott jump started a career in philanthropy, her favorite books and advice for effective communication below.
The inspiration behind Petals-N-Belles:
The summer I left [my public relations job], I got my life back and connected with a lot of younger cousins that I was previously really close to but didn’t keep up with as much throughout that year of doing P.R. They weren’t doing really well and not making the best decisions. Then I had friends [whose] sisters seemed to be falling apart, [who asked me] to chime in, give them advice, and speak to their sisters. A few of my mom’s friends asked me to speak to their daughters and it was this weird cycle of everyone wanting me to speak to the young ladies in their life and I thought, ‘Oh maybe it’s because I’m a young professional. They just want me to speak to them.’
I was having all these separate conversations to specific young ladies and to be honest, I was really focused on trying to figure out what my next steps professionally would be. I decided that on Thursdays, I would host a dinner at my parent’s home. I volunteered to funnel all the conversations I was having with these girls into one. I also thought it would be great for them to receive each other’s support since they were around the same age. So I started that dinner, not really thinking of it and it became Petals-N-Belles before I even really recognized what it was.
It was about five or six girls. We would get together and they would pour in what they were going through and everyone would give advice. They tried to find solutions to the challenges that they faced. The best part was seeing these girls come back week after week just a little happier, a little bit more grounded in where they were in their lives because they were putting things we discussed into action and it was working for them. That experience really blew my mind and I started reading all these blogs and books, learning about mentoring. I just felt so good about it. That dinner transformed my life and I remember thinking, ‘I’ll just start a non-profit.’
My favorite reads:
The Art of Uncertainty by Dennis Merit Jones, Zilch by Nancy Lublin and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Female mentors that pushed me to succeed:
The first pivotal person that I spoke to was E. Isis Adawale, who used to work for Rush Philanthropic non-profit. I met her in my PR days and when I decided to start PNB. I bumped into her and was like, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing. Let’s meet up.’ That was one of my first meetings with someone I didn’t really have a personal relationship with and was sharing what I was about to do. The first meeting I had with her, I recall standing outside of the restaurant, reading the Petals-N-Belles mission statement in the hopes that I could say the whole thing without having to reference anything in the meeting and long story short, she’s a board member today. She’s been a monumental support system for me. She really did allow me to communicate with [the girls] as often as possible, who helped me at the first events that we had, who’s been there from the very beginning and opened up her network to us. It just taught me a lot about engaging the network and building awareness for non-profit.
Another woman I would reference is Adele Selby, who’s in the real estate industry but has basically helped me get a lot of funding for the organization and taught me so much about business acumen and about just being a strong leader when it comes to being a woman. I go to tell her an idea and wait for her validation to say ‘This is good’ and she won’t give that to me. She’ll say, ‘No, come to me with the utmost confidence. This is your business and you need to.’ To have someone who’s a serial entrepreneur, running many companies not only in real estate but in education, she’s been really phenomenal.
Tips for communicating effectively with young adults:
I credit that to experience. I remember my first group of girls at PNB and I was so scared they wouldn’t like it. It’s really about seeing them as little human beings and not as young people who don’t really know what they want. I think I really relate to them. I take them very seriously and so does everyone at PNB, so we’re really big on hearing them out. It’s not so much about me speaking to them but moreso them having an opportunity to speak. Sometimes, you’re listening to respond to someone versus actually listening and then responding. I think that’s something I’ve always practiced with them that’s been really helpful. I’ve met over 400 girls throughout working at PNB over the last five years and every girl is definitely unique and different. What works for one girl definitely never works for the other so it’s really about actually listening to them.
The definition of a boss:
Reinforcing that [your employee] is powerful, they can do it and what they’re about to deliver is unique. Being nurturing, motivational and allowing everyone to tap into the leader within themselves.
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