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  • Writer's pictureChloe Lewis

3 Years of The Catalyst!

A few months back, The Catalyst celebrated its three year anniversary. Chloe Lewis, founder and programme director, shares her reflections on the amazing journey so far.

 

Just over 3 years ago, we were in the midst of a Covid lockdown, and I had volunteered to run a GCSE exam prep workshop - virtually of course - with a group of students from Eastside Young Leaders Academy. The group happened to be all Black girls. They were - as I have found Black girls always are - brilliant, engaged and ambitious. I finished the session and sent a text to Eastside’s founder (who happened to be my dad!)


“Do the girls have mentors?” ”No.” ”OK, I’m pretty sure I can find them some!”


And so, that was it and we were off. The pilot cohort was that same small group - 6 girls in year 11, paired with me and 5 friends. We met monthly between January and August, had our first mentoring social on Zoom and wrapped up the year with KFC and games. It was, to me, proof of concept - that Black professional women, busy though they were, could spare an hour or so to be role models and support systems for the upcoming generation of young Black women.


3 years later, I have found that to be true, time after time. Now, we're a team of 7 with 5 partner schools. We’re still working with Eastside, and have expanded to different schools across London, with an ambition to start working with schools in other cities in the coming year.


We’ve matched 75 mentoring pairs this academic year, planned and delivered socials and career events, are developing some exciting partnerships with businesses and have a vocal Youth Advisory Board. Our pilot cohort girls are now applying to university, and some are still in touch with their mentors to this day.


It’s been the steepest learning curve of my own career - taking something that started as a Covid project, and growing it into a non-profit organisation, with supporters and funders and staff. It’s busy work; relationships are important but not always easy, and in an ever evolving world, the advice and guidance young people need is going to have to keep developing and shifting.


But 3 years on, my overriding feeling is gratitude. I'm really grateful to be a part of this community, and to have created the kind of thing I wish I had access to when I was a young person and the only Black girl in my school. I am grateful for the mentors that give so much of themselves to be present role models to our girls, and for their abundant patience, creativity and energy. I’m grateful for the schools that support our programming and recognise why we do what we do, for this group of young people. I’m grateful for the generosity of our funders who have kept this organisation sustainable. To the staff team, who hold everything together.


All of this makes it possible for the Catalyst girls to have easy access to brilliant Black women from all professional fields to support them. It means that their first contacts in the career fields they're aspiring toward are people who look and live a bit like them.


Most of all, I’m grateful to the young Black women that make up the Catalyst community, all of whom are on their way to very successful places, but choose to let us be part of their story.


Our girls have said: "It’s one of the best decisions that I have ever made. It helps you build a network and someone that you can talk to about anything" and that "being able to talk about my struggles as a young black women felt more at ease because there was someone there who related."


So, if it works for them, it works for me!

Here’s to 3 more great years.




Our first end of year party, and our most recent one!

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