Tracy Mourning speaking at strategy, policy and communications firm the Group in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014
Xion Lester

It all started when Tracy Wilson Mourning saw a group of girls walking around their Florida neighborhood seemingly directionless, “babies raising babies,” as she described it, with their own children on their hips.

She saw something of herself in them and wondered where she would be without the people—especially the women—she had in her life believing in her.

“I wondered, ‘Which one am I?’ out of that group, had it not been for the mommy I had, had it not been for the amazing women in my life. And that’s when God placed it on my heart that I was supposed to do something with Honey Shine,” Mourning said at a cocktail meet-and-greet on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that celebrated the organization’s national launch.

Founded in South Florida in 2002, Honey Shine Inc. is a nonprofit mentoring and sisterhood organization that focuses on empowering and reaching out to young girls of color and showing them that they can be even bigger than their dreams. What Mourning, 44, a Howard University alumna and former broadcast journalist who is married to NBA Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning, wants to show these young women is that there is a world beyond what they know and believe. It’s a vision that Mourning is now planning to take nationwide, starting in Las Vegas, where she grew up.

“I know a lot of these young girls don’t have that mom that I had, don’t have those people pulling them up by their coattails or taking them outside of their neighborhoods. We have girls that come from neighborhoods called ‘the Graveyard’ where two out of 12 are graduating from high school. Not on our watch,” she said.

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After all, it was a realization similar to the one Honey Shine tries to provide that Mourning, who was born in Cincinnati, believes saved her, too.

“A young lady had taken a group of us near the University of Cincinnati to get pizza. And I remember thinking and seeing all these students that I had no idea existed hanging out and spending time and finding out they went to college. I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” Mourning recalled of the incident that she says changed the course of her life.

“It was that one opportunity where you get to see something different than yourselves,” she continued. “And I genuinely and truly and heartbreakingly feel that there’s an attack that’s happening on young people, especially our young women of color. We know that it’s happening on our men. It’s been happening forever. And if our men suffer, our women suffer even more.”

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It’s been hard work—about 13 years of tireless effort and fundraising—but Mourning is grateful for all that has happened.

“My thing is, we’re all here to serve in some way, shape or form; for me it’s girls,” she said. “I’m very clear. I want our girls to be empowered and to succeed. I have amazing girlfriends from fifth grade. We’re still ‘Homie, don’t you know me’ through high school, through college, and you know that’s a special thing, and I want other girls to have that as well,” she said.

“We’re the powerful ones,” Mourning continued, referring to successful women like her. “We’re the ones that have the influence and the power in this world, and I feel like if we take care of our girls, we help so many different areas out in this world if our girls are winning and if they’re succeeding.”

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Of course, it hasn’t always been easy for Mourning. There were times, especially in the very beginning, where she considered throwing in the towel. But every now and again, one “honey bug,” as the organization’s girls are known, would remind her why her mission was so important.

“I remember our first … summer camp. … I had these great ideas [but] I came home crying. I was like, ‘I’m not going back; you can’t make me,’” Mourning said, laughing.

“I was praying: ‘God, are you sure? Don’t you want me on a beach with an umbrella in my drink, relaxing and not dealing with teenage girls?’” she said. “I mean, I was literally crying and wanting to give up … and the next morning, as soon as I walked into camp, I had a honey bug run up to me and say, ‘Miss Tracy, I told God, ‘Thank you for Honey Shine’ … that was my answer right there.”

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Mourning maintains that there are so many negative images that surround girls of color—behavior that is seemingly endorsed by music videos and viral social media—that it’s little wonder they succumb to those portrayals.

“I want them to see that this whole world is there, and not to be limited by the images … of them … on television, [in] music. Sometimes that’s all you have that’s coming into your system, but there’s so much more out there,” she said.

“[Women] run companies. We own companies. We influence the world,” Mourning added. “And if our girls see that, what a difference that makes. Self-esteem is a powerful tool. We all make dumb mistakes when our self-esteem is low, and I don’t know anyone immune from that, but I feel like if we build self-esteem in our young girls … it makes the world of difference.”

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Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.