Everyone has that person they look up to. For some, it’s a grandparent, a parent, favorite author, perhaps a celebrity. Too often we idolize the untouchables and not everyday people doing great things. Yasmine Arrington has been doing amazing things for her community and those around since her years in high school. She’s a sure thing, there isn’t much she can’t do. She’s an activist, elite scholar, plus size model—the list goes on. And at 21, she’s just getting started.
Andrea: Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Yasmine: My name is Yasmine Arrington. I’m a 21 year old junior majoring in Strategic Communications and History at Elon University in North Carolina. I’m the Executive Director and Founder of ScholarCHIPS, which is a non-profit organization that provides scholarships and mentorship for high school graduating seniors and others who have a parent in prison.
Andrea: Can you tell us about how ScholarCHIPS came about?
Yasmine: I was a junior in high school in a program called Learn Serve International, an extracurricular program based in Washington, D.C. Every year they take a group of high school students and teach them about leadership, entrepreneurship and societal responsibility. About halfway through the program we were asked what were our passions…was there an issue in our community that we’d like to see change. I was researching scholarships with my maternal grandmother and we weren’t seeing any funding in the area for children of incarcerated parents. Keeping that in the back of my mind, I eventually took the initiative and started doing more research on the subject.
Some of these numbers vary but approximately 2.7 million young people have a parent in prison. 40% percent of the prison population is comprised of African American males, the U.S, next to Russia has the highest prison population in the world. My father was in and out of prison throughout my life so the issue was very personal. That’s how the idea formed. My personal experience led me to do research and while doing so I realized I was passionate about the issue. I then took it to Learn Serve and the rest is history.
Andrea: You talk about your father being in and out of the prison system. Recidivism is quite common among offenders, what are some ways in which we as a society can help to combat the cycle of the revolving door?
Yasmine: We can really attack this issue in several ways. There’s advocacy. Organizations that specifically focus on laws and policies that target ex-offenders need funding and support. The fact that some ex-offenders aren’t able to access government assistance needs to change. Rehabilitation programs are also important. Re-establishing oneself back into society is a crucial part in the process to a changed life. Equipping people with job skills, interviewing skills, things like that help in combating recidivism. Lastly, by attacking the problem at the root. Before advocating and rehabilitation programs, there needs to be more programs like ScholarCHIPS available. By creating opportunity we are ending the cycle of incarceration and these kids are getting a chance to build a different life. Access and opportunity are crucial.
Andrea: What are some other obstacles you’ve witnessed that affect children of incarcerated parents?
Yasmine: There’s the emotional and financial aspect. Growing up seeing your friends who have a mom and a dad, you get this sense that you’re missing out and you’re less than….The financial aspect is also huge. I watched my single mother and grandmother struggle to support me financially. Most of these children are coming from a similar background. This is why the mentoring aspect of the organization is so important…Being able to have a community of people who understand your struggle…
Andrea: Switching topics, you’re a plus size model. How did you get into modeling?
Yasmine: [Excited laughter]. During my freshman year in college I did an impromptu photo shoot with a photographer friend. I realized how much I loved the creative process so I did shoots from time to time with various photographers. My friend pushed me to pursue plus size modeling but I didn’t want to initially since I know how competitive and critical the industry is. I started researching and learning about other models: (Marishe Clause, Liris Crosse, Chasity Saunders, Anita Marshall, Alex LaRosa, Rosie Mercado, Christina Mendez and Jeannie Ferguson). From there I started to build up my portfolio. I’ve done some runways shows but I’ve yet to sign to an agency.
Andrea: Is modeling something you definitely want to pursue?
Yasmine: Ohh yes!
Andrea: Where are some great places to shop if you’re a curvier woman?
Yasmine: [I love your questions, I’m getting so excited by them!]
Yasmine: I love Charlotte Russe’s accessories. Forever21 is great, they recently added plus size selections. Online you can check out Chic and Curvy boutique, Igigi (they have beautiful dresses) and Monif C.
Andrea: You seem to have a very positive body image- you exude confidence. I know personally that self-love is a journey. What kind of journey has it been for you as it relates to body image and self love?
Yasmine: As a young girl and teenager, my mother and grandmother always told me to be proud of who I am and what I look like because I we all are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” They also always reinforced that “the women in our family are built thick,” so I never grew up with the belief that I had to be slender to be beautiful or to be considered beautiful by others. Of course we all go through occasional insecurities about our bodies but the important thing is to push through those feelings, but if we are truly dissatisfied, working towards improving our bodies in healthy ways such as diet and exercise is a healthy step in the process of self love. Due to the positive reinforcement in my home, I met a man who loves me exactly as I am and that helped me to see and appreciate my own beauty even more. I just want women to know and believe that you do not have to be extremely slender or muscular to be healthy and beautiful. When you believe it and live it, you will attract positive people who love, respect and accept you just as you are.
Andrea: You were just in Ghana on a school related trip. How was it?
Yasmine: Ghana is such a beautiful country. The people there are so warm and genuine. Our culture in America is very individualistic and it’s very different in that sense there.
Andrea: You would say they have a collectivistic culture?
Yasmine: Yes. Generally speaking, the family and community are driven by the overall well-being of everyone. There’s a great focus on community.
It there’s one thing I really got out of the trip is that it’s important to broaden our horizons and learn about other cultures. If you get the opportunity to travel abroad, you should definitely do it, you’ll look at people and the world around you in a different way.
Andrea: Sounds amazing! Is traveling something you hope to do more of?
Ohh yes, definitely. In March I’m going to Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Andrea: You’ll have a good time. Find a trustworthy local and avoid all the typical tourist traps.
Andrea: In 2012 you were honored at the annual BET ‘Black Girls Rock’ show. How did that opportunity come about?
Yasmine: I got a phone call in the summer of 2012. They had read about me and my involvement with ScholarCHIPS. They asked to do an interview, then after it was explained that I was one of ten women of color that had started programs that addressed social issues. Shortly after, there was a voting period on BET.com and I was one of three who made the final cut.
Andrea: Your story and organization seemed to have resonated with people.
Yasmine: Yes. It was an amazing experience. The support and love I received was great… I met so many people I look up to and respect (Tracee Ellis Ross, Regina King, Meagan Goode)….The best part of the experiences was getting to meet DJ Driis, Idris Elba, he’s a really nice guy!
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m an Elon Arts & Sciences College Fellow. This allows me to do research and I’m currently doing research on the effects of parental incarceration on the educational outcome of their offspring. My topic is changing a little. I ‘ve connected with a professor from Howard University who has been doing this research for years and has an extensive database. I’ll be using and analyzing her data. I’ll track three students’ academic success. Success is such a broad term so I’ll be tracking grades, attendance, graduation from high school and completion of a college degree… I’ll of course be building my modeling portfolio. This isn’t quite a project but I have a paid internship this summer in New York City with the ad agency Ogilvy and Mather. I’m really excited to be in New York for the summer.
Where can people follow you?
I’m everywhere on social media. ScholarCHIPS is on facebook and twitter. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Youtube, all are under @yazzieSPEAKS.