The Werthing Foundation Overcomes Tragedy, Continues to Produce “Black Girls Magic”
The Art of Mentorship has been recognized as the most crucial component within the entire mission of affectively developing youth toward successful lives out of low-privileged communities and neighborhoods. Please observe on North Texas family that is mastering that craft, as it stands on the rock-solid shoulders of a passionate Tennessee-based patriarch and matriarch that have represented and emulated, at a high level, not only strong family values, but far beyond that, a world of education and community service.
As if having already mentored, inspired and educated thou- sands of young Black women and girls over the past decade was not enough, the Werthing/Reynolds family and their institution, the Werthing Foundation, has even added a new chapter to their endeavors, while at the same time pulling triumphant conquest out of the jaws of tragedy.
The Werthing Foundation was established in 2010 by sisters Gloria Werthing Reynolds and Marvis Werthing Lloyd.
“We show young ladies how to light up the world for now and for the future,” said Gloria Werthing Reynolds. “We teach them to tell the truth and shape the framework for the future.”
On November 21, the Foundation will VIRTUALLY hold their second annual Light Up the World Mentorship Program Banquet which will feature special guest speakers from the corporate and community service communities, announce new scholarship recipients as well as extend honor and gratitude to the dedicated staff, volunteers and community partners that have helped make their work a staple in the communities they serve.
According to the Werthing Foundation website, the current count is over 3,000 girls mentored, 1,200 women empowered and over 3,600 male and females from 5th to 12th grade they have served successfully.
And apparently, they’re just getting warmed up.
The two sisters are not by any means resting on their laurels and in fact have tapped into new sources of motivation to take their count of young beneficiaries into the tens of thousands and beyond.
Werthing’s projects and programs have established an undeniable track record of taking young Black women and girls from a state of hopelessness and negative outlook in their lives to embracing self-discovery and self-empowerment, thus transforming themselves into productive community leaders, averting potential self-destruction and replacing it with engaging in ultimate self-fulfillment.
“If they see it, they can believe it,” said Reynolds. “If they can believe it, they can touch it. If they touch it, they can become it.”
Study after study consistently confirms the positive and lasting impact of strong mentoring of youth and young adults, especially with young African Americans of color, boys and girls. It makes sense when adequate thought is applied:
How can one expect to achieve a certain level of success if they have not seen anybody who “look like us” excel at any of the various levels of society?
“It was important to see people who look like me accomplishing great things,” said Felisha Burleson, a foster care alumnus, who went on to obtain a Master’s Degree in Sociology at Texas Woman’s University and has become the founder of The Patchwork Society, which provides youth services and professional development for young adults.
“I aspired to be like them. Granted, I could turn on the TV and see a few women of color doing good things, but in my mind, those were not ‘regular people.’ Seeing regular people go on to accomplish things provided me with hope and introduced me to a world of opportunities that I did not know were available.”
A report by the Office of Juvenile Justice Programs showed that 87 percent of young women who attended mentoring programs went to college within two years of high school graduation; 52 percent were less likely to become pregnant during their teenage years; and 46 percent were less likely to use illegal drugs and alcohol. The Werthing Foundation has experienced and practiced time-proven formulas for several years, with remarkable results. Statistics on their website indicate their work has possibly exceeded the above-mentioned numbers.
The Foundation’s deep and in- credible roots go back to Gloria’s and Marvis’ parents, John Werthing, Sr. and Sallie Werthing. During the deep Jim Crow days of the South in the 1940s, they met at historically-Black Lane College in Jackson, Tenn. Both were chemistry majors, but as Gloria described, “they formed their own physical chemistry.”
After eventually marrying, the couple acquired their Bachelor’s Degrees in tendom at Lane College, then kept on stepping together to both attain their Master’s Degrees at Indiana University, after both were turned down by Vanderbilt University because of their race.
Early in their respective careers, John Sr. and Sallie transformed into fervent educators. John went on to become a school principal for 45 years while Sallie excelled as an 8th grade science teacher for 48 years (John Sr. died Aug. 13, at the age of 92. Sallie, 90, still lives).
“What a life! What a legacy,” exclaimed Gloria, who with her siblings followed in their parents’ passionate educational footsteps. Gloria attended HBCU Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville, where she met her future husband, Willie James Reynolds; who also serves on the Werthing Foundation board of directors with Gloria and Marvis.
Gloria acquired her Bachelor’s in Business Administration at TSU. When she and Willie migrated to North Texas, she acquired her MBA at the University of Dallas in Irving, TX.
But as Gloria was building a successful career as a computer software engineer and technology specialist with corporations such as EDS, Cigna and Aetna, she said she continued to deal with deep feelings to find a way of transferring the same passion of education she adopted from her parents into the grassroots community. She then saw an open door.
“I had a gap in my corporate world and I welcomed that gap,” she said. “I could not avoid my calling, making the transition first as an entrepreneur, then to the non-profit field and the forming of the Werthing Foundation. “I accepted that calling of family education and giving back.”
Immediately, the Foundation hit the streets running, boldly going into the heart the of low-income predominantly Black communities such as in South Dallas, Oak Cliff and parts of DeSoto.
They sought out the “young, gift- ed and Black,” that showed distinct needs of mentoring to counter the environment that could steer them in a negative direction.
“We went where the kids were; anything south of I-635, we were on top of it,” said Gloria. “We let them know that they would each have the opportunity to be successful if they followed the right leaders.”
The Werthing Foundation comes to a community equipped with every societal resource available – mentors, staff, volunteers, sponsorship and donations from corporations and other businesses, youth agencies, guest speakers, educators, internships, counselors, church leaders, etc. Programs implemented have included L.E.A.D. (Learn, Experience, Apply, Demonstrate), Girls’ Day, and Girl Power Academy.
Recently, however, a family tragedy shook the Werthing Foundation to its core and possibly challenged its role in the community.
On February 12, 2020, Gloria’s and Willie’s 30-year old daughter, Gabrielle Lamiah Reynolds, died from the effects of a blood clot.
The Reynolds family notes that Gabrielle’s death was not related at all to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet her untimely and sudden death simply devastated Gloria’s spirits.
“My world came crashing down,” Gloria said, adding that she could not stay in the doldrums. “I knew I had family and my parents and that I had to do something to get me out of bed every day.”
Thus, as Gloria stated, “before Gabrielle’s obituary came out,” she founded and started the Light Up the World Mentorship Program and Scholarship Fund. “It became my pain to passion project.”
The Light Up the World Program held their first banquet (All Virtual) on Nov. 22, 2020, Gabrielle’s birthday. This year’s event will also be virtual.
Consisting of a downline family (including cousins) that has obtained a total of 35 college degrees – ranging from undergraduate to master’s, Ph. D and medical degrees – and all from HBCUs – the Werthing/Reynolds family continues to stroke the power of education and giving back to forge a bright future for everyone.