Model Women

By Beth Schwartzapfel '01 / May/June 2013
April 25th, 2013

While she was at Brown, Amie Darboe ’10 spent a lot of time with high school students at Hope High. Having grown up in Providence and graduated from Hope herself, she returned often and tutored kids there. And what she heard over and over was: I’m bored. “They had a lot of talents,” she says, “but they didn’t have the confidence to pursue them.”

In October 2010, Darboe took that observation, paired it with her entrepreneurial streak, and came up with High School Pieces, the online magazine by and for high school girls. The site’s content includes short articles on fashion, do-it-yourself arts-and-crafts projects, tips on studying and applying to college, profiles of “cool girls,” and arts reviews. The language is chatty and informal.

“As teens today, we’re addicted to social media,” writes Justine G. in a piece called “Tips to Help You Stay Focused When Studying and Do Better on Tests.” “Sometimes, I even feel like I should join an addiction recovery group. ‘Hi. I’m Justine, and I’m addicted to my laptop.’”

This type of writing, Darboe says, helps set High School Pieces apart. “There are so many magazines online that 20-years-olds and 30-year-olds write.” These publications, she argues, tend to talk at high school students—not to them. By having girls write content themselves, Darboe achieves two things: authentic writing and “getting high school and college students into writing and journalism, and helping them realize their potential—helping them see there are paths they can take in writing.”

Darboe’s family immigrated to Rhode Island from The Gambia when she was six, and the cultural difference was stark. “Most Gambian households are run by women,” she says. Her own mother was a police officer in The Gambia. “I grew up knowing I could do anything I wanted to do.” Then, when she arrived here, Darboe discovered “I didn’t necessarily see strong female role models who were recognized for anything except the way they look.”

Darboe’s mother was committed to ensuring that her daughters got a good education, so at first she worked three jobs to support her kids while they went to school. “She is pretty much the example that I think of every single day,” Darboe says. Both Amie and her younger sister, Mariama Darboe ’11, graduated from Brown, and “the fact that someone who emigrated from The Gambia for the sake of education was able to send two daughters to the Ivy League—that’s evidence of her awesomeness.”

With about 5,000 unique viewers a month and a stable of fifteen regular contributors, High School Pieces is still smaller than Darboe would like it to be. It’s a for-profit enterprise—the site does include ads—and Darboe hopes one day she can take it on as her full-time job.
With that in mind, she also recently launched a sister website aimed at adults, The Flairist, which is focused, she says, on “taking the shame out of female ambition.” The site features career advice and lifestyle pieces, and Darboe says she wants it to contain a job board tailored to entry-level work for ambitious women. “The national conversation is, ‘Can women have it all?’” Darboe says. “The Flairist aims to say, ‘You don’t even have to have that conversation—you can have it all.’”

With both these sites, Darboe aims to inspire young women the way her own mom inspired her. “When I was younger I knew I could do anything I wanted,” she says. “But as I got older there were too many instances where the world and society said I would not be able to. With these projects I’m taking a stance and saying: I refuse to believe that.”

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Related Issue
May/June 2013