USF Grad Creates Oakland Nonprofit to Empower Women

by Mahelet Aklilu, Office of Development Communications

Christine Coleman MA’12, USF alumna and founder of Sol Sisters, has embarked on the journey of creating a nonprofit dedicated to enriching, empowering, and evolving the lives of marginalized women in the Bay Area.

Destiny Child's, Michelle Williams and Christine Coleman on stage at the Sol Sisters Evolve conference
Destiny Child's, Michelle Williams and Christine Coleman

How did your experience at USF motivate your decision to focus on assisting women in overcoming societal barriers?

When I was completing my master's program at USF, that whole phase of my life was critical to the future. I learned more about the depths of various cultures, racism, and sexism. When I started Sol Sisters, I realized there are barriers to access and it's not just about needing to find ways to get women the resources. It's about how do you build trust and a sense of belonging to cross societal barriers. We started off Sol Sisters by partnering with existing organizations that already serve low-income marginalized, under-resourced women and that is still what remains our model today.

Can you tell us about your upbringing and what your experience at USF was like?

I grew up in a single-parent household – I was raised by my mom, grandmother, and extended family. My father's from Iran and he lived there most of my life and my mom is Mexican-American and was the first in her family to complete her master's degree.

Even as I was growing up, I was drawn to the different needs in our communities that regard our mental health and well-being. So, I started looking into master's programs and I decided on USF as I was really drawn to the program and eventually, I graduated with a master's in counseling psychology.

My experience at USF was pivotal! It was the first time I had a taste of multicultural psychology and it put an academic grounding in everything I was seeing in my community. USF was my first exposure to the importance of diversity and the importance of education.

Can you provide insight on what it was like starting the organization and the challenges you faced creating it?

It's definitely been a journey. We have been running for 10 years and it’s been a wonderful organization yet funding is our biggest challenge. It's also a challenge in my own identity; am I good enough to run this organization that requires so much of me? Through all that, I've seen the ways we can, and I've researched how to do it, so now all we need is a fully functioning staff to execute.

What kind of support can women expect when turning to Sol Sisters?

Our unique model includes our pillars; enrich, empower, and evolve.

For enrich, we want to offer ongoing support that is focused on our services, which are mental health, physical health, the arts, and professional development.

Next, we have empower, our periodic service retreat. We just had our first one and it was a beautiful success. We partnered with an organization and the day featured a mental health workshop, a keynote speaker on wealth building, professional headshots, and community-donated gift baskets.

Lastly, we have evolve, which is our annual conference. At our last one, we had a moment of giving, testimonials, and Michelle Williams from Destiny's Child as our keynote speaker. We also had women executives from Google, people from USF, and young professionals as panelists.

In what ways do you believe Sol Sisters has made an impact on marginalized women in the Bay Area over the past decade?

We have seen women's confidence become significantly boosted. We have seen women take their mental health and wellness seriously and leave unhealthy relationships because of our services and genuine care for them. One woman we met was in a tough place getting back on her feet after challenges with addiction and incarceration, and now she's a director of a nonprofit, married, and gave a testimonial at our conference. One woman we served came back a few years later to volunteer at the conference as a token of gratitude for helping her during a hard chapter in her life.

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