Kentucky program seeks to instill confidence in teen girls – Miami Herald


The Black Coal and Roses Society was founded at Paducah Tilghman High School in 2005 and helps provide self-esteem in female students so they can go out into the world as confident, able young women.

That is reinforced through the slogan “Know Your Worth,” encouraging teens to value their abilities and maintain a high self-esteem.

The organization was established by Sondra Hollowell Burrus, a 1993 PTHS graduate who started her duties as the chief equity officer for the Paducah Independent School District on July 1. Prior to that, she served as the dean of students at Paducah Tilghman High School.

“We partner with Tornado Alley (Youth Resource Center at PTHS) and the African-American Leadership Club at Tilghman,” she said.

According to the organization’s website,, Burrus founded the Black Coal and Roses Society after experiencing low-income housing and motherhood at an early age with minimal foundational teaching as a young woman. She wanted to mentor high school teens and help them make the most of their potential.

The group gets its name from how a lump of coal can be made into a diamond.

“Coal, suppressed over time through a heated and refined firing process, creates a gem,” according to the website. “The rose has been separated into three parts to represent the traditional stages from a girl to a young lady to a woman. The rose, being a beautiful flower, metaphorically represents the foundation of the Black Coal and Roses Society. The teachings are designed for the young ladies to represent themselves as the delicate rose.”

The organization’s membership meeting events include topics of interest to teens.

“There are a lot of topic discussions, specifically for social and emotional healing — but it’s also fun,” Burrus said. “A lot of times, I let (the students) lead. The topics can go anywhere from boys relationships, dating, health, hygiene — just all things that a young lady would go through.

“We value the circle of trust in order for them to be transparent about some of the things that they’re going through so they can receive support from one another. Through learning, there is growth, but you have to be willing to learn.”

Burrus said the group does a number of activities, some of which were curtailed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For Women’s History Month, we went to the Carson Center to view the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ that celebrated the life of women,” she said. “We do a lot of community service work, specifically for the elderly and teaching (the students) to give back. In the past, we’ve done a toiletry drive to give toiletries to the homeless.”

BCRS held an empowerment workshop last Thursday at the Washington Street Baptist Church, with about 20 students in attendance.

Three BCRS leaders gave talks about different aspects of teen life, encouraging others to give their own examples.

Senior Cristin Ware spoke to the group about self-esteem and self-worth, while junior Ma’Hali Brown spoke about gossip and the unnecessary drama associated with high school life, and junior Dasia Garland spoke about athletics and academics.

“During the school year, we meet in six-week sessions,” Burrus said. “So, because we’re competing with (student participation in) athletics and we’re competing with their jobs, we do six-week sessions. So, if a young lady can commit to those six weeks, we will take a two-week break, and the next six-weeks, she may not be able to because she is in season.

“That allows me to break it up for different girls — because it is a commitment because of the level of trust and the things that we’re talking about.”

Burrus said there is an application process for those who would want to join BCRS, as well as a “soft” interview.

“The soft interview is just so I can see where they are,” Burrus said. “I push (members) for public speaking, to come out of their shells, so that soft interview allows me to see where they are and support them and encourage them to meet the potential of who they can be.”

An application form and more information about the Black Coal and Roses Society can be found at