Sometimes, a moment is all it takes. For elementary school teacher Amber Jones, SSW ’19, the moment that crystalized her life’s goals came in an interaction with a first-grader. “She said, ‘I hate my skin. I hate my hair. I wish I had lighter skin. I wish I had long, wavy hair,’” Jones recalled. “And it brought me back to my childhood where I struggled with my own identity and skin color.”
That became the genesis for Queens Academy LLC, which Jones founded as a Temple social work student.
A royal gambit
A New Haven, Connecticut, native, Jones had always wanted to study in Philadelphia. In her final year in high school she applied to Temple, but for financial reasons she remained in-state, enrolling in and graduating from the University of Connecticut instead. A few years later, she reapplied to Temple, this time for a master’s degree in social work.
Field experience was central to the program, and Jones’ time working with Juanita Henry, founder and CEO at Facts of Life Skills, shaped Jones’ own vision.
“Juanita started her own grassroots organization working with youth. I saw the fruits of her labor and that inspired me,” Jones said.
In Jones’ coursework, topics like organizational structure and macro-level social work laid another important foundation with concrete skills that prepared her for a leadership role. And networking opportunities at Temple were also helpful, both for making lifelong friendships and for career connections.
A regal rise
Jones founded Queens Academy to address not only issues of self-esteem in girls of color, but also inequities in education.
“Black and brown girls are disciplined more than their white counterparts. It’s a statistical reality and it’s something I see in school as well,” she said. “Also, Black and brown girls are perceived as more mature than their white counterparts. These concerns drive me to do this work.”
In partnership with Mastery Charter Schools of Camden-Cramer Hill, Queens Academy offers a K–8 after-school curriculum called the Rising Queens Girls Empowerment Group, with a high school program, Queens Ignite, in the works. Jones also collaborates with schools and youth centers to host workshops.
“We focus on topics like self-esteem, conflict resolution and life skills that girls will need to thrive. We plan trips outside of their neighborhoods and expose them to different aspects of life,” she said. “There is also a social action piece. We are queens and we’re working on ourselves and we’re building ourselves up, but I want them to understand that you have to give back to your community.”
Another focus of her organization is Queen Boxes, a monthly subscription-based selection of empowering items including books, T-shirts and toys that Jones hopes will inspire self-care and creativity.
“The Queen Boxes remind every girl of her greatness,” said Jones. “Every girl who receives a box will know that she is beautiful from her head to her toes.”
Without a business background or team, Jones might have felt daunted by the task of building Queens Academy from the ground up. Tapping into the Temple network and connecting with Anthony DeJoseph, CLA ’79, EDU ’82, through the ProfessionOwl Young Alumni Mentor Program has been key to her sustainable growth.
“My alumni mentor has assisted me through weekly check-ins. It’s important to stay connected because there are countless resources that Temple offers alumni,” she said.
Jones is currently spinning out a nonprofit arm and she hopes to expand Queens Academy into a national organization along the lines of Girls Inc. She continues to work as a teacher and also provides in-home therapy services through a local agency.
“If I had to give someone advice, I’d say: Just take that leap of faith and don’t think that failure is an option,” she said. “Just think of it as a learning experience and just keep on going.”