Portrait of Atlantan Ni’cola Mitchell (from left) with Amina Ochoa and her sisters Kelena & Micah at the Barnes & Noble Perimeter store in Dunwoody. Mitchell founded Girls Who Brunch, an event-like tour that gives at-risk girls mentoring opportunities and empowers them to flourish as they move into adulthood. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Girls Who Brunch founder overcomes difficult childhood to help youth

Atlantan Ni’cola Mitchell is a successful author, entrepreneur, publisher and speaker.

But more than that, she’s an overcomer. She was a victim of childhood bullying and rape, became an unwed teen mother and was incarcerated, all before reaching the legal driving age.

“People laughed at me when I said I was going to be successful and do the things that I do,” Mitchell said.

Now, she’s empowering other at-risk girls with the life skills and confidence to flourish as they move into adulthood.

Three years ago, Mitchell founded the nonprofit Girls Who Brunch, an event-style tour with celebrities, entertainment and workshops on topics as varied as sex trafficking awareness to STEM careers. The organization offers mentoring opportunities and panel discussions to give girls ages 9 to 17 a chance to open up about their own struggles and dreams.

The tours are currently offered in 21 cities, including Atlanta. The nonprofit brings the program, but depends on volunteers in each city to do the groundwork like getting the word out and arranging for ongoing workshops and classes.

At each tour event, Girls Who Brunch will sponsor 50 to 100 at-risk girls in foster care and those who have been sex trade victims and teen mothers, among others. Some girls are selected to serve as ambassadors to inspire and encourage others.

One of the ambassadors, Atlanta college student Kimani Edwards, said that, when the girls first come in, they’re not very confident. But, as she goes around and talks with them, they start to open up.

“What I love with Girls Who Brunch tour is the hands-on experience,” she said. “We’re not just us telling them, but asking them: How do you feel? What are you going through? What do you need help in?’ We’re able to communicate with them and, sooner or later, they become an open book.”

Girls Who Brunch has garnered much praise, and Mitchell was recently named as a national top 10 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth Honoree, giving her a monetary award and a platform to talk about her organization.

Mitchell is not shy about telling her life story to give at-risk girls reason to hope.

The Jamaican native experienced “culture shock” when immigrating to the United States at age 9 and settling in Las Vegas. Being from the Caribbean and having an accent, “I was labeled an outcast,” Mitchell said. She was raped at age 14 by an adult she trusted, had a baby five days after her 15th birthday, and felt confused and alone.

Despite this, she was an A student who started writing as an outlet to get her thoughts out and communicate with the world. She was involved with Las Vegas Upward Bound and found people there who invested in her and made sure she was part of the programs for at-risk youth.

“I always told myself I’m going to be great and, once I come out of this, I’m going to give back to underprivileged kids the way they invested in me. They made sure I went to college and got to do a lot of things my family couldn’t give me. They sowed that seed into me,” she said.

Mitchell’s first self-published book became a best-seller in 10 weeks, and her career took off from there. The award-winning author of contemporary fiction now runs her own publishing company and tours the country as a motivational speaker and literary consultant.

Mitchell always meant to give back, but life and career success got in the way. She thought about her intentions again in 2015 after 7-month pregnancy ended in miscarriage, followed by the death of her mom two weeks later.

“I was depressed, but instead of wallowing in pain or guilt, I threw myself into work and overbooked myself,” she said.

During a book signing in Charleston, S.C., she met 15 girls from the Gullah islands who had never met a black author at a bookstore. Girls Who Brunch was birthed that day, Mitchell said. Still, without a name or concept, Mitchell kicked it off in Charleston, adding workshops for girls to her speaking event. It turned into a regional tour with people bringing her checks and urging her to keep going.

“Girls Who Brunch was supposed to be just a two-city tour added to my media tour, but, when you try to take control of your life, God laughs at you,” said Mitchell, whose nonprofit is headquartered in Atlanta.

The nonprofit has reached more than 6,000 girls nationwide so far, and Mitchell hopes to add more cities to the tour.

In Atlanta, Girls Who Brunch will host an event Jan. 11 with the location still to be announced. The organization is also giving away 500 toys for the holidays for girls up to age 12. Submission of names will be accepted through Dec. 6 at https://forms.gle/Pv6zqb9YrBDxydxi9.

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