By Tim Ryan

In a significant step towards promoting diversity and equality, Norfolk State University has collaborated with Black BRAND to help uplift minority women.

Blair Durham, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Black BRAND, announced the partnership with Norfolk State University on June 26 for the new program, Women Who Lead. (Courtesy Norfolk State University)

Recognizing the ongoing challenges faced by women in these demographics, the two institutions have launched an initiative named Women Who Lead. This 12-week professional development program has been created specifically for minority women from the Hampton Roads area who are employed and earning an annual income of less than $60,000.

Women Who Lead aims to support and empower disadvantaged women in Hampton Roads by helping them to break barriers related to race, skills, and capital. It has a special focus on individuals who have experienced discrimination and institutional bias.

Blair Durham, co-founder and president of Black BRAND, and also a board member of Innovate Hampton Roads, said in a press release: “During the pandemic, we saw how effectively organizations delivered essential supplies, vaccinations, and information about the coronavirus across under-resourced communities in Hampton Roads. It’s time to deliver opportunity in the same way.”

The program promises to showcase the region’s resources, provide professional mentorship, enhance leadership abilities, and facilitate access to industries traditionally dominated by men. Additionally, it will connect participants with certification and other developmental programs.

One of the key objectives of Women Who Lead is to discover untapped talent in the region and establish a pathway to job and contract opportunities. The program draws inspiration from other local programs with selective processes, such as Lead Hampton Roads, Civic Leadership Institute, and Portsmouth Partnership’s Lefcoe Leadership Fund program.

Interested candidates are required to attend one of the four 90-minute info sessions scheduled for July (10, 17, 24, or 31). To register, candidates can visit or

For those interested in serving as mentors for Women Who Lead, a three-hour orientation will take place on Aug. 8. The program officially kicks off on Sept. 8 and will conclude on Nov. 21.