In 2006 Tonja Murphy made a decision that would benefit her and her three children: Alexandria, Gregory and Jordan. She decided she was going to re-enroll in the undergraduate program at Jackson State University and complete her bachelor’s degree.
[quote]“My daughter was going to graduate from high school in a few years and I couldn’t tell her the importance of going to college, if I hadn’t finished. I had started and stopped a couple of times, so I decided I was going to go back and finish getting my degree.”[/quote]
Two weeks before Alexandria graduated from high school, the mother of three graduated from Jackson State with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.
“That moment felt great,” recalls Murphy. “My daughter and sons were very supportive. It was a good feeling for me because my children saw me go back to school and work hard and my kids really appreciated that.”
Murphy not only set an example for her kids, but also for the young girls that were members of The Ladybug Club, a non-profit founded by Murphy in 2005.
The Ladybug Club started with Murphy’s nieces wanting to hang out with their “TeeTee” as she is affectionately known.
“Then I started wanting to expose them to different things, go to different restaurants…attend different events. My nieces started inviting their friends and I would invite other moms and their daughters from the community and it just grew. It was never intended to be what it is now.”
The more time Murphy spent with the girls, the more the organization grew. Murphy’s daughter’s nickname is Ladybug, and one day one of the girls looked at Murphy and said “this is The Ladybug Club Ms. Tonja.” “And that’s how the organization got its’ name,” said Murphy.
The Ladybug Club started with six members initially, but has grown to about 45 members. The mentoring organization is based in
the Midtown community and hosts regular monthly meetings with organized lesson plans known as the Ladybug Lessons. The Ladybugs, which range from ages 6 to 18, focuses on four areas of development: self-confidence, self-sufficiency, education and civic responsibility.
They also host events such as Red Haute Couture, a fundraiser that was held the Penguin Restaurant on March 3rd. The event consisted of music, food, and a silent auction featuring original artwork from the Ladybug Club and five celebrity artists.
While Murphy is the founder of the organization, the official Ladybug Lessons are taught by the mothers and daughters of the organization.
“I provide technically support. The girls and their moms carry out the lessons. It’s our Mom’s Lead component. I think that it is very important for these young ladies to see their mothers in leadership roles outside of the home,” states Murphy.
Kimberly White’s daughter Octivia has been a member of the Ladybug Club since she was five years old.
“In our community we don’t really have programs for girls and this is something positive,” said White. “There’s so many negative influences around and this helps to try and keep her on the right track. I wish there was an organization like this when I was growing up.”
“I like the fact that Ms. Tonja always try and teach us to do what’s right,” says White’s 12 year old daughter Octavia. “And when my momma can’t be there Ms. Tonja is there.”
Murphy believes that the program has been such a success because she listens to the young girls.
“I don’t talk over them. I talk to and with them,” says Murphy. “I think they feel like I’m coming from a place of love and I help them figure out what it is they want to do. Most times they have the plan figured out already, but they are missing that adult piece, so I try to be that piece for them.”
While Murphy knows she can’t reach all the girls in the Metro Jackson Area, she does, however, encourage other women to become involved in the lives of the girls in their families, communities or wherever.
“I think it’s important for girls to have good mentors, because they are going to be mentored whether it’s good or bad. No little girl should be out there, feeling like they have no one to depend on.”
Written by Shameka L. Reed