Houston attorney wins $10K for nonprofit in AT&T Dream in Black contest

Childs' nonprofit, GirlTalk University, aims to help girls and women love themselves.

Staci Childs won $10,000 for GirlTalk U in the AT&T Dream in Black contest.

Staci Childs won $10,000 for GirlTalk U in the AT&T Dream in Black contest.

Courtesy of Staci Childs

Staci Childs was shopping for groceries when she got the call. Whole Foods and her cart forgotten, she let out an unbridled scream — of joy, that is. Childs, a Houston attorney and model, was among the and had earned her nonprofit $10,000.

Childs, 34, is a criminal defense attorney at Sunnyside Legal Clinic and created her nonprofit organization in 2019 in an effort to promote positive self-image among young girls and women. 

Before she began practicing law, Childs was a fourth and fifth grade language arts teacher. As a teacher, she says she noticed a majority of her female students would make poor remarks about their intellect and appearance. 

“[Girls] would often say very negative things such as 'I’m ugly, I’m dumb, I can’t do this, I’m a failure.'”

Staci Childs dancing with Kynnedii, a GirlTalk U participant, after finishing a "Who Am I" session. Kynnedii is an aspiring dancer.

Staci Childs dancing with Kynnedii, a GirlTalk U participant, after finishing a "Who Am I" session. Kynnedii is an aspiring dancer.

Courtesy of Staci Childs

Their attitude towards self-criticism led her to question where this mindset stemmed from, she says, especially at such a young age. Childs says she soon realized it was a learned behavior.

According to UTHealth, as a result of hearing or interpreting highly critical messages from significant people in a child’s life.

“When I started to meet their parents and meet the other family members in their lives, I realized they picked up those same traits and the same mindsets from [them]," Childs says.

Determined to undo this mentality, Childs set out to create GirlTalk U. Among her first steps was working through the program with adults on the nonprofit's team.

Staci Childs with GirlTalk U participants Jamila and Ashley at the nonprofit's annual Christmas photoshoot.

Staci Childs with GirlTalk U participants Jamila and Ashley at the nonprofit's annual Christmas photoshoot.

Courtesy of Staci Childs

“In order to teach these girls the program, we had to go through the program ourselves,” Childs says. ”A lot of us would break down in tears, a lot of us would feel uncomfortable dissecting these very intimate and discreet parts of ourselves.” 

Childs says members of her team were able to discuss matters they weren't given the space to address while they were in their adolescence, including body image and relationships. One team member, a woman in her 30s, told Childs she'd never liked her body shape, her voice or her face before those conversations, Childs recounted.

“I think that’s the feedback that we’ve gotten the most consistently, that’s very surprising to us,” Childs says.

Despite the positive effects of her organization, Childs admits to her own struggle with self-love, which she tries to combat with persistent positive self-talk and reaffirmation.

Staci Childs is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Sunnyside.

Staci Childs is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Sunnyside.

Delaina Hardges

“I often have to tell myself 'Staci, you did good, Staci it’ll be ok, Staci don't worry about that.'” This is a lesson in which GirlTalk University takes pride, she says. “If you don't hear that positive reinforcement all the time, you're not going to hear it. You have to be the one to do it for yourself, so we have to teach the girls and teach grown women to do that for themselves.”

Like many adults, Childs grew up without having someone to talk to about most of the issues she discusses in her curriculum. She believes there’s an overall lack of resources to help young girls navigate life on a large scale — which is why she’s so passionate about GirlTalk.

Before she in September, Childs was in a tight spot with her cherished nonprofit. 

Staci Childs with GirlTalk U participants Corlyn and Madison in a confidence-building photoshoot.

Staci Childs with GirlTalk U participants Corlyn and Madison in a confidence-building photoshoot.

Courtesy of Staci Childs

She'd partnered with Worthing High School in the Sunnyside area to conduct GirlTalk programming at the school, but with multiple rounds of vetting between her and dsitrict funding, Childs had to pay staff and cover program needs with her own salary in the interim. By the time news of the contest and grant reached her, Childs says she was running out of funds and brushing up against a new issue: there was only so much she could pay out of pocket. The prospect of AT&T's $10,000 contribution came at the perfect time, Childs says.

With the additional funding, Childs says she is excited to expand the GirlTalk community's educational programs and relaunch the GirlTalk podcast. She aims to focus future efforts not only on GirlTalk participants, but at allies who can make a difference.

“We feel very passionate about allies,” Childs says. “This is not just a girl problem, this is a human [problem] ... I just want to make sure that everybody is equally invested in this mission of instilling confidence into girls.”