Written by Leah T. Johnson/ ColorBlind Magazine
“I’m only holding two photos in my hand,” Tyra Banks says in a serious, quiet tone. “But only one of these photos is the winner. Only one can be America’s Next Top Model…”
Moments later, the winner is announced, gasps and screams for joy replace the silent anxious space that existed only seconds ago. Tears are flowing, and hugs are given. A new beauty has been crowned, and is poised to begin her journey as a model.
Rana Ellison, a native of Detroit, may have never stood before supermodel Tyra Banks, but she does know a thing or two about modeling. Ellison formerly lived in New York and has worked in the commercial, fashion, and sports industry of modeling. While most people are aware that the modeling industry can be cutthroat and capable of a “dark side,” many have not experienced it as Ellison has.
“It goes beyond looks and I saw that a lot of women were hurting. Mainstream media drives out sexuality,” Ellison said, even mentioning that as a model she struggled with her weight.
What pained her most was there was no outlet for these women who took gorgeous photos, but were suffering from low self esteem and other issues. Ellison knew that in order to provide a remedy she had to remove herself from the situation. She wanted to create a platform for women, a group where they could come together and express themselves. This desire birthed the nonprofit Saving Her Elegance (S.H.E.) in June 2015.
“Saving Her Elegance isn’t a faith-based organization nor is it the common nonprofit that only wants volunteers…we like to be heavily involved with everyone and feel like a family. It’s a lifestyle,” Ellison said.
One of the programs offered is “She Can Be Me” which allows ladies to shadow those in professions they are interested in. Maishunda Welborn, a 21 year old from Detroit, who wanted to be a professional stylist was chosen for the program. After being selected for this opportunity based on a video she submitted, Welborn was flown to Tampa, Florida to assist with styling for a runway show at the You Deserved to Be Loved Summit. She assisted Kelly Reeds Boutique as a lead stylist. Welborn received exclusive tickets to Beyonce’s concert in Florida. Currently, Welborn is finishing her degree in Fashion and will graduate May 2017.
True to her roots as a model, Ellison incorporates fashion and modeling, in the S.H.E. photoshoot. Ladies are selected for this high fashion photoshoot by stating in writing what S.H.E. means to them. S.H.E. also offers programs for anti-bullying and single mothers.
The dedicated Board Members of S.H.E. who live in Detroit, and Tampa assist Ellison with her vision for S.H.E. They teach workshops on entrepreneurship, bi-polar issues, depression, finances to young girls and women of various ages and backgrounds.
Presence and Passports
S.H.E. has been on the move since its founding. The organization held a Women’s Summit in Tampa in 2016 and its first annual gala the same year in Detroit.
“It [the gala] turned out better than we expected,” Ellison said. There were people there who live in Tampa and were visiting Detroit for the first time.”
While these events certainly increased the presence of S.H.E., the team is preparing for another adventure-this time in another country. Kitale, Kenya has requested S.H.E. to organize and hold a summit there in August 2017.
“Sometimes people want you to think small,” Ellison said about the opportunity to go overseas. “But we’ve even had people in Jamaica, Haiti, and Barbados asking can we start a branch there!”
The impact that S.H.E. has had in its inaugural period helps to allay the challenges faced and continue progressing.
“We want extended offices in different states such as Utah and Ohio. We also want to maximize all the programs that we already have, do more galas to recognize more women, and help our young girls understand there’s life outside of what’s often presented,” Ellison said.
The biggest challenge though comes from people having their own definition of the word “elegance.” S.H.E. is working hard to uphold the true definition.
“We are working with people who already have that mentality of being in the limelight, and [desire to] be raunchy,” Ellison said. “You have to show them both ends of the spectrum. We promote elegance, where people see everything but elegance.”