Maven to Know: SONYA COOKE, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, GIRL TALK
Sonya Cooke, 48, is the founder and president of Girl Talk Incorporated and a personal development coach and mentor. Translation: She’s pretty darn inspiring, both professionally and personally.
She calls the northwest side of Indy home, where she lives with her husband of more than 15 years, Chip. Luckily she had some time in her busy schedule to talk to us about how Girl Talk began, her dreams for its future, and how we as a community can support her very important mission.
Maven superpower: Empowering girls and women—and, oh and I love to laugh!
How would you describe what you do for a living to someone at a dinner party?
I empower girls and women to be their absolute best and reach their full potential.
Tell us a bit about your background and how it led to you founding Girl Talk Inc.
My teenage years were rough. I was a teen mom with three children by the age of 18 years old, I did not have anyone to talk to or help guide me. I told myself then if I were ever in a position to mentor and help girls then I would. When I got laid off from my job in 2014, I decided that it was time for me to introduce Girl Talk to the public.
What is your vision for Girl Talk and what are some of your favorite success stories of seeing that vision in action in Indianapolis?
In the near future, I want to have a Girl Talk Empowerment Center where we could not only have our weekly sessions, but offer additional education and life skills programs that would allow the girls to become successful personally and professionally.
One success story that I am super proud of is that one of our program participants became an entrepreneur at the age of 13 years old. She makes and sells bracelets and has done very well for herself. She is now 15 and is often a vendor at Girl/Women empowerment conferences here in the city selling her merchandise. She credits Girl Talk for giving her the confidence and support she needed to go out and be successful.
What advice would you give to other women facing challenges in their careers or personal lives?
NEVER QUIT! There will always be obstacles and challenges—learn from them and keep going. I am a firm believer that challenges build character and if you can find the gem in that challenge, then you’ll be all the better coming out.
Also find a mentor, someone that has been through the fire and can give you advice, guide you through your storm and help you find the tools and resources that will allow you to be successful at the end of it all.
What inspires you about the young women you work with?
What inspires me is that girls want to invest in their future. Some of the girls participate in the program because they are made to by their parents, but others participate because they know they have a space to be themselves and not be judged for the mistakes they’ve made.
And we make it fun while giving them the tools, education, and resources they need to navigate their crazy teen years. A lot of the girls that participate in the program have been back a few times, they enjoy the girlfriend camaraderie and build new friendships while having a mentor to come to when they need one.
I can imagine you have been having some interesting discussions with young women at Girl Talk about the recent protests in our city and around the country in support of Black Lives Matter and against the killings of Black people at the hands of the police? What have you learned from the younger generation and what wisdom do you hope you’ve been able to share with them?
I am thankful we’ve had parents that have started the discussion at home, but we at Girl Talk also reinforce what they’ve said and add to that conversation. We’ve explained what the protests are about and how they’re not just about George Floyd, but the countless other African American men and women, girls and boys that have been unjustly murdered and brutalized at the hands of law enforcement. Those that are charged with protecting and providing law and order and how there’s been no consequence for them to pay. We also explain to them that we have all people fighting for justice and how it’s important for them and all of us to use our voices and speak up when we see others being mistreated.
Where do you see Girl Talk in five years? Ten? What are your big dreams for the organization?
I would like to have the Girl Talk Empowerment Center up and running. I want to be the premier personal development organization for girls and woman alike. I want girls to be able to enter their adult professional lives armed and prepared for success. I want women that have not had it so well to be able to come in, get the knowledge and tools needed to restart their lives confidently. I want Girl Talk Inc to partner with education institutions and companies so we can give our girls and women an opportunity to accomplish their dreams.
How can the women of the Indy Maven community get involved and help make those dreams a reality?
Spread the word! Help us connect with women and others in the community that can help make this dream a reality for so many that have been let down and just need a second chance.
Who are some of the women in your life that have inspired you the most?
Of course, my mother has been a huge inspiration in my life. She was a victim of domestic violence but she never stopped caring for us, keeping us safe and making sure that we had what we needed to feel safe and loved.
Were there other non-profits you saw in the world that helped inspire what Girl Talk has become?
No, I can’t say that there was. I just knew I wanted a place where young girls and teens could come and have someone to help guide them and give them the advice and care they needed to keep going in spite of the mistakes that they may have made. Someone to help steer them through those rough hormonal and emotional times that girls have during those years between 12-16 years old. I just wanted them to know that they have someone in their life that cares, someone that will listen, not judge, or let them down.
What was the best advice you ever received?
Just because you think it, does not mean it has to be said. I would always say what was on my mind, and sometimes that got me in trouble. Thank goodness for maturity, LOL.
Abby Gardner is Indy Maven’s executive editor.