This is Optimism Works, a series that interviews people who, through optimism, have made achievements in their life and career. Founder of The R.O.S.E. Project Nina Bailey courageously healed through child and adult sexual trauma, as well as diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. An important part of this healing was forgiving herself for the mistakes and unhealthy decisions made throughout her journey to find peace within herself.
Starting from a place of self-hate, self-destruction, and impulsive decision-making, Nina gradually resolved to work on loving herself. Nina created The R.O.S.E. Project to support young girls, specifically young Black girls, that were dealing with similar challenges and setbacks. The R.O.S.E. Project allowed Nina to gain more insight on what self-love could look like, not only for the girls she worked with, but also for herself. Nina enrolled in Amala Foundation’s Yoga Teacher Training, where she learned silence and stillness, how the body holds trauma, and how to assist young people in recognizing how stress manifests in their emotional, mental, and physical health. Getting certified in Yoga and making The R.O.S.E. Project an official 501(c)(3) were two goals she never expected to achieve, but she proved herself wrong.
When did you first decide that you wanted to start The R.O.S.E. Project and dedicate your life to mentoring and empowering young women?
I always knew I wanted to help young women. In college, I worked at a residential treatment facility and began to learn about the justice and child welfare systems, which pushed me to continue down that path. The R.O.S.E. Project took shape in my mind when I began my work as a parole officer, and I realized young Black and Latinx women were only being recycled through the systems. This starts in an education system that continuously lets them down, using the legal system to punish them for their trauma and/or the normal challenges faced by adolescent girls. From schools, to the child welfare system, to the legal system, there is a lack of services for Black and Latinx girls. A low percentage of counselors look like them, few resources are inclusive to them, and the organizations that are inclusive are unfairly underfunded. I see it as my duty, as a queer Black woman, to share and speak up, so that they understand that while it’s far from easy, it is possible to change our mindsets, create our own safe spaces, and find our own paths to happiness and peace.
When you were getting started, what feelings do you remember having about that goal?
I went between feeling amazing some days, then feeling paralyzing fear because it felt like I was giving out false info; honestly, I was. Being a motivator and supporter of a community that you want to uplift is a lot of pressure, and I wasn’t in a confident place when I started out. I questioned myself, doubted myself, and sometimes quit on myself, to then go out and tell girls to love themselves and trust their personal process. I had to step back some, and really get myself together, which meant being my raw, uncut self. That’s when The R.O.S.E. Project started to pick up, and I realized it was the messiness that made me and my work genuine and worth it. The emotions are always going to be there. Some days will be great, and some days will be frustrating, but embracing both is a magical experience and nothing to be ashamed of.
What was the very first step you took? How did you stay on track?
My first step was asking for help. I’d worked through so much alone, so I had to learn to trust in other people again. I’m a living witness to others that you cannot do it alone, and this work isn’t meant to be done alone. I also had to keep going when I didn’t feel like it. I would stop and procrastinate, but I learned that the real work and growth comes when you push through the rough days and still get the work done. And it’s okay to mess up! I’m so okay with messing up because I learn so much from it, and sometimes it puts you in front of people that will lend help because they see the vulnerability in your mistakes.
Describe the moments when you felt like giving up. Why didn’t you?
I felt like giving up the most when I reached out to schools or organizations about visiting and speaking to their girls but heard nothing back. I went through a period of thinking “Maybe I’m wasting my time.” But when I thought this, it was like my Creator would send someone or something to let me know that wasn’t the case. Whether it was someone in conversation sending me an unspoken message, or hearing that I’d touched a girl with something I’d said a while back. Life also kept happening to me, and everything kept turning into lessons that I needed to share with others.
When my time is up here, I want people to remember me as a person who gave her all and made it comfortable for others to do the same.
Where have you found support along the way?
Aside from my family and close friends, I’ve found support in the people I’ve met since living in Austin. Other women that were passionate about the wellbeing of young women. I volunteered with other organizations and developed relationships with people that share my same values and ideas about uplifting others. The more I started to pour into myself, the more I opened myself up to people that were on the same wavelength, and that is an amazing feeling.
What has been surprisingly hard? Surprisingly easy?
What has been surprisingly hard is trusting myself and trusting others. There are always those who do not root for you; that can be scary and stressful. I’m learning to trust my gut and intuition more than anything, because it’s only ever led me to more positive experiences and people. The moment you question yourself, you leave yourself open to external pressure that you may not agree with but end up giving into.
It has been surprisingly easy to get help from people. I used to be so afraid of the word “no,” but I’ve gotten more “yes” than “no.” I can only focus on the positive and understand that if I get a “no” it was probably for the best. I force nothing, because I know the work I do will be guided by my Creator, and that will never fail me.
How do you define success?
My success is defined by not giving up. The moment I stop living in my truth and my purpose, I have failed. Success for me cannot be found in material items. Does money help? Yes! But the happiness I get from completing a session with girls and partnering with others in the community, from giving my whole self, cannot be taken away. When my time is up here, I want people to remember me as a person who gave her all and made it comfortable for others to do the same. No judgement, just acceptance, truth (no matter how ugly), and love. That is freedom and success to me.
How does optimism play a role in this goal, and your future goals?
Not every day will be a good day, and that’s okay. Recognizing that even those bad days are working in your favor only allows the Universe to continue to bless you. I started saying “Life is happening for me” every day, which I learned from a speaker I worked with. It’s true! Everything in my life that I felt was so horrible, and not fair, I’m literally using it all to fuel The R.O.S.E. Project. All the good and the bad is there to help push me, help me grow, and be an energy that pulls authenticity out of other people. Our outlook on our challenges and experiences can be a superpower if we let it.
What advice do you have for other people, trying to do what you’ve done?
Feel all your feelings, and accept them. We are here to experience all of life, and yes, things happen to us that we cannot control. We cannot pick the environments we grow up in, we cannot control how others have treated us or will treat us, but what you choose to do with the pain and anger you feel will either carry you to new levels or lead you to destruction. Trust me, I have experienced both, and I wouldn’t trade these new levels for anything!