By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Nikkie Pittman was not supposed to make it. She was supposed to stay a statistic, but she believes God had other plans. The 38-year-old recently launched Women of Worth (WOW), a mentoring program that became a nonprofit organization on November 1.
“Coming from a single-parent family, subsidized housing, being on food stamps, I was not supposed to make it,” Pittman said. “I just feel like this is really part of what I want to do, … [to] go back and help somebody, even if it’s just one person. I feel like that’s what I’m here to do. If I made it, I feel like there are so many other girls out there that can make it.”
WOW recently completed a 10-week mentoring group, I Am Worth, at Huffman Middle School for girls in the sixth through eighth grades and another 10-week class for women at the Homewood Library. Even though Pittman recently started her organization, mentoring is not new for her—she’s been helping others since she got into youth ministry more than 10 years ago, when she joined Walking on Water Christian Church in Birmingham.
“I ended up joining that church because I wanted to change my life,” Pittman said. “I had been praying about finding new friends and joining a church, … and I ended up there. As the church grew, [it established] a youth ministry, and I wanted to be part of it because I had a passion for youth. I was like, ‘OK, this is where I want to be.’”
Beating the Statistics
Pittman grew up in Birmingham’s West End with her mother, Roberta, and younger brother, Frederick. Pittman’s mother worked different jobs, which didn’t allow her time to be around her family very much, so Pittman often took care of her brother. Pittman attended three different high schools, beginning with Huffman High School before transferring to West End High School the second semester of her sophomore year.
“That’s when I kind of got off track,” she said. “I got involved in different types of things and with friends I probably shouldn’t have had. I also got pregnant … and went to Ensley High School, [where I was in the] young mother’s program.”
Pittman finished the second semester of her junior year at Ensley before transferring back to West End her senior year. She graduated from West End in 1998 and attended Lawson State Community College (LSCC). She even moved into her own apartment, where she took care of her son and her brother, who eventually moved out. It took Pittman longer than most to graduate because she was working and taking care of her son.
“I was [at LSCC] for four years. I tried to do nursing, but that didn’t work out,” she said. “I graduated with an associate degree in computer science and business education.”
After graduating from LSCC, Pittman took a break from school before attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. That’s when things began to look up. She was in school and mentoring, and she eventually got married and moved to Vestavia Hills with her husband and son.
“When I was younger and living that lifestyle, I dated drug dealers, and I just got tired of it. I prayed and asked God to get me out of those situations because I had a son,” Pittman said. “In 2003, I met a guy. He was the first guy I met that had a real job. He moved us to Vestavia, and it was just like a whole other world opened up. Ever since then, it’s been kind of uphill for me. Of course, there have been some struggles, but things have been really good since then.”
Pittman’s marriage was short lived, but it did help her realize her worth, which is one of the key components of her mentoring program.
“I’ve understood what it means to value yourself and not settle. … A lot of times, women and young girls [settle],” she said. “[God] gave me the strength to search myself and realize that anything that I really want to do is easy. Sometimes it’s scary, [though], because you don’t really know where to start or what to do.
“People have been put in my path, [people] I can look up to, [people who have] exposed [me] to [different] things. I want to expose young girls to the same things. I realized my worth, and I’m not going to let anybody treat me in a way that makes me feel less than I know who I’m supposed to be.”
Pittman recently conducted a 10-week mentoring class for young girls at Huffman Middle School, from September through November, and a separate class for adult women at the Homewood Library.
“When I had the opportunity to go into [the middle school], I was a little nervous because the program in its conception was for high school girls up to adult women of any age,” she said. “Now that I see there is a need for it with the younger girls and I can bring it to the middle school, I’m going to have to tweak the program because I see where the need is. Catching them [while younger] is easier, as opposed to when they get older.”
During the Huffman program, Pittman talked to the girls about learning to love themselves and love their sister or their neighbor, taming the tongue, building relationships, and other topics.
“[The WOW mentoring program] focuses on the person, but it also focuses on attitudes toward other people and [teaches that people need to] project what [they] want to receive,” she said. “With older women, the lessons are pretty much the same, focusing on loving one’s self, but it is more about God and how God sees us, … what God says about us. I really think that gives [women] the confidence to go out and be successful, whether it’s in a relationship with a parent, a man, or whomever.”
After the programs were over, Pittman had a special dinner for the girls at the Texas de Brazil restaurant downtown Birmingham and held a conference for the women.
Pittman said she wants to do for others what was done for her.
“One of my mentors, Belinda Lyons, has really pushed me,” she said. “When I was younger and going through some tough times, she and her husband would get my son because our sons were best friends. I didn’t really have anyone on me that was like, ‘You need to get out of the streets and stop doing this or that.’
“[Lyons] always carried herself so well and spoke so eloquently. I looked up to her so much. She would come around, and she treated me so nice. One day, she blessed me with $1,000 to start my emergency fund and just start saving. I’ve always admired her. Any time I had questions, she was right there. Even with my divorce, she was right there because I attempted suicide and spent three days in UAB Hospital. She was there.”
Pittman said she knows what it’s like when women struggle, and she knows the importance of having a mentor.
“I’ve been through so much. Now, when I see women going through things, I’m like, ‘OK, maybe that’s why I went through it, so I can help somebody else,’” Pittman said.
“[Lyons] has definitely been my mentor, someone I can call, [someone] I’ve looked up to since I was in my 20s. Even today, she pushes me. She encouraged me to [set up] the nonprofit. If it were not for her, I probably wouldn’t be as aggressive as I am about what I’m doing.”
Pittman can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.