Winning Over Minds and Hearts Through Art
Librarian and Gold Award Girl Scout alum Nicole Strayhorn can trace the roots of her career directly to the project that earned her the highest award when she was in high school.
“I was very interested in both HIV/AIDS and visual arts, and I wanted to combine my two interests to increase awareness in the African American community,” Nicole, who has gone on to work with several prestigious libraries, explained. “So I created an art exhibition . . . in a library.”
Her concept? To showcase the fact that you can’t tell just by looking at someone whether they have AIDS. She asked her classmates to submit self-portraits, which she curated in a library in her hometown in Northwest Georgia, along with health information about the AIDS epidemic. Her project, titled “Face Reality: AIDS Is a Global Issue,” illustrated that “any face can be a face of AIDS or a face that will someday cure AIDS.”
“In my community, it is important that I continue to increase awareness about this important disease, even though it’s not a popular topic. This disease knows no color, gender, class, or religion. It affects everyone,” Nicole explained.
Despite the sensitivities of addressing both AIDS and race, she said that the community response was overwhelmingly positive. After the exhibition ended, she donated the artwork to SisterLove, an Atlanta-based foundation with the longest history of female-centered HIV advocacy in the Southeast.
The project’s success stayed with Nicole. She just received her master of science in information from Florida State University and has completed a fellowship at the National Library of Medicine on the National Institutes of Health’s campus in Bethesda, Maryland. Today she is in her second year of a fellowship at the American Dental Association Library and Archives in Chicago.
She credits her desire to achieve to Girl Scouting. Nicole started as a Daisy and stayed with Girl Scouts through high school. She’s proud of her Gold Award, and she knew, even when she was working on the project, that it would set her up for success by helping her have an advantage with college admissions and scholarship applications.
But it was a trip to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts location in India—funded by cookie sales and donations—that truly opened her eyes to the world around her, because it was her first time traveling outside the United States.
She also credits Girl Scouts with helping her find her voice. “Working with other young women on different projects and the adventures we went on—camping and traveling to India—made me a well-rounded person. I learned the courage to speak up on different issues,” she explains, adding, “It made me want to dream more.”