It’s not easy to launch a magazine from scratch, and it’s certainly not cheap. Even most seasoned professional journalists would shy away from the challenge without backing from an investor with deep pockets and plenty of patience. But Jasmine Babers did it anyway and made it work—and she was just 15 at the time.
Babers, a facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Ignite Retreat for college students, started Love Girls magazine when she was still attending Rock Island High School in Rock Island, Ill. Available in both print and digital formats, Love Girls is a nonprofit publication with a mission to “build self-esteem by providing young women leadership opportunities and a safe place to tell their stories.”
Babers, who graduated from the University of Chicago at Illinois in December 2018, will lead a workshop and inspire fellow changemakers at the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat, taking place March 27-29, in Wake Forest, N.C. Held twice a year, the Ignite Retreat brings together a team of facilitators, coaches and conspirators who lead college students on a journey to discover how they can change the world in a positive way, whether through social entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector or public policy leadership, among many possibilities. The deadline to register for the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat is Wednesday, March 11. Click here to learn more about the Ignite Retreat and to register.
Love Girls magazine tells the stories of “everyday girls,” shining a spotlight on social issues—from depression to bullying—as well as covering makeup and fashion, relationships, celebrity news and other topics that appeal to young women. The magazine’s staff consists entirely of girls and young women, usually between the ages of 13 and 22, and provides hands-on experience in journalism, photography, graphic design, marketing and business management.
“The magazine was born from the desire to create space for girls to talk openly about problems, passions and successes,” Babers recalled. “It was important that this space was created by girls for girls. Cyber-bullying in my high school had reached an all-time high, and girls needed support and a platform to stand up against injustices and uplift one another.”
Determined to make a difference, Babers recruited other female students to help create a magazine that would serve as that platform. “I gathered some girls from school at our local public library and told them my thoughts, and everyone was excited to write and interview and take photos!” she said. “It honestly was a community project from the moment it began, and that’s also a huge reason why it’s been so successful. I could have never dreamt of all this on my own!”
Starting out with a digital-only publication would have been more affordable, but Babers realized there’s still something special about print, even in the age of iPhones and tablets. “We found out quickly that girls love being able to hold their work in their hands and to show family and friends,” she said. “It’s what makes the project so special!”
“So from the beginning we had to fundraise,” Babers continued. “I was really adamant that the magazine needed to look and feel high-quality—from color down to the paper. We sold ads to local businesses at super-discounted rates, and we got grants from amazing non-profits who trusted us. It’s actually kinda remarkable, looking back at how much trust and faith people had in our project from the beginning. I’m so grateful for those supporters!”
Babers also knew from the start that she wanted to spotlight all types of girls, not just homecoming queens and cheerleaders. “One of my favorite things that we pride ourselves on is that anyone can be a cover girl,” she said. “Representation is so necessary and, in that same regard, the understanding that if you’re being the best person you can be and working really, really hard, people will see that and want to celebrate that—regardless of how you look.”
Like any editor or publisher, Babers makes sure to treat her cover subjects like stars. “Shooting the cover is a production and a really special experience for our cover girls,” she said. “We use top-of-the-line photographers, make-up artists and stylists—almost always women—and conduct our shoots like any other editorial magazine. I’m all about the glam and the experience and taking extra care of our cover girls because they deserve it.”
One of Babers’ favorite cover subjects was Carlie Newton, who received a liver transplant at just three months old and still bears a prominent scar from the surgery. Newton works to raise awareness of the lifesaving potential of organ and tissue donation.
“Not only does she have an amazing story, but the clouds that day were crazy beautiful in the background and she was showing her scar to the camera,” Babers said. “But she looked so badass that, when I saw the photo for the first time, I knew the heading had to say something about her being a ‘wonder woman’!”
Love Girls also sponsors the annual Love Awards, honoring the contributions of girls and young women in eight categories, and Babers co-hosts Love Girls: the Podcast with the publication’s VP, Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw. Babers considers storytelling and graphic design to be her “superpowers” and also has a passion for politics and urban planning. “Finding a hybrid dream job around those things would be amazing,” she says.
Jasmine Babers will be making her second appearance at the Ignite Retreat in March 2020. “The Ignite Retreat is one of my favorite events of the year!” she said. “It’s so unique in its design around young people who want to make a difference. I always leave inspired, curious and ready to help. I actually remember keynoting at the retreat a few years ago, and that was truly the first time I told my story in its entirety. I talked about the magazine but also growing up in foster care and struggling through my high-functioning anxiety. Afterwards, so many participants came up to me, and we laughed and cried, and they even swag-surfed around me. It was just one of the best experiences of my career so far. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it!”
“This is actually my first time leading a track,” Babers added, “and I’m so excited to be a thought-partner and see how I can help projects develop! I’m going into this experience putting the young people first and being open to listening and learning. I’m super-grounded in the understanding that I have just as much to learn as the participants do. Plus, I recently graduated college so the young people joining us are my peers, so I’m also excited to make some new friends!”