SISTER2SISTER Program at Bard College


In 2018, two first-year Bard College students, Sakinah Bennett and Skylar Walker, were inspired by Bard’s Brothers at Bard program to establish the SISTER2SISTER program. Both founders are women of color from Georgia and recipients of full scholarships from the Posse Foundation. Sakinah majored in historical studies and dance. Skylar studied jazz and has been involved in the release of several music projects. She wowed attendees at a recent CCE awards event with her singing. While both CCE programs have similar goals in supporting young minority students, S2S focuses exclusively on working with girls of color in the Kingston area through mentoring and experiences in the arts. 

Goal: To Make a Difference

S2S is summarized on the Bard website as “a student-led mentorship program providing guidance and opportunity to young women of color in Kingston and communities near Bard College.” Skylar and Sakinah have worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Ulster County and Kingston High School, both of which helped recruit students and arrange meeting spaces. While originally their program focused on offering group experiences in the arts, it became apparent that what student participants really wanted to do was talk about what was on their minds. Numerous themes of interest were brought to the conversation and a new focus developed.

The Work

There have to be some rules in a discussion group of young women who all have things to say while talking about important and personal issues. For the S2S discussions, there are only three:

  1. The “Vegas” Rule: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
  2. One person speaks at a time.
  3. Challenge the idea, not the person.

The overall goal of these discussion circles is to create a safe space where all feel heard and welcome to share concerns, no matter how difficult or challenging. A start-off check-in ritual, “Happies and Crappies,” where each girl shares a best and not-best event of their day, is regularly used as a launching point. Topics that emerge for discussion have sometimes surprised the two program co-founders. They range widely and include: homelife, family tensions, the frustrations of being young women of color, promoting personal positivity, fashion and beauty, and the lack of arts and helpful college guidance resources in the Kingston community. Skylar and Sakinah are keenly aware of the need to truly listen and of their influence as role models. Bonnie Goad of Bard CCE comments, “The conversations are very real. These two young facilitators care and know their target.”

The Rewards

This nonprofit work comes from the heart and is not always easy. However, both co-founders have had many rewarding “ah-ha” moments. Skylar talks about a girl who brought big smiles to the group during an active-listening exercise in affirmations by putting herself out there in an honest, vulnerable way and emphatically stating, “I’m beautiful!” Skylar strongly promotes the message that “You can be the best version of you,” along with fostering personal empowerment growth. Sakinah calls these moments “Special things that hold me tight.” She tells of a young woman who had been in the program early on, and is now in college, who comes back to stay in touch and is clearly “growing into herself.” Sakinah feels she had a part in shaping this growth and is touched to see her thriving.

The Future of S2S

The question and concern now is: Will S2S be sustainable? Both Sakinah and Skylar have graduated and are program coordinator employees of Bard CCE. COVID restrictions caused some significant gaps over the last year and a half. Still, because of recent meetings with the Kingston High School administration, the program will start up strong again in early January with the help of three additional Bard students. S2S has received funding from various sources, including Bard LLl, and a couple of grants. The program is in the process of being institutionalized through Bard CCE. The two co-founders have facilitated yearly conferences that have helped to illuminate the need for this type of program in many communities. They would love Bard’s S2S to be a model for establishing chapters in other colleges and to call attention to the dire need for better learning resources in the arts in communities like Kingston. A dream goal is the creation of an all-girls performing arts school in the Kingston area.The overall, ongoing goal, according to Sakinah, however, will remain “the sharing of love, peace, and wisdom from one sister to another.”