Rachel Jeantel loves Manhattan, she told me during her latest trip. After a round of press last summer following her appearance during the George Zimmerman trial, Jeantel returned to New York recently — this time to be photographed for a timely makeover.
These glamour shots appear in the December/January Power 100 issue of Ebony magazine, and embody her blossoming identity of a teen becoming a young lady.
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Now preparing to embark on a new future, garnered in part by her bittersweet exposure to the limelight, theGrio partnered with Ebony to help Jeantel mature in her personal style.
Rachel takes New York
Rachel came for the beauty and fashion, but underneath it all was all business. She exited the plane from Miami to get her new look clutching a text book. Ms. Jeantel works with tutors and other mentors paid for and selected by radio host Tom Joyner back at home to help her develop her mind for the rapidly approaching goal of attending college.
Currently in counselling (also facilitated by Joyner) to help her cope with losing her friend Trayvon Martin, Rachel is handling the vacillations of life with a bold heart. And ignoring her critics.
“I don’t really care about that,” Rachel told theGrio of the cruel backlash she faced upon becoming well-known. “I can’t let them put me down. I was there to help a friend out,” she said of testifying when others might have chosen to remain anonymous.
Rachel Jeantel became a household name when she testified during the George Zimmerman trial for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, for which he was acquitted of all charges. She testified that she was the person on the phone Martin was speaking to when he first encountered Zimmerman.
Since then, Rachel has endured both social media jeers and developed a compassionate fan base. Yet, what she is really focused on is her future.
A new look for Rachel Jeantel
Still finishing her last year of high school, the nineteen-year-old student is gearing up for her collegiate experience, also to be paid for by Mr. Joyner. Rachel will need fabulous, sensible ensembles for the expanded possibilities ahead.
TheGrio.com and Ebony were only too happy to help.
Marielle Bobo, style director of Ebony, weighed in on the experience.
“I’m very excited to be here,” Bobo said, as she sifted through racks of clothes one weekend in late September. “I think it’s exciting working with theGrio.com, and black media partnering together to collaborate on this project. This is the first time we have done something like this.
“She’s been really fabulous so far. You can tell she really loves style and fashion,” she added.
Remade from head to toe
Rachel’s glam team gave her the works — new hair extensions, a manicure, and stellar make-up. The beauty artists worked diligently while keeping her underlying style her own.
“She’s super young, with all this vivaciousness and personality,” Bobo said. “We want to keep that, but translate it into ways that can work for her, for her new life as a student. We want to give her a look that’s going to translate from campus life, to any internships, or employment that she may be doing while she’s at school.”
Amoy Pitters, owner of Amoy Couture Hair salon, which hosted the shoot, was just as thrilled to help out.
“I know that this is going to change a lot for her, so it’s just really nice to be a part of it, and finally get a chance to meet her, and help with her overall new look,” Pitters told theGrio.
A stylist to the stars, Pitters can speak authoritatively on great hair as an asset.
“I always say, hair is the ultimate accessory,” she mused. “Definitely, it’s an empowering thing for women for their hair to look good. You feel like you’ve pretty much conquered the world.”
Making the most of opportunities
Rachel Jeantel is certainly focused on doing just that. Between getting her hair done and her picture snapped by fashion and commercial photographer Keith Major, she participated in an exclusive dinner at The Cecil in Harlem, featuring media darlings such as MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.
When you spy her posing like a pro and dressed to reflect the woman she has become in the Grio/Ebony fashion spread, you feel Rachel’s vibrant authenticity shine through.
“I’m blessed. That’s the truth,” Rachel said of the makeover and her ongoing evolution. “Everybody wants to be in my shoes right now. But for me, I’m taking this opportunity, and I’m hitting it hard.”
Learn more about Rachel’s new life and see the all the photos from her stunning makeover, produced with theGrio, in the December/January Power 100 issue of Ebony magazine.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter on @lexisb.
TheGrio.com is a division of MSNBC. This article has been updated.