The Thin Line: Bakir Coulter
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Ever since she was a little girl, Bakir Coulter dreamed of being a part of something bigger. In high school she mentioned to her dad, an Army veteran, that she would like to join the military, but he was adamant that she attend college.
“I was a daddy’s girl so I did as he asked,” Coulter says. As fate would have it, however, she met an Air Force recruiter during her first semester of college.
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” says Coulter, who joined the Air Force Reserve while also earning a degree in elementary and early-childhood education. “God had a hand in it all.”
She had been in the military for two years when 9/11 happened.
“I was in college and had a part-time job at Bed Bath and Beyond,” she says. “On September 11 they called me over the intercom to come to the break room. They showed me what was happening on TV, looked at me and asked, ‘Are you about to leave?’ I said, ‘Probably so.’”
She went on assignment after 9/11 for six months.
“That was a surreal experience,” she says. While deployed, her sister emailed to fill her in on news from home. She was launching a Mary Kay business.
“I didn’t know much about cosmetics because I didn’t wear makeup and washed my face with hot water,” Coulter says. When she returned, she attended one of her sister’s Mary Kay parties and fell in love with the products. Three days later she was a part-time beauty consultant herself.
As Coulter worked with her Mary Kay clients and began to build a team, she noticed women who looked confident on the outside but lacked self-confidence. As a result, she spent a lot of time filling them up, encouraging them and reminding them of who they are.
“I remember thinking, ‘If I’d gotten to them sooner, maybe they would have more self-confidence,’” Coulter says.
From there, an idea took root. In 2009 she started a Youth Leadership Development program called B.LOVE Institute, LLC, which not only focuses on building up young girls, but also on bridging the gap between home, school and church. Coulter teaches the girls everything from personal hygiene to social skills. She gives them conversation starters to get them comfortable with speaking in front of a group. Public speaking used to terrify Coulter, but she found herself in situations where she was out front and her confidence grew. She wants to do the same for those she mentors.
“I recently took the girls to the library and showed them all these different books to demonstrate that there could be 10 books about a pillow, for instance, written by 10 different people, and each one would say something different,” Coulter says. She tells them to not only share what they’ve been through up to this point, but also to look to the future and imagine what their life will look like in high school, college and beyond.
“I ask them where they want to be at 25, what career they want to have, where they want to travel,” Coulter says. “It’s an opportunity to think beyond what they see.”
B.LOVE Institute meetings are held twice per month. In addition, they assemble quarterly to participate in an activity. For instance, they recently went to a trampoline park. Her long-term goal for the program is to have an after-school program and a summer camp where girls are together every day.
“I want to get them outside of just their community so they can see there is so much available to them,” Coulter says.
B.LOVE Institute used to be an in-person program. The pandemic changed all of that. Now Coulter connects virtually with girls everywhere. Local girls still meet in person, but others can join via Zoom.
“If God can use me to help young people see their options, broaden their horizons and change their life, I want to do that,” she says.
This might be in the form of teaching someone how to make a meal, showing them how to take care of their skin or introducing them to the military reserve program.
“I’m at a level of leadership in my [military] position where there are not a lot of women, nor are there many African American women,” Coulter says. “Sometimes when I’m sitting in a room, I’m the only female or the only African American, period.”
Three years ago Coulter, her husband Duane, and their kids moved to Kokomo. Initially they weren’t sure how long they would stay, but they’ve grown to adore the community. The couple has two children, Kennedy, 9, and Mason, 7, and a teacup Yorkie named Duke Ellington, who thinks he’s a Rottweiler.
“I love the small-town feel of Kokomo and yet still being close enough to drive to the big city,” she says.
In her free time, Coulter enjoys traveling and is grateful for all of the places she has gotten to go with the military, including England and Italy. Her all-time favorite pastime, however, is spending time with her family. In fact, she calls her family her hobby.
“My mom, Linda, and dad, Dawud, are the foundation of me,” she says. “I’m not me without them.”
Although most people assume she learned confidence and leadership skills from the military, she credits her mom for growing those aptitudes. “My mom would always say, ‘Try it, and if you don’t like it you can do something else,’” Coulter says.
She calls her sister Alicia one of the smartest people she’s ever known – detail-oriented and good with money management. She raves that her talented cousin Katrice should become a chef or open a restaurant.
“I’ve learned so much from those four but I have a whole village,” says Coulter, who notes that the best lesson she’s ever learned is to not be afraid to be yourself. “There is space for who God created you to be.”
To learn more about B.LOVE Institute or to register your young leader, email email@example.com.