L’Oreal Paris is gearing up for its 7th annual Women of Worth (WOW) initiative, where it celebrates the many dimensions of beauty by honoring women who give back to their communities. Out of thousands of submissions, the company chose ten women to receive a $10,000 donation to their charitable cause. From Tricia Baker, who works with her family to combat negative perceptions around mental illness, to Kimberly Iverson’s Bucket List Foundation and its focus on fulfilling the dreams of terminally ill seniors–all of the honorees reflect how the standard of beauty for women is multidimensional. It’s not often there’s a marketer that pushes a more dynamic view of women’s beauty, beyond just perfectly long hair, clear skin, and vibrant eyes.

Estella Pyfrom, founder of Estella’s Brilliant Bus and WOW honoree, says she agrees with this . “Real beauty is from the heart and comes from within,” she says. “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do and genuine feeling comes from the inside out.” She adds that when you’re able to serve people and feel good about it – you glow. “What you do for people has to come from the heart, it has to come from within.”

Pyfrom’s nonprofit is a mobile learning center that travels to low-income neighborhoods and Title 1 schools to service underprivileged children and families. The 76-year old has received a lot of media attention since launching two years ago. After more than 40 years in education, Pyfrom used money from her pension to invest into the program.

“The years of experience I had working in the school district, I knew there was a need to get more/provide more than what they could get at the schools,” Pyfrom said. “I wasn’t quite ready to leave the system but I knew it was time and wanted to continue to search and provide some service and help in some kind of way for children who did not have. So I figured out a way.”

Following a long day of shooting videos for L’Oreal and news interviews, Pyfrom sat down with EBONY to discuss her cause, her view of the current state of education, and the future of her work:

EBONY: Take me through what inspired this idea and the steps you took to execute it.

Estella Pyrfrom: I knew there was a need. The wealthier families, they could go home and they have other things–reading materials, encyclopedias, even before technology was popular. But some of the low-income families didn’t have it. I knew that many of those situations still existed.

So I asked, how can I continue to provide some service that will be helpful to that population of people? I knew technology was popular. I decided maybe I could take some service into the neighborhood–technology. So, I got a piece of paper and sketched out a floor plan and then my husband and I went to a bus specialty company and asked, “Look, does this sound like its impossible?” He sent the draft off to the factory and they scaled it down to a bus size that I wanted.

EBONY: Was it well received when you first launched?

EP: Believe it or not, as I talked to people about what I wanted to do, they were looking at me like, “What is she talking about?” Because it was such a big idea, we found that people really didn’t grasp it–I think that had a lot to do with why I decided to get something tangible. When you have big ideas-big dreams about something-people don’t believe it. They think you’re still dreaming. But then, I showed up with the bus.

EBONY: Where do you see this going?

EP: I know I’ve reached more than 20,000 but in 5 years, I see us having several buses (maybe 5 buses). Over a period of time, my vision is to have at least one Brilliant Bus in every city in the U.S. and some in other parts of the world. Now that’s a big dream but we already started on it. There’s a group of people in New York working on some sponsors to get my team there by next summer. I got an email from the Asante Foundation; they want to replicate the project in Africa right now.

EBONY: What is your perspective of the current state of public education?

EP: Well there’s still a lot to be desired. A lot to do. A lot of failing schools. My mission this year is to focus on an area where the reading is not as good. One high school is Belle Glade Central. They produce a lot of professional football players, but the school rating in that area is kind of low. They probably have more professional players than any other school in the nation, but we want to do something about the education.

EBONY: What do you believe causes children to lack access to educational resources in these neighborhoods? Is it parenting? Jobs? The school system?

EP: A combination of all those things, I’m finding, contributing to the mindset. For example, you may take 10 poor families who have the same limited income–and some may have no income–but you might find many different attitudes in that group of people. My father was poor but he’d make a sacrifice to get us a notebook even if he had to let something else go. Whereas some other families would say well I need to buy this and your notebook has to wait. Its not that this parent doesn’t care. A notebook for your children or a pair of shoes? Some parents will say you’ll wear those shoes a little longer, and I’ve seen this happen. You put a rubberband around if the sole is flapping but I’ll get you that pencil you need or that notebook. That other parent will say well that notebook has to wait bc I have to buy shoes. All of these things have to do with the mindset.


To vote for Estella Pyfrom or other WOW honorees, visit WomenOfWorth.com, click “like” on any Facebook post about your favorite Woman of Worth, or retweet a L’Oreal Paris tweet about the woman you support.

Riley Wilson is a New York-based and Howard-educated writer and filmmaker. You can read more of his work on his site www.rileySwilson.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RileySW.