From foster care to activism

Before Marlo Hampton became a star on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA), she was a little girl from the Tampa Bay area, who grew up in the foster care system and overcame the odds to become a graduate from USF in 2003 with a degree in Interdisciplinary Science.

Hampton said she is now using her celebrity status as a catalyst for change, as she formed a non-profit called Glam it Up!, which according to its website, aims to “encourage young girls in the foster care system to excel beyond their current status to achieve success in all areas of their lives.”

According to Hampton, she started the foundation so that young girls in the foster care system will know that they are loved and can achieve their dreams, no matter what they are, with the right amount of hard work and determination.

“Glam it Up! is my heart,” Hampton said. “That is something that I would do if I never in my life would be on TV again. I love it. That is something that I will always do, because I feel as though that is something that I can master. As in, the feeling of being a foster child, the feeling of being in a different home. I feel that I can relate to that child in the foster home.”

According to Hampton, past Glam it Up! events have included her taking the girls out to dinner, basketball games, getting their hair, nails and makeup done, and even etiquette and finance courses. She said she wants them to be more prepared for the real world than she was and ensure that they are on an equal playing field for success with the rest of their generation, no matter where they started.

“I just hope it gets bigger and bigger, I hope that people will get more involved,” Hampton said of Glam it Up!. “I hope that people will not judge me from reality TV, but would get more involved, because this is about our future. It is not about us, it is about them. I feel that it is my duty and one of the things that God put me on this earth for is to give back and help the foster care community.”

Hampton said that the foundation is currently based out of Atlanta, but it would mean a lot to her to be able to expand Glam it Up! to the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay areas, because that is where she got her start and the foster care systems that she grew up in.

However, before Hampton was in a place professionally where she was able to start this foundation, she said that her time at USF has a large part in her success.

According to Hampton, she never imagined college to be in her plans, as she considered a High School diploma to be achievement enough. However, it was her foster grandmother that pushed her and told her that she should continue her education.

“I applied at USF after junior college … I got accepted and got an apartment over there off of Bruce B. Downs, and it was just something that was exciting.”

According to Hampton, her college experience was unique and something that she cherishes.

“The only thing that I regret about college is that I wish I would have lived on campus,” Hampton said. “But, it was amazing to get to know people, I loved my professors, it was just something that was never in my plans. I went through a lot of turmoil and bumps in the road, but the day I graduated … it was the best feeling that I ever experienced in my life. That is how I knew that if I could do it, anyone could do it.”

Hampton said that surrounding herself with like-minded and goal-oriented people was a critical aspect of her time in college and one that pushed her through all of the tribulations that she endured.

Following Hampton’s time at USF, a friend living in Atlanta asked that she join her there. It was from there that she and another friend decided it was time to take their love of fashion to the next level and open a boutique.

“From me opening the Red Carpet Boutique in Atlanta, it opened doors that I never thought I would ever see,” Hampton said.

It was at her boutique that she met and styled a number of celebrities and individuals in the production business, including a RHOA producer and some of her future co-stars as well.

“NeNe (Leakes) came and shopped at the store before and so had Kandi (Burruss-Tucker) and all of the sudden there was a whole new door of reality,” Hampton said. “It was not something I really dreamed about, I always said that I want to be a talk show host or a news reporter. It has been now six years and it has been a very, very interesting experience.”

As for what is next for Hampton, she said that she will be appearing on the upcoming 11th season of RHOA and is exploring new business ventures a well.

“Right now I am excited as I am in the process of launching ‘Ari and Emma’, Ari is my foster grandmother and Emma is my biological mother.” Hampton said. “First we are going to launch sunglasses. There are a lot of other great things going on like my hair brand, called ‘Her’. I want every young lady to know that no matter your color, your education, you are ‘Her’.”

Hampton said that she is also working on a book that will go into a more detailed experience of her journey than she has spoken on before

According to Hampton, it is important that she stay true to herself and continue to strive for personal growth, including self-love, something that she hopes she can pass on to young girls who share a similar upbringing with her.

“My message would be love yourself and focus on you,” Hampton said. “When I wake up, I look in the mirror and I have a conversation with myself. No matter what the day brings you are going to be focused, you are beautiful and I love you. It is all about self-love. You have to pray, believe in yourself. Anything you can dream, you can achieve.”