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June Simmons Barrow believes in friendship and the unbreakable bond created between women who share similar goals and aspirations.

Barrow, president of the Girl Friends Buffalo chapter, says the same loyalty and love that was present when the founders of Girl Friends came together remain the major focus of the organization of African-American women.

"It all started in 1927 during the Harlem Renaissance over a pot of stew," she said. "Eleven women who were on their way to college decided to form a group so that they could stay in touch."

Now, 75 years and 43 chapters later, Girl Friends has developed into a national organization with more than 1,400 members.

This weekend, Barrow and 25 members of her chapter are hosting the Girl Friends' 68th annual convention in Adam's Mark Hotel.

"Look at how sharp they were," Barrow remarks while pointing to black-and-white photos of young African-American men and women dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos. The photos are from 1961, taken during the last conclave to be hosted in Buffalo in the Statler Hilton Hotel. Since its inception in 1951, members of Buffalo's chapter of Girl Friends have been involved in a number of community projects. Among its projects is a literacy program at School 17.

This year, the Girl Friends scholarship fund will award six scholarships to African-American students across the nation.

"Our major focus is friendship, and building strong relationships between African-American women, but we also work hard to make a difference where we can," Barrow said.

To date, 26 scholarships have been awarded to high school seniors in need of financial aid.

Members of the Girl Friends are handpicked and usually include the daughters and granddaughters of current members.

"Friendship is important for everybody," said national president Nola Lancaster Whiteman. "As African-American women, it provides us with the support that we need to be all that we can be through the good times and the bad."

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