I sat in a room with ten other Black women retelling stories about the challenges of collective work with other women; the personal struggles to balance our needs with the demands of our families and friends; and the importance of support for our impending journey. This discussion, a teamwork activity, prepares us as Girl Exchange Leaders for the 2014 Uniquely You Summit.
Five years ago, Shaleah Laché Sutton, Founder and President, created an annual platform for 500 middle and high school girls to speak freely about self-esteem and discovery, sisterhood, leadership, colorism, abstinence, sexual accountability, and academic success. The summit nurtures girls into becoming their best selves through interactive reflections and auditorium presentations from prominent Black women such as Being Mary Jane creator-Mara Brock Akil, actress & humanitarian-Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Rapper-Eve.
Black girls are in peril. Shaleah affirms,“Our girls struggle and suffer because we don’t share our stories. By sharing our stories, we send a message to young girls which says, you don’t have to make those mistakes because I already did.” According to the African American Policy Forum:
1) Black girls have higher incidence of emotional difficulties than others girls-“67% of Black girls indicated that they felt sad or hopeless for two or more weeks straight, compared to 31% of white girls and 40% of Latina girls.”
2) Despite the decline in teenage pregnancy, the pregnancy rate of Black teens is still twice that of White teens.
3) Philanthropic efforts, which often support social service for marginalize groups, dramatically differs between Black boys and girls. “Over the last decade, over 100 million dollars has been invested in achievement, dropout prevention, and mentoring initiatives exclusively targeting Black and brown boys. During this same period, less than 1 million dollars in funding targeted Black and brown girls.”
4) In 2010, the homicide rate among Black girls and women ages 10-24 was higher than for any other group of females, and higher than white and Asian men as well.
5) According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black girls’ suspension and expulsion rates were higher than any other group of girls and higher than white and Hispanic boys.
6) Many studies have documented the long-term consequences to high-school dropouts, which are greater for Black girls than for Black boys. “For example, a Black woman who has dropped out will make about $7,000 less a year than a high school graduate, will be more likely to need welfare support than both female and male peers, and children of women who drop out are more likely to drop out than children of male dropouts.
For Shaleah and the hundreds of Black women supporting this movement, Black girls’ suffering ends with telling our truths. Often, our tales are limited to accolades and triumphs, but Black girls need inspiration rooted in our shame. They need us to be vulnerable and to uncover those experiences we keep close from judgment. “Our accomplishments are great, however, it distances girls from relating to us. How can you reach girls if they feel you’ve never been through anything?” Shaleah insists.
Vulnerability requires fearlessness. In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown* asserts, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Vulnerability is shedding your mask. Letting the world see you. Will you be fearless and speak for Black girls?
Here’s three ways you can align with what the UNIQUELY YOU SUMMIT instills in all its girls-a Beautiful, Brilliant & Brave state of mind:
1) Be Beautiful: Your life experiences crafted the woman you are today. Share how you overcame a difficult situation. Submit a story to For Harriet.
2) Be Brilliant: Use your skills to influence a young girl or her family to attend the 5th annual UNIQUELY YOU SUMMIT for Girls at Georgetown University (Registration closes August 30th).
3) Be Brave: Sponsor a Girl. Every year hundreds of girls write essays explaining why attending the summit is important to them. Imagine if you had such an event in your youth. Will you forgo a $55 pair of ALDO shoes to prevent one girl from being another statistic?
Let’s use our voices and resources to heal our girls. They’re counting on us!
*Earlier in 2014, Dr. Brené Brown donated 21 books of Daring Greatly to UNIQUELY YOU SUMMIT’s ‘I AM’ Leadership Series, which seeks to promote leadership and activism among young women.
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Photo Credit: UNIQUELY YOU SUMMIT