Which Girl Issues Matter?

I hate to call this out, though I won’t apologize for it. Sadly this thing that is pressing me is centuries old. It is the thing that causes many good-hearted, well-intentioned, folks to glaze over and ignore the glaring hardship of others. It was the motivating factor behind the infamous, now known to be falsely attributed, Sojourner Truth quote. And though we are more than a century from the first National Women’s Rights Convention and suffrage movement, there’s still yet another generation who could rightfully beg the question…”Ain’t I a girl?”

Here we are in 2015, in the midst of a swelling, impassioned, global movement for girl empowerment. This movement is an appalled examination of the way girls are treated around the globe. It is a clarion call commanding attention to the majestic & transformational force girls can be in their communities if given the required developmental tools, most important amongst those are demonstrative love and genuine concern. The movement is a celebration of the greatness and resilience inherent in being born a girl.

Which girls matter?

As with most movements, while fueled by thousands, there are always a number of personal narratives held up to advance the cause. There are those whose faces and stories pull at the heartstrings to bring about awareness and connect with stakeholders, and those with the power to bring about the desired change. Oftentimes we find that that power translates into money.

And here is where we find ourselves in a conundrum. This tenuous space where women advocate for Black American girls heartily cheer for girlhood, and enlist their efforts in the fight for the equality and empowerment of all girls; yet the faces and stories of girls they fight for and alongside everyday are seldom, if at all, the ones highlighted or propelled into the public movement discourse. The stories and faces we do get to know seem to make their way to us from far across oceans. We become familiar with those from other continents through very determined and concerted efforts by those coiffed with power and access who are right here stateside along with us.


Somehow those persons of power and access appear oddly unfamiliar with the girls who are standing right on their same continent, in their same country…often in their same cities.  So we become intimately familiar with stories of child marriages in Uganda or sex trafficking in Sri Lanka; not the girls in Chicago and the other 13 American cities listed by the FBI as “high-intensity child prostitution” hubs. We know very well names and faces that connect us in a real way to the lack of access to education in Pakistan; but can’t identify personal stories of girls from the mass school closings in cities like Chicago which impacted mostly Latino and Blacks. The poverty narrative is well pronounced and easily identified with girls in just about any developing country, while muted are those who are living in nine of the worst food deserts. Chicago being chief amongst them cited by the United States Commission on Civil Rights as “
not simply a public health issue, but an urgent civil rights issue.”

blackgirlsmatterSo there remains the experiences of girls who come of age in the urban strangleholds of violence, poverty and systemic injustices within American cities but for whatever reason are left out of this powerful girl movement. They are disconnected from the conversation. The various reasons why that is are burdensome. Some quite suspicious.

We have to ask, is this movement inclusive of Black girls who hail from systematically impoverished American neighborhoods.? And if so, what is their role?  Is it simply to observe and fight for others, or do they get to tell their stories and have others fight for them, too? Perhaps they are to be treated (as we’ve seen) as mere footnotes and asides.

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I personally sought to include their experiences producing the annual Chicago Day of the Girl in observance of International Day of the Girl as designated as October 11 by the United Nations. Since its first declared celebration in 2012, we have connected more than 500 Chicago-area girls to this movement, ensuring activism and global sisterhood was our focus. The goal is to show girls that they are not alone in facing issues that debilitate their quality of life. That they can stand in solidarity with their sisters beyond their blocks and neighborhood, beyond their cities and their own country. This very grassroots effort, and others like it, need to be supported and embraced by all who claim to advocate for “all girls.” We need to provide a pathway for power brokers to look their way. To look and see the girls who have been left out and marginalized, whno are not traditionally associated with the illustrious, well-funded, institutionalized girl organizations.  Fund programs birthed in their communities by women who have found their way out and now selflessly serve on behalf of girls. See their need as a state of emergency and aid in the resolution of their issues.

And the list of needs/issues is long. We can choose from any of the those listed below to begin. Then we can consider the impact of incest/molestation which take on different levels of generational trauma in certain communities.

Finally after that, ask ourselves, is this important to me? How will I help.

The reality is, girls are living in the margins of our society in plain sight of privilege, access, prosperity, and quality living. They can see it, hear it, and smell it. Yet there remains a glass wall blocking them from touching it.

Let’s all break the glass!

  • Disproportionate school disciplinary actions and overcriminalization of Black girls as examined in African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality.
  • According to Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA), “Fifty-two percent of females’ commitments to IDOC youth facilities of 13 to 16 year olds were for offenses against a person and 35 percent were for property offenses.
  • The FBI labeled Chicago as one of 13 locations of “High Intensity Child Prostitution.”
  • Black children are more likely to have an incarcerated parent, and twice as likely to have both parents incarcerated.
  • Mainstream media has placed Black girls outside the realm of standard beauty, describing them as “less classically” beautiful and manly-looking.
  • Black girls are disproportionately dehumanized and otherwise portrayed in media as sassy, hyper-sexualized, and violent.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Commission on Civil rights reported that “the food desert neighborhoods are almost exclusively in African American neighborhoods. Therefore, the problem of food deserts in Chicago is not simply a public health issue, but an urgent civil rights issue.”
  • Based on the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) which monitors six categories of priority health risk behaviors among youth, dating violence is a serious issue for teens.  A staggering 18.5% of Chicago youth surveyed reported that they had been hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Rates are highest for African American girls, with 22.6% reporting that they had experienced dating violence.  Overall, this is a significant increase from the 2007 data.
  • A new report from The World Health Organization (WHO) landmark report, Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, reveals suicide kills more girls between the ages of 15 and 19 than any other cause—more than pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, road injury and diarrhoeal diseases.
  • Violence and misogyny are tantamount in media influencing and consumed by youth, which includes an overwhelmingly large female population.

Black Girls: The New Road Kill

Shock. Awe. Horror. Silence. Indifference. Fade out….

This is the cycle that has followed the unGodly findings of dead Black girls left on the sides Iof interstate highways in America. Our America. Where Black girls can be found brutalized, tied up, decapitated, burned, and viciously beaten to death yet yield only hushed whispers of wonder and taboo talk.

Two summers in a row four Black girls have went missing only to be found mysteriously dumped like road kill, yet the mainstream media has been almost silent with mediocre mentions. Black activists have not seemed to remember to speak their names when proclaiming Black lives matter.

Perhaps it is the clandestine and controversy tied to their lifestyles that has pushed these lives to the margins of our outrage and mourning. Last September, Angelia Mangum and Tjhisha Ball were found naked and bound together on a Florida highway. Now this June, almost a year later, Kayla Ward and Jasilas Wright were found within a few weeks of one another in Louisiana. Their lives stripped of tomorrow’s promise, their stories buried under the outrage for cases with the obvious, menacing targets. Drowned out by the rallying cry for justice in police and racially-motivated killings.

***Publisher’s note:***

Since this blog was published, more tragic incidents have been shared with us. In May 2015, two sisters, Antquonette Hale, 20, and Tahnaizja Smith, 15, were found dead in a vacant lot. Their deaths were ruled homicide.

Yet another tragic case made headlines when Shakiyla Young, Ce’onta Cretter, and Laura Green (all acquaintances ) met the same fate on July 19, 2015. One of the young women was found in a dumpster along I-70. The other two found in a car and on a front porch.

Unlike the Atlanta Child Murders of the 80’s, these despicable killings do not seem to signal a trend…not for national outrage nor retribution. No cry to demand these crimes are solved. That even in death their lives have dignity.

Even in the media spaces and platforms hosted/published by Blacks, there has been a downplayed coverage… if any at all.

A crowd-fund was set up to cover the cost of Tjhisha and Angelia’s funerals. Less than $14K of the total $18K was raised.

My simple question is: why?

Do #BlackGirlsMatter when our girls are misdirected? When their lifestyles aren’t so pretty and poised? Do they matter when they aren’t poster children for scholarships and academic dexterity? Do they matter when they haven’t tapped into their Supreme self?

When? When do Black girls matter?

i hope we lift our Black girls in life before death steals them from us. I hope we speak the names of all we lose.  Today, my sisters I honor your life. I speak your names. May we all honor them and find the answers to their mysterious and cruel deaths.

 

It ain’t college, it’s the real world!

It’s that time of the year… the glimmer and glam pave the way from prom to the pomp and circumstance of graduation as girls are marching beyond high school, off to realize dreams. And as a great number of our girls continue to march their way on to college campuses, far too often they do so guided by the philosophy that a college degree will be their passport to the real world. It’s true, a college degree does afford entry into greater opportunities. However, we have got to halt the perpetuating send off that says personal control over their livelihood is on hold until they return home from a 4 year stint of academic and social revelry.

The truth is,  without getting too deep into the metaphysical, the moment they leave home and have to make choices independent of parental direction or adult dictation, girls (or more appropriately young women) have stepped into their real world.

When I made my transition to college, I remember clinging desperately to lessons from the closest ideal of college life I had, the television hit show, A Different World. That show dealt with almost every possible issue a Black girl could experience on college campus.

Just like then, we should equip girls with a few key beliefs as they make their way in the real world. While A Different World is still a media resource full of lessons for our girls heading off to college campus, they also need a dose of reality. Here is a vital list of mind sets our girls must adopt when heading to college real world:

Be enterprising: tap into an innate gift and skill set to earn supplemental income while away at college. From fashion design, hair and nails, blogging, makeup, tutoring, photography there are tons of ideas for dorm room enterprise. This income can be used at their discretion to fund clothing and personal hygiene expenses; spring/summer break excursions; or general expenses. Furthermore, this is money that can be saved for major investments right after college. Think first home, relocation, car, stocks.

Be a conscious consumer: Never too early to learn this! But college is definitely an opportune time to harness power over the dollars young women spend. Take a critical lens to brands which attempt to influence loyalty without much accountability nor personal return. Look at the brands that support causes and community initiatives that are relevant to you as a consumer. And take special note of brands that offer paid interns to college students like you.

Have an open mind: There are millions of perspectives and viewpoints beyond what you were raised around. Be open to gaining new experiences and getting to know people from various backgrounds whose beliefs and perspectives may be completely different than what you are familiar with. Expand your perception.

Be intentional: There will be plenty competing for your time and attention. Everything from classes to social clubs to campus involvement. Be sure whatever you devote your time to is intentional and aligned with the goals you have set for yourself. Joining organizations, like a sorority, should be given careful consideration so that it is not about popularity or hanging out, but connected to your future career and community service goals. Even your travels and breaks should be intentional. Yes, it would be fun to party in Miami for Spring break, but remember you can gain some international exposure as well. Many universities offer study abroad courses; perfect for those looking to secure a career in foreign relations, global diversity, government, teaching, etc.

Be healthy! Your health is real from the moment you take your first breath, and it becomes all the more important with every new plateau you reach. The “freshman 15” is real…mentally and physically your body must adjust to its new environment. Weight gain, stress, new sleeping patterns all have an impact. Stay fit. Take advantage of your campus recreation and health care facilities.

Be protective…and selective! Take precautions to become familiar with your campus  AND surrounding areas. Being on college campus does not mean young women will be immune to real world risks. From natural disasters to sexual relations, young women MUST be prepared. Become familiar with emergency plan on school’s website. Know safe routes when walking alone or at night. Be aware of areas off campus that may pose risks such as robberies, rape, etc. Observe new acquaintances to see who is trustworthy, as well as to see who exhibits self love. Be wary of those who have destructive tendencies (drinking, drugs, bad study habits). Also, be proactive in your intimate relationships. Protect yourself. Remember STI’s and unplanned pregnancy are most high on college campuses. Dating violence is also a factor, so again be keenly aware of acquaintances and their behaviors. Have your safe stash with emergency money, condoms, up to date prescriptions for medications, emergency contacts and numbers.

A few websites to check out for safety:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

The SIWE Project

Planned Parenthood

Black Youth Project

Federal Emergency Management Agency

This list is just a start. What else should be included? What words of wisdom should our girls pack in their luggage heading to their “real world?” Share in the comments below.

Oh and just for fun, here are a few of my favorite “life-lesson” Different World episodes:

 

Study reveals African-American teens’ distinct online behavior

fotolia_76948368Pew Research Center just released a new report: Teens, Social Media, and Technology Overview 2015; which had a few intriguing revelations that can be used to help monitor and effectively engage teens.

Here are some key findings:

  • African-American teens are more likely to have a smart phone
  • Facebook remains most popular social media platform, especially amongst lower-moderate income teens
  • Girls dominant visually-oriented social media platforms
  • African-American young people more likely to use apps (Kik) to text, versus SMS

Along with these findings, it is helpful to understand what this study reveals about the social-economic and socio-behavioral correlations. Why are Black teens, regardless of income, more likely to have a smartphone? What kind of behaviors and messages are they sharing across these platforms? It is also imperative for teens to be aware and examine the findings and how they are relevant to themselves and their peers. It’s always quite an interesting conversation when I guide teens to examine these type of study results in my OMG: Social Media Mindless Behavior© workshops. So much of their behaviors are socialized and group think, watching them take a critical lens to their individual motivations can be empowering.

For many adults, it is just as imperative to know where our teens are hanging out online as it is in their physical lives. Being aware of their online habits and hangouts is a powerful tool in monitoring their behavior and keeping them safe. Plus it’s always cool to be in the know if your goal is to stay connected to them.

The full release can be found here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this:

Are any of the findings surprising?

Are you actively engaging/monitoring your teens online or is this a challenge?

Did you find this report helpful at all?

Institutionalized Orgs must embrace Black Girls Rock movement

Courtesy of Voices of America

Courtesy of Voices of America

It’s been a necessary declaration, yet starkly absent from our association since our ancestors were forcefully brought to these shores more than 300 years ago. It’s been covertly hidden in the white lie to the detriment of a Black truth. But thankfully since 2011, it has made its way to back into the light…a rekindling of a flame of sorts; a national movement and hashtag. Black Girls Rock! This is the mantra that has put a shine back into the smiles of little Black girls and has restored hope in the legacy of Black women. First as a philanthropic endeavor of Model/DJ, Beverly Bonds, it is now a nationally televised awards show which commands full attention on behalf of who? Black Girls!

And while this reclaimed pride has been met with some petty outcries from those who claim it as reverse discrimination and unfair to single Black girls out for affirmation, the movement will not be silenced. Although the outrage garnered its own hashtag, #WhiteGirlsRock, it can’t undo the entitlement Black girls now have to concepts of inspiration and empowerment.

Many have begrudged FLOTUS Michelle Obama, for embracing and yes, promoting the Black Girls Rock sentiment. Even while she is a mother to two Black girls. On the other hand, it was quite fine for Nancy Reagan to categorically single out Black children for her “Just say no” campaign. But that is another blog for another time.

Still, with plenty of cause to explain how ludicrous (and sad) that type of petty Black Girls Rock outrage is, Dr. Stacy Patton has already given thee best read of all time on the subject, so I won’t digress.

However what I am here to say is, it is high time for girl-serving institutions and organizations to do a self assessment and analyze if the execution of their mission has negligently hampered Black Girls’ individuality or ability to fully rock their Blackness. What does that mean? Often times, diversity does not involve intentional inclusion where Black girls are allowed to bring their whole selves into an organization that has traditionally served predominantly White populations.  They must dial back their voices and language. Their creativity is repressed. And it is not uncommon that they be punished (even criminalized) for expressing any range of human emotions that show anger, depression, sadness, or dissatisfaction. This is illustrated in the recent findings of the African American Policy Forum’s report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.

Not sure if this applies to you? Here are a few checkpoints to see if you need an initiation into the Black Girls Rock world…

  • Does your organization use culturally relevant materials, either as learning or marketing tools? Can Black girls of all walks of life relate to your programs? Do you showcase Black girls in ways that make them starkly obtuse
  • Do you provide opportunities for cultural exchanges?
  • Do instances of upliftment outnumber those of admonishment of Black girls?
  • Do you regularly have conversations around race that are neutrally moderated?

If you’ve answered no to any of the above, I offer you a passport into the #BlackGirlsRock world. For a full tour and guide, please follow @MrsgirlsLikeMe on Twitter. Also, check out Voices of Advocacy Radio for more tips and resources from our expert guests. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any successes OR any barriers you have encountered in intentionally engaging Black girls.

Courtesy of BrandNewz.com

Courtesy of BrandNewz.com

La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, is a nationally recognized urban girls inclusion advocate, media literacy expert and speaker, whose transformative programs and trainings empower girls to navigate beyond stereotypes to become global legacy builders.  She is available to facilitate faculty trainings on Diversity and Inclusion. She also facilitates media literacy and empowerment workshops for urban girls as a part of her Girls Like Me Project curriculum.

Mayweather’s baby girl and boxing out mean girl behavior

It seems no matter how much we insulate our virtual networking walls or the lengths we go to safeguard our online communities, this culture of Black girl aggression seems to penetrate. The latest viral infection is the video of Floyd Mayweather’s  daughter, Iyanna, in a school fight…well, it can’t honestly be called a fight as it appears she was jumped by various girls. Having that video show up in my timeline along with others like it pulls us back into the stark and unfortunate reality that our girls, no matter where they are, can find themselves pulled into this ugly world where violence is normalized.

As a mother and girls advocate, I instinctively felt compelled to reach through my computer and pull all involved into a sister circle to find out what caused them to lower themselves to physical fighting; to bring about a resolution. Hopefully the parents and school officials give the type of redirection and support that is desperately needed.

Yet, I understand the fighting itself is just a manifestation of a larger societal problem; the societal problem that exploits a mean girl culture of aggression and pain. I explored this very phenomenon with clinical therapist, Lisa Butler, on Voices of Advocacy Radio a few weeks ago.  Comes down to simple math, hurt people hurt people and the number of those hurting is evident in the staggering statistics of girls engaged in physical violence against other girls.

Still, moving beyond that we must question what is the impetus for these videos constantly making their way into cyberspace. What is the curator trying to share? Are they really conscious of the implications, both to the individuals involved as well as those who view the videos? Furthermore, why do we reward with our reposts, shares, and comments?

During my “OMG: Mindless Social Media Behavior©” workshops, it always intrigues me to hear how little girls think about the consequences of their social media culture. The shock they experience when they come to understand much of what they are engaged in online has criminal repercussions including harassment, accomplice to a crime, fraud, defamation, and aiding in suicide.

Sadly, by the time it makes it to my social networks, an adult has made the very poor decision to repost, which altogether sends a damaging message about appropriate behavior. Not to mention, when our girls are inundated with media messages that glorify gossip, yelling, threatening and physical confrontations as normalized woman-woman interactions; we are presented with an urgent need to have consistent and targeted conversations about media literacy and healthy interpersonal relations. We’ve obviously sunk to our lowest vibration when this type of posting makes it as a headline for online “news” outlets.

Too often this behavior is typical for teen spaces, be it school, community centers and I’ve spoken with several pastors of churches who have shared this same type of situation has infiltrated their youth ministries. So, the question remains: who’s having the conversation? Who are our girls looking to for their mirror?

Solutions:

  • Talk to girls about appropriate online behavior
  • Create peer-resolution councils to help interrupt conflict
  • Get passwords to ALL social media accounts
  • Check out Common Sense Media for more tips on teaching teens’ good digital citizenship
  • Become familiar with #BlackGirlsMatter and issues that impact Black Girls
  • Girls Like Me Project, Inc. offers the following workshops: Media is Not Your Mirror© and OMG: Mindless Social Media Behavior©

*This blog does not repost videos depicting violence of any kind*

Treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered

All I know to be my truest, most accessible form of power is my voice…my written voice especially. So tonight I write. Tonight, after yet another American police officer walks away with no punishment for executing a Black life. No punitive measures. No penance or reparation for extinguishing the flame of life in a Black child…all in the name of the law.

 

Yet, so many of us stand in anger and shock that a grand jury has delivered a decision of “no probable cause” to indict Darren Wilson, an officer of the law, for killing Michael Brown in the middle of a street in Ferguson, MO. Anger and shock, even after sworn officers of the law have not been indicted for choking Eric Garner to death in New York less than 30 days BEFORE Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson. Even after a grand jury excused the police officers who shot down John Crawford in an Ohio Walmart just four days prior to Michael Brown’s murder in August. Even as the murder of Roshad McIntosh and those of more than five Black boys were ruled “justified” homicides at the hands of Chicago police over a six month period. And even as tonight’s decision was read matter-of-factly less than two days after police shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice in Ohio and Akai Gurley in New York.

 

Even still…

 

Our anger and shock is understandable…on some levels. On the human/intellectual level, yes a desire to receive justice and live a life of absolute protection under the law is a basic one. As a part of humanity, it is expected that all life will be regarded above animals and fowl that are shot for sport…or out of fear. And when life is not regarded above animals and is instead mutilated, terrorized and hunted for sport out of fear and hatred, well that confounds all human intelligence.

 

Same applies on an emotional level…same applies. It’s understandable the desire to be held in dignity, respected and cherished.

 

It’s all any human wants. So it is understandable that the Black experience in America often is undergirded with complexities of disappointing pain and agony. It is the reason why even after we have endured, and dare I say survived, the atrocities of chattel slavery, domestic terrorism and lynching at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, murders of our human rights change agents, and modern day criminalization, we still hold out hope for protection and validation under the same system that designed all of the above.

But there are other levels… levels we surely must get in tune with to help us navigate these very dark and tumultuous times. Our supernatural “spirit” mind understands that all is in Divine Order. That there is a lesson before and a lesson in dying. When we understand this, we will then come to the real questions…what is the lesson? How is my life complicit and accountable to the lesson? We each were born for this time. Each one of us could have come through this life journey in a different time and space as an entirely different being. Perhaps we were and this is our do over… How will you make this time count?

It is truly hard to articulate all the jumble of emotion pulling on my nerves and soul. Trying to get it all out before I allow the tears to fall. Because I really must know my tears are not for Michael Brown. Nor for John Crawford. Nor any of those whose lives were sacrificed for the wicked ways of this society. And surely I know my tears are nothing compared to the tears that have watered the way our ancestors came. The path we are moving forward on, however painfully slow, has been stained with the blood of MANY of our ancestors. It is in this knowing that I dare not act as if this is the worst for us. I had better not bow and cry, and become so blind with misery that I do not acknowledge this is NOT our worst moment. When we know we have been liberated far less time in this country than we were held captive slaves. Acknowledge that we cry out and speak the names of Michael Brown in global unison with our brothers and sisters on continents across waters, something that could have never been done 80 years ago.  How many have died torturous deaths never having their killer’s face identified? How many have died screaming into the wind heard only by howling dogs and their killers’ wicked ears? Ida Barnett Wells traveled by her lonesome pleading the case overseas about the strange fruit hanging from southern trees in America, one dead Black soul at a time with her humble newspapers and chronicles. I better know it. You had better know it.

The Negro National Anthem informed us quite succinctly. The cost has already been paid.

People are demonstrating and organizing, building coalitions to effect change. A delegation of young people from Chicago have recently returned from addressing the United Nations about police brutality. We Charge Genocide documented their presentation and experience, another piece to the lesson to be shared now and throughout history.

So I will cry. I will feel my pain. And you will too. But let us not get it twisted that just because this may be the cause célébre of our lifetime, it is progression from that which our ancestors knew. And it is because of that truth, that we hold fast to the Almighty universal truth: we are here for a reason. What will you do with this moment? How will we move the needle forward? Use our history as our guide. The chains could not hold us. The dogs and the bombs could not cower us.

May we live through our tears.

Let us use our tears not for righteous indignation, but to water the way across for our future children yet unborn. And when we wipe our tears may we truly see the shining princes and princesses who are living before our eyes daily. May we mentor them. May we acknowledge them. May we love them.

There is yet work we all can do. Join movements:

Dream Defenders

Black Youth Project

The League of Young Voters

 

Follow on OUR news:

Ebony Magazine

Final Call

 

Follow other independent news sources

Democracy Now

The Young Turks

Use social media to get out POSITIVE & INFORMATIVE updates

Document your stories and experiences

We Charge Genocide

 Register and VOTE

Teach young people African American history…ensure they are making their connection to our past and present.

Remember your history

Take It Back: Huff Post Black Voices promoting Black girl “beef”

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One would think that there are more than enough instances of “bad girl” promotion and instigated “beef” between Black girls and their real or phantom “haters.” Just do a media audit, surely you’ll find an excess of lyrics and images blasting messages that insist on competition, superiority, gossip, and violence amongst girls. From reality TV to music (rap or a tune from your favorite pop divas), to videos and film. Yet, apparently staff at Huffington Post Black Voices  (a curated NEWS platform) felt the need to add their voice to the negativity and pit girls against one another when they posted a very baiting headline on their Facebook page regarding the new film adaptation of the musical, Annie, starring Quvenzhane Wallis.

"How Quvenzhane snatched the role of 'Annie' from Willow Smith?”

“How Quvenzhane snatched the role of ‘Annie’ from Willow Smith?”

 

“How Quvenzhane snatched the role of ‘Annie’ from Willow Smith?”

Really?!?

There’s no telling what prompted “Black Voices” to use such divisive, antagonistic phrasing as a headline. One can only deduce the reasoning is sensationalism, especially when the actual article, published in Playbill and written by Karu F. Daniels, makes no reference to any competition between the two girl stars. In fact, there is a very minute mention of Willow, simply saying she was originally cast as Annie. It also mentions her parents remain producers.

A moment of shining celebration for the history-making, Academy-Award nominee Quvenzhane Wallis was otherwise ceded to the mindless/heartless decision that could have a detrimental impact on the very tone in which our girls consume AND are portrayed in media. The post acquired more than 50 shares and stirred conversation on social media.

Several commenters, myself included, requested Black Voices retract the title and find more affirming phrasing.

I thought it practical that when brought to their attention, an editor or someone on staff there who is sensitive to the influence media has on our girls, their interactions and identity,  would realize how important it is to correct the wording. I even crafted a few recommendations as a  guide: “Quvenzhane Wallis Glows as America’s First Black Annie” “Willow Smith opens lane for fellow girl actors…” “Black Girls rock the big screen; make history…”

We’re still waiting for HuffPost Black Voices  to move in the right direction on this. How long that will be is anyone’s guess as the post has sat for more than 5 days and as of Monday, November 17 remains.

Why make this into a big deal? In a space and time when young girls are bombarded with messages that glorify them into “mean girl” behavior and the internet is saturated with fight videos where girls get a digital audience for taunting and provoking their peers, girls deserve responsible media to share their stories.

NOV17_blackvoices1

At the same time, as we so often have to all but conduct an anthropological dig for intentional language that affirms our girls, I did want to include here what the director says about Quvenzhane in the original Playbill piece:

“The people in the press have been saying, ‘Wow, there’s an African-American Annie, and why [would] you make such a change?’ and my response to that is, ‘This is an 11-year-old girl who has to shoulder the entire movie with her music, with her singing, with her acting. How many times in history do we have an 11-year-old girl who has been nominated for an Oscar? So we were extremely lucky that she was available and that she existed and that we didn’t have to find someone. ‘The Beasts of the Southern Wild’ found her for us, and we were really lucky for that.”

Perhaps those of us who work closely with girls are more connected to the impact media messages have on their development. This is why we encourage media to truly reflect on the way it narrates the reality of our girls and be mindful of how their messages are consumed.

What do you think, should Huffington Black Voices retract the headline? Should we be concerned about this? If so, how do we hold media accountable for influencing positive interactions among girls?

Thankfully, Essence magazine got it right!


Credit: Columbia Pictures Twitter

Credit: Columbia Pictures Twitter

 

Trick or Treat…Pseudo Independence Day Safety for adolescent and teen girls

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So it is Halloween. Many girls have outgrown the infatuation with dressing up as their favorite Disney character and going door to door with giggles and baskets in hand anxious to squeal “trick or treat” at every door that opens for their excitement.

 

And while the enthusiasm wanes as our girls enter middle and high school, they secretly hold a desire to “celebrate” and have fun in the name of halloween. Sans the parental sentry. Of course it is time to let them have this taste of independence. Which is why there must be due diligence in keeping safety a priority.

 

Here’s a little advice from Girls Like Me Project:

 

For adolescent/teen girls…

  • Choose age-appropriate costume. What is age appropriate? Take a look at Mighty Girl’s Girl Empowerment Costume Guide.
  • Have a destination: Identify what you want to do and find the specific address for the scene of your fun. Just standing outside, loitering is an invitation for trouble. (A few ideas: Go to haunted houses, amusement parks, adult-supervised house parties, community center events, church “Hallejuah” parties, after-school parties, hang out at the mall, go to watch a scary movie, host a spooky slumber party).
  • The saying, safety in numbers is true. Group outings are always fun AND keeps you with others who all can have your back if something happens. if you go with a group, STAY TOGETHER.
  • Let adults know exactly what your plans are. If possible, have an adult drop off and pick up. Carpools are cool, too.
  • If a group is known for troublemaking, make a decision to do only positive activity. Find an alternative group/activity.
  • Establish a secret code word for you and your parents to use in case you are in an uncomfortable/dangerous situation and need your parents to pick you up immediately. (dangerous situations may include: unwanted sexual advances from boys/older boys at your event; alcohol and drugs being passed around; guns/violence breaks out; police harassment).

 

DO NOT SNATCH CANDY BAGS FROM SMALL CHILDREN.

DO NOT GO IN VACANT HOMES/BUILDINGS.

DO NOT CAUSE HARM TO ANYONE.

DO NOT DAMAGE ANY PROPERTY.

DO NOT CONSUME DRUGS OR ALCOHOL

For adults and caregivers…

 

  • Make sure you know what your child’s costume is.
  • Know exactly what your child’s plans are.
  • Make the time to coordinate with other parents/caregivers about drop off/pick up.
  • Get the names and contact information of all parents of your child’s friends.
  • Establish a secret code word for your child to use if they are in an umcomfortable or dangerous situation and need you to come get them immediately

If you have any recommendations on fun and safe Halloween fun, please share in the comments. Also, please tag @GirlsLikeMeProject in your halloween fun pictures on Instagram. Follow us on Twitter, too! @GirlsLikeMeProj

Enjoy the night and be safe.

By the Grace of God…Here I am!

1459215_10201816861135154_1471421347_nIt’s hard to pinpoint any instance in particular, but this latest tragedy of violence that has taken the life of yet another child in Chicago has to be one of the most senseless and illogical. Endia Martin, a 14 year old freshman at Tilden High School was shot to death as a result to an argument over a boy with her former friend, another 14 year old girl. The argument apparently involved some cyber cat-fighting and eventually played out on a south side street that is all too familiar with gun shots and hopelessness.

While more than 50 children have died by violence this year alone, it is not typical to hear that the suspect is a teen so young…definitely not a girl. This is different. But is it really new?

Like so many, I too have asked the question of just what in the world transpired that would cause a 14 year old girl to shoot her former friend. Is that hate? Is that anger directed at an individual? How much vitriol disregard can you truly have for someone who just months ago you were cool with (in adolescence rationale).

You begin to research, to make a personal connection to the children involved. You hear family anecdotes and friends’ reflections. Facebook photos surface. More questions.

Then you remember what your life was like at 14-15…

This is my story.

I remember the fall day like it was yesterday.

It’d been a long week. Another day walking the halls in a school I abhorred…sitting in classes with only one other person who looked like me, in front of teachers who expected nothing from me, and amongst peers who (in my mind) were so simple (they all believed this stupid bogeyman perception that kids who grew up in the “city” were extremely poor and  deviant. Too boot these “suburban kids were the poorest materialistic folk I’d ever met) it all  felt so pathetic. I only hung out with seniors.

Just as in previous days,while passing one another in the hall I’d  bumped shoulders with my arch nemesis…she liked my boyfriend; and truth be told I know some colorism was at play on both our parts. Too bad for us that on this particular day, my tolerance was on empty. She walked past my locker as I was talking to my boyfriend and made a snarky remark. I told her I was going to fuck her up. Oh yes. No filter… I had a potty mouth and could hang with the best of drunken sailors. We argued on the bus ride back from our predominantly white suburban school to our all-Black suburb. She got off at the first stop. I remember thinking. Okay. Good. I don’t feel like fighting anyway and really just want to go home. But when I got off at my stop (about 3 blocks) I see her and a group of instigators running towards me yelling my nickname (which became infamous against my desires). Oh shit. She is still on this b.s. Okay, she want a fight, a fight she is going to get. I ran home, dropped my book bag at the door, ran into the kitchen got a steak knife and dashed back up the street. She was still there talking big stuff. I let her swing first, then I popped her one good time… then landed a couple of more. The knife connected right below her temple.

I saw the blood. Instantly I felt remorse….I said I was going to fuck her up, but I didn’t consider her blood. All I could think was that I fucked up. I don’t remember what happened…if I walked to the police station that night  myself or if the police came to school the next day (maybe both).

Court date came and went…don’t even remember how I plead but God’s favor was all over me. Case dismissed (I think). But that would not be the end of my woes for the two and half years I lived and attended school in the suburbs of Chicago. Other scenarios filled my teenage angst. I loved NWA and had my mother confiscate my cassette tapes (which I dubbed from friends). I constantly mouthed off to racist/prejudiced teachers and got detentions and suspensions. And more fights…mostly 85%  not as the aggressor.

But that doesn’t matter. Aggressor or not, fighting is still fighting. And in the heat of the moment, especially when weapons of any kind are involved, can end with someone seriously hurt. Or dead.

So I can understand why so many question what leads our girls to this behavior, what is going on today? I keep in mind the times long ago but not far away when even before I moved out to the suburbs and lived on the Low End of Chicago, it was pretty common to hear of girl fights involving locks and box cutters.

WE look at these girls’ Facebook pictures today and question their parents’ involvement and guidance…their morals; yet I can attest to being a girl throwing up gang signs OFTEN, my mother even found a picture of me on a bus full of SUBURBAN Black kids, all “gang banging.”

What I know for sure is this…there but for the Grace of God here I am. Today I am an advocate for urban girls who are growing up in similar environments as me and in a time when NOBODY seems to care about their very being. When the only time Black girls matter is if it is an exotic story from a world away. This is a time when not even the school house can be a refuge full of teachers who fight tooth and nail to educate and give life to your full development. This in a time where local politicians sell out kids for a dollar or even at a price as low as a handshake from the mayor. Today guns  pass through U.S. customs and land in the hands of 14 year old girls in economically stifled neighborhoods but never make it to their polar opposite neighborhoods…even while obscure people like Bin Laden can be found in caves or missing planes can be tracked to ocean floors across the world

See folks LOVE to play the righteous role…like their whole life has been an angel’s walk. Not my story.  lovnd and own their place as change agents in this world…I choose this work over a career that could easily yield me $60K+ a year. This work that I am lucky to earn $10K  a year. Why?

Because I remember. Because they are girls like me and I know what they can be IF we invest in them making it to the other side, successful, wounded healers bettering their community. Feeling loved. Being love.

Stop judging our babies. Stop treating them like they are just another headline or case study of the day. They are still yet babies with a whole lot of growing up to do. See their value. See how you can increase your value by investing in them.

Please. There is no future that we do not nurture.

*I had completely come to a different understanding of my worth by my senior year of high school. I avoided physical conflicts. I spent time with productive friends who had ambition and dreams. I was ALWAYS surrounded by a loving mother/grandmother/father/stepmothers, extended church family….this all made a difference.