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.

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.

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.

Finally…Girls Like Me Blog

I have been blogging over at iWritethewrongs for almost two years, before that on Blogger and before that on Myspace. Yet, none of the blogs were dedicated to my heart, my very reason for being; Girls Like Me.

But, Alas, finally a blog dedicated to the nuanced reality of girls like me. Dopealicious posts complete with vibrations from funky fresh videos and smooth pictures coming soon…

Are you ready?