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.
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Where do we go from here?

The World's Fallen Angel, Hadiya Pendleton
The senseless murder of Hadiya Pendleton finally captured the attention of the nation. Heartbreaking and tragic, her death attracted thousands of mourners to her home going celebration. The sanctuary filled to capacity included First Lady, Michelle Obama; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and a host of “dignitaries.” There had to be a designated standing-room only overflow section, while still hundreds more lined the street outside to pay their respects. It was a ceremony fit for a princess…our sweet angel Hadiya was laid to rest in a royal purple gown, her high school band playing for her ‘til the end.

Initially, outrage and frustration at the lack of urgency in response to the senseless violence taking the young and innocent from Chicago as well as countless urban cities around the country prompted me to ask How many dead Black Children does it take to get a Sandy Hook response?

And the Black Youth Project started a petition to summon President Obama to come home and deliver a speech on gun violence. garnering more than 45,000 signatures, the petition seemed to have worked. POTUS will be in Chicago on Friday, February 15, 2013 to answer the call.

If we know our POTUS, we know the man is eloquent with the wordplay. His speeches can ignite the most stubborn will, inspire hopeless apathy, and challenge the harshest critics. This is what we come to expect from the 44th President of the United States.

But what happens after the speech.

Where do we go from here? It is commendable for BYP to demand POTUS address gun violence, yet we know all too well that what has cost us the lives of so many of our young children is much bigger and drastically more complex than gun violence. For the last time all eyes were on Chicago for the brutal murder of one of our babies was in 2009 when Derrion Albert was beaten to death and speeches were given, funds proposed. No gun play involved in that heinous homicide. In fact, let’s really look at the crime stats of homicides in Chicago. Lives are taken by those wielding deadly fists, knives, boulders, pipes, sticks, and yes guns.

See gun violence is symptomatic of the myriad of social issues infiltrating the poor Black and brown neighborhoods of Chicago. Systematic injustices designed more than 50+ years ago are now manifesting. It’s a spider web of oppression which has turned in on itself.

So yes, the POTUS should definitely come to Chicago and hold up the mirror to our nation…force us all to peer at the ugliness racism, segregation, forced evictions, criminalization, war on drugs, unemployment, failed public education reform, and host of human rights violations that our governments sanction with failed policy after another. Gun violence, then, should be but a fragment of the conversation.

Still after we gaze purposefully in that mirror, how about we come back to the table with intentional change. There needs to be a federal commission to research and investigate what causes urban violence in concentrated areas of our major cities. The answers won’t be so pretty and neat, I can guarantee.

Then there absolutely must be infrastructual supports in the form funding for jobs; recreational zones; urban youth development.

A major component that absolutely cannot wait is support for mental health prevention/treatment. Our babies have been through trauma! Living under siege of gun fire where a walk to school can result in death of you or a friend; seeing blood splatter from a body sprayed by gun fire on your corner? Can anyone deny our children are dealing with PTSD?

And then the people. Our people. Those who have lost sons and daughters to the madness. The victims….and the perpetrators of crime. The everyday people.

It is time to be our own vanguard. It is time for us to build our own institutions with education and culture at the forefront; where every Black youth-serving organization/agency synchronizes and collaborates to bring about effective and SUSTAINABLE investment. We are overdue to reinstate the village concept where every stable minded adult is mentoring and nurturing at least one young person outside of their immediate family. The time is now for churches to move their private “classist” ministries (undercover social clubs) from within the four walls of their “sanctuary” to the streets. The clock has struck on the hour for the college-educated business folks to show up at work in the community. It is high time our academia with its scholarly debates to move the dialogue beyond the college campuses and lecture halls to the classrooms in the hood. Time for mothers and grannies to practice tough love. And we are almost out of time for fathers to repent and restore their homes.

The alarm is ringing!

Don’t ignore, or else you will soon answer that dreadful call saying this time it has touched your household.

Please, let us not allow this child’s life to have been in vain. Let her death be the catalyst that shines light through the oppressive fog we find our community today so that we honor all of our children, the fallen and the survivors.

 

How many dead Black children does it take to get a Sandy Hook response?

Hadiya Pendleton, 15 years old. Shot and killed by senseless gun violence in Chicagp

Hadiya Pendleton, 15 years old. Shot and killed by senseless gun violence in Chicago

Do you remember? Remember when you were young and carefree? Think back on how excited you would have been with an early dismissal from school into warm weather and a park nearby. Remember wanting to just cool out for a minute, hang on to the laughter and silly antics of  your friends before heading home to chores and studying? Time travel to the time when life was so full and promising, back when you had the zeal and energy to really live it?

How old were you back then? When did that all end for you?

Well for Hadiya Pendleton 15years old was her time. A baby really, just getting her taste of life’s promises. A scholar attending King Preparatory High School on the south side of Chicago. An enthusiastic student, a member of her school’s volley ball team and it’s band that just performed at President Obama’s Inauguration, a trip to Paris on the horizon as a part of an exchange program. Young and carefree, yet it ended much too soon for Hadiya. Her young life snatched just as she was getting to the good part; her life counted in the number of children whose lives have been cut down before they could really fully create a memory.

Could we all please stop and really imagine what it must be like to send your child off to school and the next time you see them they are in a body bag? Pause to connect how it must feel to have your friend killed doing the very things you take for granted? Each one of us had better take a moment to get a full understanding of the trauma our kids face and how it is manifesting in their lives. Time for us to get a clue!

In America, land of the free and home of the brave, your zip code dictates your life worth. As I pen this post and watch the Senate hearings on gun control, I am reminded of the scene from the movie, Boyz In The Hood, where Ice Cube’s character, Dough Boy says “…either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”

That was just a movie. But apparently art imitates life. During these hearings they continuously refer to the massacre at Sandy Hook. Congresswoman Giffords testifies about how gun violence has ripped apart her life. Law enforcement officials share statistics and plead on behalf of domestic violence victims.  They have even interjected into the hearings breaking news of a shooting in Arizona. But no mention of Hadiya nor the hundreds of young children in urban cities who have lost their lives to gun violence.

I had to laugh to keep from crying when a news break came on to report a man  has lost his life in an unseasonable tornado storm… Another report on a girl half way around the world in Pakistan who was shot in the head and is receiving a titanium plate….

Meanwhile, here in our own country, within one month of the atrocious murders of 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, legislation has popped up across the country and a specific “Sandy Hook Bill” proposed in our Federal government. Let’s not forget the relief fund for Sandy Hook victims/survivors.

Yet, for the more than 600 children slaughtered across the city of Chicago in the last five years, nor for the thousands slain in the urban cities across this country, there is no national outrage or grieving.

And for that, America should be ashamed. It begs the question: how many dead Black children does it take to get a Sandy Hook response?

Rest in peace sweet Hadiya.

hadiya-pendletonOur children, our battle:

Please “like” the R.I.P Hadiya page her  friends have created

We can’t continue waiting for the calvary or a super hero. These are Black children and we must fight this battle for our babies. We need a movement! What will the movement entail? I don’t know…

Some are calling for a boycott of Chicago until the City approaches this epidemic with urgency. That means no tourism, no shopping on the peaceful Mag Mile; which by the way is less than 10 miles away from where our children live under siege of gun fire and oppressed by failing schools. Still others call for Marshall Law. And then there is our mental healing. Obviously we need the counseling and therapy centers that the State of Illinois closed to be reopened. We need clinical therapists in the schools.

One immediate solution to heal what is killing us is mentoring. Please join National CARES Mentoring Movement, Inc. and mentor to save more lives. 

I have gotten lots of call, texts and FB messages for people on the ground ready to organize. Let’s go!

And if you are not in Chicago, please refrain from the sensational tweets and comments and HELP! Come out and get to work. Contact our Mayor and/or aldermen.

As Susan L. Taylor so passionately reminds us, “The village is on fire!” We need our people to to put it out.

Girls Like Me…so official!

There are no words to capture the emotions that have swept me up this morning. I do know I’m feeling supremely elated and humble all at the same time. I have wept tears of pure joy, fell to my knees in prayer and rejoicing. Shouted out Glory in my empty house. It was almost like I’d had an outer body experience when I saw myself doing this celebratory fast jog in place…I’m so excited! Why? You ask…well on this day, April 26, 2012, something that I have devoted my life to for the past 3 years has elevated to the next level…The Girls Like Me Project is fully incorporated as a not-for-profit in the State of Illinois!

This moment reminds me of only a few other major life events like giving birth to my children. But then too it is akin to my wedding/marriage. Although I have been dedicated to empowering Girls Like Me through workshops, book clubs and advocacy work for a few years, today is the day when that work gets the solid, legal standing, a position for expansion and influence. Just like my wedding day, I had dated my college sweetheart since I was 18, committed to our love but our wedding day was a day of joy as we continued building the foundation for an institution. This feels the same.

Still there is this critical voice of mine who always whispers to me, that girls like me are small time, not major league. Even as I type, a voice of criticism is sneaking in saying “people establish 501c3’s everyday, what’s the big deal.”

Well, the big deal is that this was the vision I set for myself to actually accomplish in 2012. It was one of the first things to go on my vision board. Today is yet another indication that what we believe for ourselves truly manifests, that if you speak your desires the universe will guide you to it.

Then there is this divine order that answers you and sends you every single person/circumstance you need to BE the Higher Power you claim to believe in…the universe gives you the chance to live in that power.

Why am I so ecstatic? Well because again, this is only one of the visions I have for Girls Like Me, ahem I mean the Girls Like Me Project ( I have to get used to saying that, after all, that is the official name). If this is any indication of how dreams come true, the rest of my visions are mind blowing—world changing. Now I’m in position to play the game.

This shifts things majorly. For instance a grant I was chosen for had to be diverted to a fiscal agent simply because I was not incorporated. Resources can now go directly to benefit programs that serve hundreds and eventually thousands of Girls Like Me around the globe.

And when I think of how far I’ve come, the little, skinny feisty Black girl who has been speaking up and out against injustice since I could talk, often times misdirected until my early twenties, can now empower my daughter to begin advocating for herself at a much younger age than I, with proper training and organizing. She will influence  her generation.  I can give my baby girl a legacy, start her out as the inaugural President of the Junior Board of Directors for GLMP, trained and set to lead an institution.

The things God has prepared are beyond this world’s understanding. So I silence my critical voice and embrace this major milestone and say YES to the universe. Thank You Most High for divine order, grace and mercy.

Oh and what would accomplishments be for a Girl Like Me without the famous shout out moment? Shouting out my husband, my other half who lets me go out in the world to be fearless only cause I know he’s got my back. I don’t have to spend my days doing anything I don’t feel serves my purpose because he provides my safety net. My Granny, who lived 86 long years, for making sure I understood the power of God. And my momma who loved me ferociously, acknowledged my voice and fed my spirit of independence. And my Daddy who was my first safety net, believing in my dreams and paying the price for them. lol

So many more people to name, but I’m too full to think clearly.

Thank YOU for reading this blog, commenting, retweeting, and liking. I hope we stay connected through this journey!

Stay tuned for more information on how you can support the Girls Like Me Project, Inc.

For now just keep me in your prayers…and bring the Girls Like Me Project to your school or youth organization.

Moving forward to serve, heal, transform Girls Like Me all over the world.

I’m not a Nicki Minaj fan on any level, but this song sums it up: