What #InternationalLiteracyDay means for #GirlsLikeMe

10842219_879360018766665_8605117007551207422_oWe’re so excited about International Literacy Day!

Girls Like Me Project knows firsthand how reading can transform lives. In fact, we believe once a girl knows how to read, she has a passport to the world! In a book lies treasures and the key to unlock imagination. Reading, whether a part of school learning, leisure family time, or our book club, is a great way to connect girls to people, places and ideas which they may otherwise never encounter.

And while reading is a necessity for all, it is also a privileged activity far too many cannot take part. Exacerbating this, it s proven that illiteracy has a significant impact on the quality of life. For our girls, the impact is much more detrimental than their counter peers. Here are just a few ways illiteracy marginalizes our girls:

  • Teenage girls between the ages of 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty line and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than girls their age who can read proficiently. (SOURCE)
  • Illiteracy plays major role in disproportionate prison to pipeline of Black youth, including girls.

So, today while celebrating the magic of reading, let’s also raise awareness about the RIGHT for all of humankind to learn to read. Let’s raise awareness about the importance of quality education in neighborhoods across this country and in developing countries all around the globe.

GLMPI is encouraging mentors, loved ones and community leaders serving youth to lift up literacy and the importance of reading. Take some time to introduce culturally relevant reading material to the girls in your life.

Just for fun, we created an

#internationalLiteracyDay Poll. Can’t wait to hear from you, so take the poll now.

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.

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.

Pampered Power Talks 2014

561280_518759218160082_1807241337_nIt’s that time of year again! Girls Like Me Project Inc. is set to celebrate Women’s History Month in ways that educate and celebrate women pioneers, while inspiring and transforming the lives of today’s legacy builders.

Throughout March, GLMPI will profile a trailblazer who has paved the way for girls and women in fields of STEM, education and advocacy. Our intention this year is to introduce urban girls of color to STEM fields in ways that feed their ambition while opening their minds to opportunities beyond the typical gender-discriminate career options they normally encounter.

Beyond the WHM profiles, we are excited to present workshops for school districts and organizations that focus on legacy building; breaking barriers; and media representation.

GLMPI 2nd Annual Pampered Power Talks celebrates Women's History Month

GLMPI 2nd Annual Pampered Power Talks celebrates Women’s History Month

To culminate WHM, GLMPI will host it’s 2nd annual Pampered Power Talks where girls ages 11-16 will be treated to a day of yoga instruction, hand massages, manicures, facials, and empowerment talks from STEM professionals. Pampered Power Talks is scheduled for Saturday, March 29, 2014 at University of Chicago Carter G. Woodson Middle School Campus, 4444 S. Evans, Chicago, IL. 60653. For more information or to register your girls for Pampered Power Talks, contact 773-599-3490.

So, what are you doing to celebrate Women’s History Month? Any books you suggest for girls to read in connection to Women’s History Month?

We’d love for you to join GLMPI for WHM Tweet Chat scheduled 5p CST/6pEST/3p PST Sunday, March 16th. #GLMPIWHMChat

To book a GLMPI workshop for your students or youth group, click here.

More background on Women’s History Month and orgs who are celebrating:

Official Women History Month site

YWCA intentionally connects Black History Month and Women’s History Month

 

 

Chicago Girls stepping out for their Day

GIMPI Facebook Banner final with age

Once again it’s on! The world stage is set to celebrate the 2nd annual International Day of the Girl on October 11 as declared by the United Nations.

For the first Day of the Girl, Girls Like Me Project joined a collective movement to celebrate International Day of the Girl as millions of girls and women around the globe participated in the movement to advocate for, as well as, educate girls. From now moving forward this day remains a day to shed light on social and political injustices impacting girls.

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GLMPI was proud to host a local event to connect inner-city girls to this movement because so often their voices are missing from this international dialogue.

Like the fact that the face of sex trafficking victims are almost always foreign girls, when there is a prevalent majority of cases involving local girls as illustrated in this recent Chicago Sun TImes article by Mary Mitchell.

And there has been low attention paid to the increasing crisis of drop out rates among girls, which the National Women’s Law Center reports Illinois as having 22% of its girls drop out before graduating high school.

Or the discussion around the grave teen birth rate in Chicago which remains one and a half times higher than the national average.

And perhaps the most influential factor of all that needs actionable discourse, is that female characters are disproportionately stereotyped and sexualized in media popular with youth which feeds a vicious cycle of exploitation and paints a false portrayal and devalues what girls bring to their spaces.

This is why Girls Like Me Project, Inc. and our partners are committed to hosting another Chicago Day of the Girl event.

This year’s International Day of the Girl theme is Innovating for Girls’ Education.

Right here in Chicago, GLMPI is hosting 2nd Annual Chicago Day of the Girl: Stepping Out for a limited group of 150 adolescent girls ages 13-18. The free event is scheduled for Friday, October 11 from 6-9:00p at Pilgrim Baptist Church, located 3300 S. Indiana. The evening will feature community resource sharing, food, thought-provoking programming including performance by Ayodele Drum and Dance, spoken word by Def Jam Poet M’Reld Green interactive fun games, raffle prizes and giveaways, plus an engaging panel discussion, as well as intentional engagement with prospective mentors.

Here’s just a sample of the rhythm the night will bring:

Don’t miss out. Add this to your calendar and spread the word!

All attendees must register by October 5, 2013. RSVP by email to glm@lakeishagraysewell.com or call 773-599-3490.

We are thrilled about having Chicago girls step out and dream big for Chicago Day of the Girl!

Follow ##RoadToTheDayOfTheGirl for other celebrations across the country and around the globe!

Tell us what you have planned for Day of the Girl 2013….

Support us!

If you cannot attend but would like to support Chicago Day of the Girl or other GLMPI programs, feel free to make a donation and share the information with your networks.