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.

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:

Fly Girls & Globetrotters

Photo credits Salvatore Vuono

Growing up, girls like me reign supreme in our concrete jungles. Our landscape is complete with storefront churches and rib shacks; vacant lots; its where chain linked-fences serve as a gateway to play lots filled with broken glass, discarded and burnt-out crack pipes amid haphazard swing sets; cars drive by with the booming system pumping our soundtrack. We run and we play, we pretend and fight, we jump double Dutch and sneak to grind with boys behind school lots. Society labels us ghetto queens. And here is where we reign supreme.

In this place, though, is a homegrown love that is connected to something so deep, it surpasses the memory of time. The inherent rhythm and soul of our domicile has been swept across continents, spread on rich and thick all over the Diaspora. We’ve transplanted the spirit to create little African villages and Spanish Harlems amongst ourselves in urban cities. It is so real, we “ghetto queens” are right at home…never imagining feeling so content and supreme anywhere else on the planet.

Thankfully, public libraries are also found nestled on our blocks. And for me, libraries became my world expansion. In fact, it was one of my favorite television programs, Reading Rainbows, which promised me I could go anywhere if I just read books. And so I did. I read and read and read books of fiction and especially autobiographies. Anyone willing to share their story bound up in a book I read. I stowed away with Maya Angelou to go west with her from Stamps, Arkansas to San Francisco, and then moved as an ex-pat in Ghana. I traveled with Malcolm X across northern Africa. Never mind what my birth certificate stated, I was right beside Zora Neale Hurston in the everglades of Florida, shaking my skinny legs in Haiti, and writing in a Harlem flat. It took a lot of courage for my young self, but I braved the horrors of lynch talk and went with Ida B. Wells to speak truth to power.

I hated to put my books down. Reading was not just a reprieve it was my window to a future of hope and possibility. Don’t get me wrong, navigating my way through the ghetto (the PC term now is urban America) I encountered powerful women. My childhood church home of Pilgrim Baptist Church connected me to beautiful and intelligent women who were legacy builders; like Mrs. Bernadine Washington, one of the first Black female radio personalities on legendary WVON. Senator Margaret Smith sat in a pew of my church every Sunday. Jackie Vaughn lead fights for labor equality and loved all the children with a passion. The principal of my middle school, Mrs. Yvonne Minor was not only beautiful to me, but her vision for what we could be and where we could go BECAUSE we were ghetto queens lead her to invest in us and regularly bring in living examples of women who also grew up girls like me. They too shared their stories of the places they’d been and what they’d accomplished.

Because of all these things, I knew where home was and the invaluable comfort of its terrain. Still there was much more out on the horizon and I owed it to myself to see it. And to an extent, I have.

I’ve been a few places, Los Angeles to live as an intern when I was 21; Washington D.C. to visit Howard University and then a few more times as an activist and for business; New Orleans to participate in a bowling tournament as a teen then later to party for Essence Festival 2011; Oakland for A New Way Forward; New York for family leisure and then again on business; Indianapolis to visit my paternal grandfather’s family—on a whim he’d strap my sister and I in the back seat and hit the road in the middle of the night; Salt Lake City, Utah; Detroit and Lousiville, Kentucky for more bowling; Memphis for family vacations and later on business; Daytona, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale for fun in Florida Sun- Busch Gardens was awesome; Las Vegas was my most grand trip of all, I stayed a week in luxury at the Encore/Wynn; also Atlanta-which is easily one of my favorite cities outside of my ghetto queendom of ChiTown.

While my travels have introduced me to different sights, they only serve as variations of the same thing. With the exception of my excursions to Jamaica: Montego Bay, Ochos Rios and Negril, I thirst to be exposed to cultural history, a deeper, spiritual connection to birthplaces of our soul. I have dreamed of the days when I would be able to make real journeys to the places I have read about, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia, Morocco, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Brazil and so much more. I envision the stories I will be able to share with girls like me sitting in libraries today dreaming up their own futures.

Today I have a blueprint to realizing my dreams. Not only can I still read the books, but there are real life women who are my peers, and some younger, who are globetrotters. I was ecstatic to discover The Women of Color Travel Project, which shares inspiring stories from women who live intrepid lives full of adventure and bold living.

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit one of the cofounders is my personal friend and shero Zahra Alabanza. Zahra has been everywhere! Biking from Chicago to Detroit, building and giving in Haiti, backpacking in South America, documenting children living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Her journeys are powerful! I love living vicariously through her!

Of course there are more stories like Zahra’s. The Women of Color Travel Project will allow us all to share cultural exchanges. If you travel or know any other women of color who travel, please submit your stories. There are so many lives waiting to be powered forward through your testimony….just with a passport and backpack, girls like me can truly be fly! I cannot wait to see little girls sitting in libraries and reading all about you in the Project’s companion anthology.

So tell me, where have you been and where do you plan to go? What are your travel recommendations for girls like me?