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.

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Happy Friends Happy Teen 

Pharrell Williams’ hit song, Happy, may have been on to something. Recent findings from an on going study says beyond exercise and a healthy diet, a network of happy friends can enhance a teen’s lifestyle.

 “Depression itself doesn’t spread, but a healthy mood actually does,” he says. The study found that teens with a strong group of friends not suffering from depression — described as a “healthy” mood — had half the probability of developing depression and double the probability of recovering if they were depressed.”
The study is being conducted by National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health.

More findings shared via CNN. To read full study, click here.

Here are a few Girls Like Me Project tips for fostering Happy teen networks:

  • Host teen-lead events
  • Sponsor teen days/outings
  • Create happy circles via group-mentoring 
  • Lead team building activities
  • Encourage social networking, include safety Ed.

The Red Nose…not quite Rudolph. New X-Rated teen dance

Sitting in my hairstylist’s chair discussing the state of girlhood and the double plight of not only mentoring, but raising adolescent /teen girls, our parenting chat took a left turn that left my mouth hanging wide-open. Simply aghast, I sat listening to her hip me to the latest teen dance craze gone viral. It’s called the “Red Nose.”

Now I thought, surely with a name like that it had to be something innocent…you know considering Rudolph playing reindeer games with his red nose self.

Uhn Uhn. No such luck. This has nothing to do with Rudolph. Think more like a red nosed pit bull which is a breed of a dog, which in turn lends to the “doggy-style” inspired dance.

First of all, the fact that teenage girls as young as 13 know anything about “doggy-style” is just too problematic for words. Secondly, that some would be so bold as to record themselves and post videos on YouTube for the world to see all this stank is further proof of just how influenced they are by the ratchetness they see in music videos and reality TV.

Now, I simply refuse to post the videos…and there are plenty out there. But in my opinion it is child pornography. I ain’t going. You’ll have to find them for yourself.

What I will do is encourage you to have conversations with your girls…constantly. Don’t get caught slipping. Ask questions. Listen to their “girl talk” with their friends when you are around them. Monitor their media intake. And most importantly, talk candidly about media messages, find out why she is interested in certain content and how many of her friends share the same interests.

Just last week I conducted a media literacy workshop during the Girls On Fire 2013 Conference hosted by the SouthSide Coalition on Urban Girls (SSCUG), an alliance of girl-serving organizations on the south side of Chicago convened by Demoiselle 2 Femme. In three classes comprised of 45 mostly Black and Latina girls, they shared their top television programs. They were Bad Girls Club; Love and Hip Hop; Real Housewives of Atlanta; Guy Code; and Spongebob (seriously).

When I asked what were the main themes for each; fighting, sex, alcohol consumption, competition, confrontation, and more violence seemed to be common across the board (not as much with Sponge Bob although they broke it down that he and Patrick have disagreements…I was lost. lol)

Still, I shared with them some findings from Children, Media and Race: Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic and Asian American Children. They were shocked. they felt cheated and angry. They couldn’t understand why some things so accessible to them are intentionally monitored for their white or higher income counterparts. Why no one is standing vigilant over the messages that influence their development and socialization.

It’s true, no amount of advice, wisdom, parental sentry will keep our girls from being exposed to the red-nose nor all its kindred pop-culture funk. They’ll see videos, hear deplorable and degrading music, pore over high-glossed sexist magazines.

Yet if we equip our girls with the tools they’ll need to critically examine those things, while also providing positive alternatives, they will resist the stereotypes and reject media norms that promote bad, self-desructive behavior. More importantly, if we, adult women, set out to BE who/what we say we want our daughters and the girls in our lives to be, the less likely it is for them to use the media as their mirror.

I know it’s heavy stuff raising our baby girls. Here’s a little help for you:

Bring a Girls Like Me Project media literacy workshop to your girls

Common Sense Media provides tip sheets and latest family media research

Watch this powerful documentary with your girls Missrepresentation the film

Mentor a young girl in your city

So please share, had you heard about this Red Nose? Ask your daughters and share their reaction to this new dance. How do you monitor your child’s media intake?

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.

More than tears for Heaven


I cried today, as I seem to do many times when watching local news here in Chicago. But today the sorrow is deep and far-reaching as news outlets around the country report on 7 year old Heaven Sutton, shot from a coward’s bullet while she played near her family’s candy stand on the city’s west side.
This hurts.  And it should hurt us all. Yet it does not as many have become desensitized.I think of what this young girl’s mother had in her heart for her baby girl to give her such an intentional name…Heaven.

Many will hear the story and not recognize their connection to little Heaven. Some will distance themselves from the tragedy either by virtue of their zip code, occupation, race and/or class. So often we believe if we just “avoid” certain areas and types of people, we will live to see another day. We believe that. Maybe there was a time when that was true…not today.Perhaps this is what pierces my spirit the most: The saved and sane amongst us have done such a thorough job of maneuvering the maladies of the ghetto like an elusive NFL  running back. We move out to suburbs; keep to the “safe” part of town; disassociate from neighborhood folks; enroll our children in “good schools”; socialize in trendy leisure watering holes; lock our car doors and roll our windows up then avoid side streets, taking the expressways to navigate point A to B.Still, left behind are the innocent ones just trying to live life they were born into and play where they live. You know, just being kids.

When I heard the headlines stating the victim’s name, age and neighborhood, I prayed it was not the precocious child I met just two days ago who’d enrolled in my summer program on Chicago’s west side, also named Heaven.  Even after seeing it was not her, no relief came to me. Only tears for Heaven.

Like my own daughter whenever we head to our home in Englewood on Chicago’s south side, little Heaven begged her mother to move from her neighborhood because of the violence. See she too wanted a life of affirmation. I can imagine her “when I grow up…” declarations. Not surprisingly, she had the dream of most children to visit the magical world of Disney. But we have robbed her, and so many other little girls and boys, of that possibility.

How are you included in the “we?”By simply ignoring the cancer eating away- infesting our community and families.

At times like these you want to sympathize and pity the victim’s family.  Spout visceral language, wishing ill-fate to befall perpetrators who snatch lives and run to hide like spooks. You want to point the finger and give blame a face and name, look anywhere but at ourselves.

Yet it was while watching the news, to my utter amazement I found myself nodding my head in staunch agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who audaciously asserted, “This is not about crime, it is about values.” When further pondering who could shoot into a crowd near innocent, playing children, he searched out “Who raised you?”
That’s it. Here’s our mirror moment. Nobody is helpingraise our precious babies any more. Too many are “minding their own business.” Not long ago, even as late as the crack-pushing Reagan 80s our community raised us. It is not airing dirty laundry to tell how people of African descent (Blacks are included for the new post-racial folks) were nurtured and raised in the village concept. Nosey neighbors existed to tattle and correct wayward children. Present fathers and uncles rounded up all the knuckleheads for sports. Sassy mothers braided any little girls hair and doled our freeze pops to any child within 50 feet of their home. Cool aunties taught us how to dance. Experienced big sisters kept us safe. Teachers set expectations and vehemently reinforced them. Dedicated church deacons disciplined like biological parents. The Mother’s Board and church ladies emphasized decorum. And dignity and values were common practice.And I’m not romanticizing. Was there deviant and criminal behavior back in the day? Most definitely. But bad behavior knew its place, and it certainly was not to be demonstrated out in the open near children and innocent by-standers. Nobody said, because little Kenya’s mother is working late it’s okay for her to run up and down the street with no supervision. Even if little Chris’ father wasn’t around, the fathers who were did not exclude him. Everyone took responsibility for everyone. There was and remains a role for each and everyone of us.  Without any of us ever pulling a trigger, if we continue to deny and shirk from our roles and responsibilities in this fight for our community’s values and ultimate existence, little Heaven will become an inexhaustible statistic.

Speaking of statistics, according to the Chicago Tribune, Heaven became the 20th child under 17 to be killed by gun violence. Let me instagram that visual for you… that would be an entire classroom of students. Get the picture?

Also included in the number is 16 year old Shakaki Asphy who was shot in the chest while visiting a friend earlier this month. She died. Unarmed. Sitting on a porch. 
Are you outraged about that? Don’t we owe it to our children, those born into circumstances through no fault of their own and with no resources to change their present reality, to live free and unharmed?Hate to admit it, but generations before dropped the ball in some aspects, many succumbing to drugs (using and selling) or that integrationists’ all-mighty, ever intoxicating American-Dream that if only you become a success  you can escape the hood that raised you and prosper…
Still, no matter what has or hasn’t happened in the past, it’s time for my generation and beyond, the Xs Ys whatever you tag yourself, it’s time to  take it back to the block. Attending to our professional development and networks is a beautiful thing, but when senseless violence stifles the dreams and makes life a nightmare for the children coming behind us, we can’t side step that.

I’m fed up. I really am. Time to take it back to the block. If you’d like to join Windy City CARES Circle of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and Girls Like Me Project, Inc. to organize a peace movement here in Chicago, please email your contact info.

Other ways you can help end the senseless violence are:
  • Become a mentor to youth in your community: So many are involved in self-destructive lifestyles due to lack of positive engagement. Your experiences and interaction can offer a life-saving alternative.
  • Report Crime: Time out for the “no-snitching” creed. Criminals are brazen because they are confident no one will tell.
  • Fight against gun violence
  • Educate: Share history (personal and universal) that gives young ones some cultural context and relevance. When you know better, you do better.
  • Dedicate your blog to gun violence prevention
Let’s not only shed tears for Heaven. We owe our lives to all those lives trying to survive the America they know and we want to forget.