If not sisters keeper, perhaps daughters protector?

photo-28

Before the world heard the names Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis or Tamir Rice, little 7 year old Aiyanna Stanley Jones was slaughtered as she lay asleep on her grandmother’s couch. The victim of a police raid gone fatally wrong.

But even if little Aiyanna would have survived, given statistics she would have joined the legions of her peers…little girls who remain living in the grips of American injustice that overtakes their Black lives like a vapor one way or another.

Another way… the way it descended on the innocence of a 4 year old baby girl whose quick trip home from the grocery store with her mother and bonus dad left her witness to a heinous murder. One where she sat in the backseat watching the blood spill and the life leave her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castile, who right before her eyes had been pumped with three bullets by an  “officer friendly” impersonator.  Out from that unerasable, ugly scene baby girl’s voice comes as a saving grace. She consoles her mother, Diamond Reynolds, “It’s OK, I’m right here with you.”

This is our truth. Our baby girls are right here with us in the thick of this war declared by those who seek to maintain white superiority. It is a war that has left Black girls in urban America as collateral damage. It pronounced itself when four little girls were bombed in a Birmingham Baptist church on a Sunday morning in September 1963.

Now given our reality today, I wonder if the world, including Black America, is ready to make a proclamation regarding Black girls. Although many don’t find it imperative that the sisters need keeping, perhaps we can now resolve the obvious… that our daughters are in dire need of protecting.

Because they are right here with us, psyches devastated from witnessing police brandishing guns, savagely beating and massacring Black daddies right before their eyes. Right here attempting to experience girlhood in the stranglehold of communities suffering with economic dehydration. Right here, where their innocent childhood is abbreviated by poverty and chaotic violence.

And while summits and conferences around the country may tout achievements made by some women and girls, the war to maintain white superiority has been waged with take no prisoners gusto on marginalized communities leaving everyone in its path is affected. It’s methodical strategy annihilates the fabric of order and peace. Its contexture weaves and intersects safe havens. So much so that a 6 year old, like little Tacarra Morgan, sitting on her front porch in the middle of a Summer day is left fighting for her life after becoming the latest victim of a turf battle.  

What is this new normal we are allowing for our baby girls? This reality of war where they very much imagine their life to be shattered by violence, to be introduced without distinction to the real life bogey man…some with badges, but certainly all with guns. Some endowed with license, some sharing bloodlines. Some in white tees. Many in tailored suits slashing budgets with pens dripping in blood.

We know the bad guys. No matter their uniform, each one culpable in the demise of Black girlhood.

The question is who is protecting our girls?

When will government create/implement policies that ensure the safety in urban communities? Which institutions that have benefited from generational agony will devise an economic plan to fortify the development of our girls? What level of investment will the privileged make for our girls to realize the promise of the pursuit of happiness? What commitment will family and neighbors pledge to their well being?

Answers must soon come. There needs to be an infusion of all of the above right now. Our girls, who by no fault nor default of their own design have been the outliers. Born below the scratch line, their chances for success debilitated.

Can we all agree that irrespective of assigned zip codes or the configuration of their social security numbers, Black girls in America deserve to experience the full promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I make the commitment. Will you join me?

Advertisements

PushOut Comes to Chicago

Flyer (1)Seems as if the weeks don’t pass when some form of schoolhouse trauma does not shake up the life of a Black girl. It is such a prevalent happening, and there seems to be no age limitations as babies as young as four years old are harshly reprimanded, punished, handcuffed, expelled, and at worst pushed into the criminal justice system straight from their classrooms.

From brilliant science projects to emotional breakdowns, Black girls are denied their right to experience their full humanity without becoming engaged with law enforcement. The most recent story we’ve heard is the case of 6 year old Madisyn Moore who was handcuffed for allegedly “stealing” a piece of candy from her teacher’s desk. And none of us can forget the atrocious sight of the video showing a “school resource officer” slamming and dragging a Black girl from her desk in Spring Valley.

Hard as we try, we can’t seem to remove from our consciousness the images of savagery committed against Black girls in classrooms across this country. And while those raw images replay in our minds like the latest cinematic thriller, sadly it is a reality far too many actually live through every single day. In fact, the African American Policy Forum released a report, Pushed Out: Over Policed and Under Protected which outlines the numbers of Black and Brown girls impacted by the systemic injustices that have stripped their humanity, leaving them to be treated like wild animals in the very spaces that are supposedly dedicated to their development and protection. This report gave way to the social media and online activism of #BlackGirlsMatter, which curates story after story of girls violated by the concerted efforts between school administrators and law enforcement.

My story is among them. Though my situations took place more than 20 years ago as a Black teenage girl, the trauma of yesterday connects me with girls like me who a generation later are further entangled in policy that  seeks to over-criminalize and under-educate them.

That is why when I learned Dr. Monique Morris would be visiting Chicago, I jumped at the opportunity to host a discussion and community forum for her book, Push Out: Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.

Girls Like Me Project, as a member of the South Side Coalition on Urban Girls, will host Dr. Monique Morris on Wednesday, March 30th at Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy, located 1060 East 47th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60653. Forum begins promptly at 6p. I am inviting you to join us!

Before we get the conversation going, check out the latest episode of Voices Of Advocacy Radio which discusses this very grave matter.

More about PushOut: Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

Book overview: Black girls represent 16 percent of female students but almost half of all girls with a school-related arrest. The first trade book to tell these untold stories, Pushout exposes a world of confined potential and supports the growing movement to address the policies, practices, and cultural illiteracy that push countless students out of school and into unhealthy, unstable, and often unsafe futures.

For four years Monique W. Morris, author of Black Stats, chronicled the experiences of black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged—by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris shows how, despite obstacles, stigmas, stereotypes, and despair, black girls still find ways to breathe remarkable dignity into their lives in classrooms, juvenile facilities, and beyond.

 

What girls do you see?

annuaual4thchicago-girl

As International Day of the Girl fast approaches, the focus on girls’ issues is being held up for examination. And rightly so. Girls all over the world face injustices directly related to their gender. Those injustices become much more perilous and detrimental to their development if they are poor and/or girls of color. The issues run the gamut from poverty, structural violence, sexual exploitation, stereotypes and misrepresentation in media, criminalization, limited access, health inequity, sub par to complete lack of education, obesity, and the list can go on and on.

All around the globe there is a movement to empower girls, and galvanize advocates on their behalf. Various institutional organizations have been able to attract heavy hitting allies and funding for their efforts. That support has also raised the profile of the girls they serve.

Still, there remains so many whose marginalized experience has now been marginalized from the global girls movement. The funding appears political, and the conversation seems to exclude grassroots voices. it is time for this to change. I’m hoping to influence this change my connecting the voices/narrative of urban American girls who face identical hardship, parallel to their counterparts on the other side of the world.

When United Nation’s resolution 66/170 declared October 11 as International Day of the Girl, it provided the perfect opportunity to work towards our organization’s mission, which is to partner with organizations and institutions to better navigate the negative stigmas and media messages that influence African-American girls.  Our power is in providing girls the tools that transform communities and foster global sisterhood.  

I am proud that we’ve been able to host Chicago Day of the Girl event since 2012 where we’ve connected more than 300 girls to the monumental purpose of International Day of the Girl. We get connect them to a global community that s otherwise distant and out of reach; celebrate and advocate for their success beyond the myriad of circumstances that stifle their potential.

In Chicago, our Day of the Girl is filled with fun! From cultural performances to spoken word and giveaways we make it exciting. Yet there’s the serious business of panel discussions and resource sharing.  Ayodele Drum and Dance will set the tone for us. She’s All That teen models will showcase women/girl designers. and so much more.

Here’s some video of previous years. And our FB page has photo highlights.

How are you celebrating International Day of the Girl where you are?

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.

1390635_791359160900085_2676085894225698668_n

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.

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.