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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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.

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

 

 

Summer Hot Reads

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Whether a parent or teacher, if you have had to spend more than 30 minutes in the presence of an adolescent girl, I’m sure you’ve heard these words…”I’m bored…” or “It is soooo boring…” or “It’s nothing to do…”

Well, there is no better time than the “nothing to do” days of summer to encourage our girls to lose themselves in a book adventure.

If getting them out of our hair is not motivation enough to put a book into their hands, perhaps realizing how an unfocused summer can pose a threat to their development will be the reason.

While it is certainly a time for leisure and relaxation, summer is also the season when children from disenfranchised communities experience a detrimental loss of learning. In fact, The Center for Summer Learning shared a report which states young people can lose up to 3 months of learning during their summer vacation.  Irrespective of income level, if young people are not as academically stimulated during summer as they are during the school year, they will not retain what they ended the school year knowing.

That alone is reason enough for me to compile a Summer Hot Reads reading list for Girls Like Me… that and my absolute love of reading. Now I admit, I have a selfish motive, too. I mean, for me there is nothing more appealing than sitting curled up with a book in my hand. I want so desperately to inject the reading bug into all girls…after all, I truly believe reading is power.

Still, not every girl will independently choose turning pages over uploading pics to Instagram, creating dancing vids for YouTube, giggling on stoops and porches with their friends, or hanging at the air conditioned malls. Yet, I am confident if we add some engaging, culturally relevant titles to their reading elixir, they’ll be captivated by stories that hold a space for characters they identify with and connect to.

So without further ado, here is the GLMPI Summer Hot Reads reading list (updated June 3, 2015):

5-8th grade

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia 

The Skin I’m In, Sharon G. Flake

Standing Against the Wind, Traci L. Jones

The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland

Last Summer with Maizon, Jacqueline Woodson

Girls Like Us, Gail Giles

8-12th grade

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rayla 2212, Ytasha Womack

Ship of Souls, Zetta Elliott

Cornered, an anthology edited by Rhoda Belleza

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Upstate, Kalisha Buckhanan

Assata: An Autobiography

Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood

On the Line, Serena Williams

The Other Side of Paradise, Staceyann Chin

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

To make sure girls are getting the most out of their reading experience:

Have girls perform scenes from their book! Or record an video summary and upload to YouTube like like this one:

  • Reading is a great activity to share with you the girl you mentor! Make visits to the library a part of your engagement time.
  • And be encouraged to start a book club with a few of the girls on your block, or youth members of your church/community center.

Happy reading!

P.S. Please share any other hot read recommendations in the comments. Thanks a million!

Love Taps: A Game that never was

Photo credits: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot

Do you remember those old ladies from long ago? You know the ones who butted into your business and corrected you even though they didn’t know you or your parents? They sternly, but lovingly, gave you their unsolicited two cents about your words or behavior, daring you to go and tell your mother? Those nagging old ladies who you wished would just mind their own business and let you act a fool out in the streets away from your parents’ watchful eye…remember them?

I have to admit…I have turned into that nosey, nagging, old lady.

Maybe it’s because I spend an exorbitant amount of time surrounded by young people. Could be because I’m a mother myself, and so my antennas (in my Katt Williams voice) are sensitive to certain mannerisms and behaviors that somehow are adopted by children as proper behavior.

But when you spend so much time with children, you watch…and listen. You’ll see them mirroring behavior that if allowed to become habit will lead them to less than desirable lives. Not on my watch. I refuse to let a child slip through the cracks and BELIEVE it’s okay to be wayward and wild.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Ms. Crabtree-nitpicking at every little thing kids are doing. For instance, my 8th grade son was in front of his school talking to his buddy whose back was to me. My son saw me walking up, and a sly smile slid across his face. I wondered what nerdy conversation they were having (I proudly believe my son and his friends are nerds. Cool nerds, but nerds nonetheless. That is a wonderful thought to me, but I digress). Lo and behold when I get within earshot I hear the most explicit language coming from this boy’s mouth. I mean he used the worst racial slur, he had a couple of four-letter words in there and some multi-syllable ones for good measure. My son at this point is cracking up when his friend turns to see me and is totally shocked. I just give him a look as he throws his arms around me and tries to play it off. Awkward moment for sure.

In this instant, I don’t nag or lecture. Cursing, while definitely not actions of prideful gentlemen, it is also not a gateway to the penitentiary. Heck, when I was their age I could curse better than any tavern-goer. I was a pro. So that offense called for a mere reminder to choose words that you would be proud for your mother, friends’ mother, or any adult to hear because you never know who is near. Besides, I told him, use words that tell people how smart you are, that language is for small minds.

See, I’m not a meanie.

But there are some things I absolutely have zero tolerance for. Because let’s face it, some of our babies demonstrate behavior (the PC term is “at-risk” behaviors) that you can scope out their future in just six short years. Baby momma; juvenile ex-offender; recipient of a restraining order… you get the picture.

One thing I absolutely do not tolerate is physical “play” between boys and girls.

For some reason, hitting, pushing, pulling, slapping, and choking are passing as “play” among the children. When I see it, I can’t help myself, I pounce into action to redirect and point out how detrimental that type of “play” can be. I know where it can lead to: someone gets hit and then gets serious. The playing is no longer funny because hits become “real.” Also what I know is that most domestic violence cases start from situations like this.

Yet here is the real jaw-dropper. More times than not, the incidents like this that I’ve witnessed have been girls hitting boys. Almost all the time. This incenses me. For one thing, where are they learning to use their hands to communicate with the opposite sex? I rarely see girls hitting each other or slapping their girl friends, they save that only for “playing” with boys.

In fact, what prompted this post was a recent scene at my children’s school. An 8th grade girl (13-14 years old) turned toward the young man she was walking beside and landed a real quick slap to his face. I wasn’t sure if her hit landed or if my eyes were deceiving me, but sure enough she did it again, and again. The boy’s reaction was disturbingly reserved. My mind was racing with all the things wrong with the picture. Why is this child hitting this boy like she is manic? Why is he allowing her to hit him in his face? How is this acceptable behavior less than 50 feet from your school in broad daylight with teachers, parents and classmates around? And more importantly, what will happen to both of them if he decides to retaliate?

From the look on his face I knew my worst fear wasn’t unfounded. I jumped from my car and stepped in. The young lady (or maybe more appropriate to call her little girl) caught much attitude and tried to front me off (I’m giving away my age, I know). I didn’t go in on her, but I def let her know her behavior was NOT cool. That it was completely unacceptable. I also intend to follow up with the administration, as chair of the school’s community engagement/school climate committee, I’ll propose workshops on teen dating violence for students AND parents. Oh, baby girl should trust, it’s not over.

See my biggest issue is 1.) girls get trapped into this cycle of violence simply from a place of seeking emotional validation. Being hit (for some crazy reason) is seen as showing affection or love. It only escalates as they get older so they are involved with boys who also have the idea of affection twisted 2.) boys are taught not to hit girls, that that is a most egregious offense. Yet when they are being hit, no one steps in to advocate for them or to reprimand the girl.

My mind gave a lens into a potential future for this child who hit this boy, left on the side of a road in the dark of night with black eyes and busted lip abandoned and victim to her boyfriend who she has played hitting games with since she met him. The residual shame, physical and emotional wounds will not heal easily and could follow her into every relationship she ever has. It will reach her children, and the cycle continues.

I also see the future of the boys who play these games. That rush of adrenaline and aggressive testosterone will over take him while his buddies tease him about being hit by a girl or a girl fronting on him, the need to “check” his playmate/girlfriend, until his actions have him spiraling out of control in a rage that leaves his play mate in serious condition and him locked away in a jail cell.

This is real.

This is why I do not tolerate anybody, male or female, putting their hands on others. It is not the way to play.

Hitting games…homegirl don’t play that!

Am I being too extreme? What are your non-compromise zones for youth/teens?

Did you know:

  • Across CDC studies, 15-40% of youth report PERPETRATING some form of violence towards a boyfriend/ girlfriend
  • Perpetrating dating violence in adolescence increases the risk of perpetrating violence toward a partner in adulthood

Are you around teens? Recognize the signs…

Click here for research and stats

Check out more teen dating facts from CDC

Raise awareness- February is National Teen Dating Violence Prevention & Awareness Month