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.

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.

No Shame: Recovering

I have a story to tell. But it hasn’t always been easy to share. I’ve never quite felt comfortable enough to see the discomfort, the fidgeting, fleeting “let me out” look that inevitably crosses Black folks’ face whenever the subject of mental health comes up. Don’t get me wrong, we love to laugh at “crazy” people and pay nice money to hear comedians poke fun at the pain (often their own) mental health carries with it.

See if we venture into an intimate or serious conversation about a personal experience with mental health, you’d swear you just opened up about a secret sexual fetish. Then folks start avoiding you, or treating you with kid gloves. I know it because I’m guilty of this behavior myself.

So… yeah. I’ve been hesitant about letting folks in on my story. But today I am so very grateful for The Siwe Project for providing a safe and empowering platform to project, exchange, and ultimately gather some virtual hugs and resources. Kicking off National Minority Mental Health Month, No Shame Day with all its outcomes is imperative to healing and whole ness of our entire community.

Not many people know that I suffered from post-partum depression. That was 12 years ago before there was so much “supportive” articles and testimonials. Still from what was out, almost none of it was reflective of my experience as a young African-American woman in the ghetto. That’s just real. Post-partum depression was seemingly reserved for white, middle to upper-class, stay-at-home, new mommies. Culturally, and reinforced in mainstream media, I got the message that I was not privileged enough to claim this as my mental health status.

But there I was, 23 years old, a mother to a 16 month old son and a newborn baby girl. I’d completed under grad while 6 months pregnant with my oldest. The plan was to nurture and dedicate my life to him for two years then head back to grad school. Well, obviously my plan didn’t mean a thing to the Universe. I had other lessons to learn outside of classrooms and lecture halls.

Without taking you the long way, let’s just say dealing with shame of being an unwed Black mother (hubby and I hadn’t taken our 5 year college romance to the matrimony stage yet); on public assistance; notwithstanding having a useless degree and grad school pushed out of my immediate sight left me feeling defeated. Add to that all my friends were finishing college; pursuing Masters or ambitious careers; partying and doing what young,vibrant, attractive twenty-somethings do. Me, I was changing diapers and rocking out to Elmo’s World. I found myself clinging to my sanity, feeling guilt and self-loathing for selfishly wanting my old life back. I had two very beautiful babies and their awesome father. Why was I feeling so down and deflated?

I didn’t even recognize that I was sinking deeper into a depression that only allowed me to nurse, change diapers, bathe, read bedtime books and do well-baby check ups. I neglected myself, did not style my hair, only hopped up to shower right before their father was scheduled to come home, then cooked. Except through very brief and reserved phone conversations, I removed myself from socializing with my friends and family. No one seemed to notice.

My one saving grace was my granny. Funny I didn’t realize it at the time, but she knew. She’d call me everyday to check in. Her sage wisdom let me know she’d been there before…with seven children I’m sure she had.

Not to mention, around this time it seemed as if more women’s magazines began dealing with depression in Black women. I recognized my symptoms and the fighter in me jumped back into the ring. I began writing feverishly; poetry and short stories, life mapping, and planning out my career steps. Soon I was teaching, subbing at first and then a full-fledged classroom instructor. My first students, the 6th grad class at Oakdale Christian Academy and the kitchen staff gave me life, “fattening me up” for my wedding gown, praying with/for me…just watching and counseling.

Magically music also helped me recover: Brandy, Faith Evans, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Billie Holiday, Anita Baker, Nina Simone, Angie Stone… No exaggeration that their music saved my life.

Later on, maybe a year or so ago, my father said something to me that prompted me to embrace the fact that, outside of post-partum, other factors make me susceptible to other forms of depression. He told me to take note and reflect on the behaviors of other family members, both paternal and maternal. Sure enough, I see “crazy” people. Now, ease up and don’t take offense I only use the term “crazy” because that is the one word our community seems to use to categorize anyone who displays ANY mental illness, no matter how big or small the issue. We lump all of our loved ones in the crazy pile, or come up with zany conclusions like, ” you know somebody slipped her/him a Mickey,” or “you know how those (fill in the zodiac sign) get.” What about the famous, “everybody’s got one in the family.”

The point of the matter is that living in this society, especially for girls like me who face an exhausting, often debilitating amount of tragedy and hopelessness, depression is a very real occurrence. So many, like me, go undiagnosed and self-treat. The danger in that is our self-treatment or self-medicating leads to alcohol and drug use or other destructive behavior including violence and the extreme, suicide.

So here I stand proudly sharing my story in support of The SIWE project, proclaiming No Shame.

You can also check out all the #NoShame Day posts, vlogs, podcasts, etc. here

Follow this brilliant movement on Twitter

Like the Siwe Project on Facebook

Let’s also remember our literary genius, BeBe Moore Campbell, who authored 72 Hour Hold after learning her daughter, Maia Campbell battles a vicious form of mental illness.

Do you know anyone who has dealt with depression or other forms of mental illness?