What are you holding on to?

First, let me say that there are a lot of voices out there writing some really important analysis, observations, calls to action and more - in reaction to the verdict in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman.  Second, let me say that I am writing this as a white woman.  I am not Trayvon Martin.  I am not a GIRL.

I live with the privileges of my race, my ability, my class and with the sexism, homophobia and heterosexism of being a queer woman.  I can tell you a hundred stories of people taking me for a "nice girl" or a "friendly face" and asking for my help or over-sharing personal stories with me.  I can tell you stories of unintentionally passing as straight and I can tell you stories of pretending to talk on my cell phone or gripping my keys as I walk to my car alone.   I can not tell you about a time when someone viewed me as a threat simply based on my race and perceived gender.  If you asked the girls that Powerful Voices work with if they can tell you about a time, they can.

Okay, enough context.  I get caught up in context a lot.  Here is what I want to say:  I work at Powerful Voices because I want to be part of an organization that not only helps each girl achieve her dreams (important, but individual change) but because we also work toward creating systemic change.

Waking up Sunday morning, I felt so disheartened.  The verdict in this trial brought me face to face with the reality (again) that no matter how hard each of you and each of us and each of the girls try, in the end the achievements of youth are taking place within institutions that were not historically designed to help them succeed.   And this is why we must do more.  We must re-commit to supporting girls and the community to work together to promote equity and make the world a just place for everyone.

I've been re-examining my white privilege, my intentions, how I benefit from institutional racism.  What I've found is there is this thing that I like to be able to say.  It motivates me.  I say, "Yes, this horrible thing happened and I am proud to be a person helping to make the world a better place."  I like to be able to plant my feel firmly in the ground and build deep connections with people, so we can take on changing the world together.

Today, I got up.  I put my feet on the ground and I looked around.  I looked at Powerful Voices and remembered that we are developing adult and GIRL leaders who have skills like creativity, a growth mindset and interpersonal skills.  These leadership skills are developed in tandem with awareness of inequity based on gender, race, class and other forms of discrimination. And here's what makes Powerful Voices unique: we don't just give youth opportunities to better themselves. We facilitate opportunities for youth to become activists. We believe strong girls will become strong women, but they don't have to wait to be women to change the world.  In the safe space of a girls group, 8th grade girls examine the role of power and privilege in their own lives and life-long social justice activists are born. Girls' voices are amplified through the publication of the DYVAS Zine and Girlvolution Conference, after our staff and partners work with them to develop a critical analysis of societal norms and hone skills to challenge bias, prejudice and inequalities in their lives. Through Powerful Voices, girl leaders inspire others to take action.

And not just any girls.  As former staff and all-around amazing woman, Charhys Bailey shared with me,

"While Powerful Voices works with girls of ALL races/ethnicities/nationalities, we work with predominantly Black/African Diaspora youth. Through this work, there is a new feminism emerging and it's coming out of these girls' communities. We are already seeing it in the voices most prevalent in social discourse around feminism and intersectionality of oppressions, today. Role models such as Black Girl Dangerous, Spectra Speaks, Crunk Feminist Collective, Sistah Resista, Clutch, etc. The point isn't necessarily the zine, or the workshop, or the girls group. It's what these girls are going to end up doing later on in life that I believe will blow our minds."

So now, I am holding on to the transformation that happens when a girl finds her voice.  I am holding on to the memory of a girl speaking her truth to hundreds of people.  I am holding on to the Girlvolution.  I am holding on to Adult Allies and Girl Justice.   I am holding on to the thousands of Powerful Voices' alumnae who are out there in the world, using their powerful voices, stepping away from apathy to engage their communities and become leaders within the same institutions they survived.  I am holding on to our Powerful Voices' community of volunteers, staff, donors, fans and girls who take the time to have tough and personal conversations about race, class and gender.

What are you holding on to?

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