Friday, July 26, 2013

This is what summer looks like

Girls Rising Ropes Course

Second group launches with Atlantic Street Center

Antasia and Viche (staff dream team leading DYVAS)

DYVAS on their way to the Youth for Justice Rally

Develop Your Voice And Speak (DYVAS)

First day at Girls Rising Group (for middle school girls)

Case Manager Frankie helps Riqua apply for a job

teamwork at the ropes course

Monday, July 15, 2013

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?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Highlighting superstar alumna, Miriam!

Powerful Voices is highlighting alumna Miriamwho was involved in one of our employment programs at age 16.  When Powerful Voices thinks of Miriam words like strong, dedicated, athletic, intelligent, spiritual, and independent come to mind. Read on to hear what she is up to now, how PV had an impact on her, and what she thinks about girls and the world!  

Miriam in 2010 (far right) with coworkers Sara, Jasmine W., Jasmine C., and CurDesia.

Where are you now and what are you doing?
Currently I am in college at Seattle University. I am studying political science with specialization in legal studies.

How did you get involved with Powerful Voices?
I got involved with powerful voices when I participated in an employment program with the Zine project.

What was your first impression of Powerful Voices?
I thought it was a good space for girls to discuss issues that affects us in our society.

Looking back, how did Powerful Voices impact your life?
PV was very instrumental to my life because it gave me strength to endure hardships affecting me. It taught me how to appreciate my self as a woman and that there is power in collaboration.

What is the best thing that has happened to you since being involved with Powerful Voices?
I learned how to work in a group and I finally got a positive perspective in feminism.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?
People might be surprised to know that I speak four languages.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
If I had a super power, I would like to see my life 10 years from now without experiencing the journey with its ups and downs.

What do you think are important issues affecting girls?
I think self- esteem is affecting girls in our society due to the media's definition of beauty. I believe that parents and care-takers of young girls need to begin affirming them as soon as possible to help them. So many girls are vulnerable to evils of society because of their quest for beauty.

What would you like to change about the world?
I would like to change the power the media has on girls’ lives.

What is your dream for girls?
I would love to see girls learn what true beauty is and to know that God created them in his own image.

730 days into the Girlvolution

Jane Hinton, with program alumna Cur'Desia 
Today, Powerful Voices welcomed a new cohort of girls into the DYVAS employment program.  One young woman showed up for work early (always a great sign!) and was sitting in our lobby when I heard a staff member ask her how she was feeling about her first day of work,
"Are you nervous or excited?"
"Both!" she replied.

I could relate.  On my first day of work, I felt so excited to be a leader at Powerful Voices, a progressive organization I could get behind both personally and professionally.  I was looking forward to connecting with the community who had built Powerful Voices into an award-winning nonprofit, where girls most affected by racism and sexism were empowered to create change in themselves and for others.  I was also nervous.  Who would I eat lunch with?  (Always a fear on my first day of work).  And how would I lead Powerful Voices out of one of our toughest financial years ever and carry out the ambitious strategic plan launched by the Board of Directors?

I like a challenge, and Powerful Voices gave me a place to grow myself, as I help girls grow in their own right. Next week, on July 18th, I will celebrate two years (730 days - and some days are longer than others) as the Executive Director of Powerful Voices.  I am proud of the work I have done with our board, staff, volunteers, donors and partners to strengthen Powerful Voices over the past two years.  We have held an unwavering focus on our mission, and seen the payoff as 500+ girls have graduated from our programs and gone on to participate as leaders in their schools, families and communities.   We have also seen a significant increase in community involvement with Powerful Voices.  2012 saw a record number of volunteers (96) give over 3,300 hours to empower girls.  In the past 6 months we've trained 100 new Adult Allies through our Girl Justice events and hosted our 4th Annual Girlvolution Conference.  We've embarked on new collaborations and sustained relationships with long-time partners, like King County Juvenile Detention.

This summer, Powerful Voices embarks on our next Strategic Planning process.  I am looking forward to hearing from our community as we envision what is next in or work to help strong girls become strong women.