Growing up black in America is a uniquely challenging experience, and growing up black and female is even more of a challenge. To really thrive in society we have to learn very early on how to be the keepers of our joy, name, value, and of our life’s possibilities.
Many people will never forget the day Don Imus used his radio platform to call a group of young black female college students “nappy headed hoes,” and it has only been a few months since a young girl faced expulsion from school for donning her natural hair. And, most unfortunately, many black women can relate to how deflating it feels to have their intelligence questioned in the workplace or in a school setting because of both their gender and racial identities. Yet, these are just a few of the difficult realities our young black girls must be prepared to tackle.
I have made it my mission to help young women combat this nonsense by designing and implementing a self-esteem building workshop for teenage girls called “Like a Fortified City.” The name of the workshop is inspired by a city in France where in the 3rd century A.D the Roman occupants erected walls to protect the city from attacks. I let teenage girls know that their self-esteem must be so strong that it functions like a fortified city so they can brave the elements of a society that can make them question their self-worth and capabilities.
My job as facilitator is to provide a space where teens can speak openly and honestly about their feelings and experiences, and to create a dynamic educational environment that provides them with the knowledge and foresight to mitigate the effects of negative messaging on their psyches. During the workshops we first learn the story of Saartjie Baartman, a black woman who was exhibited as a freak show in 19th-century Europe. We immediately follow this by listening to explicit versions of popular songs to examine how misogynistic messages, often promoted by their favorite artists, impact their lives.
Some argue that messages in music and pop culture in general have no real influence on our young people. However, if that were true then popular figures would never land huge endorsement deals, teenage girls would not constitute the demographic of women investing in fake behinds, and I would not have teenage girls in my workshops who believe that expensive designer digs determine their value.
While the workshops are a great benefit to teenagers, I still believe we must work harder to empower our girls at an even earlier age. In an effort to do just that, I recently launched campaign to help complete a children’s book I wrote called I Know I Can! It’s the story of a little girl name Faith with big dreams! The goal of the book is to empower little girls to think and dream big, and to have the courage to take action.
If you would like to take action and help build the self-esteem of little girls in your life, here are a few things you can do:
1. Verbally acknowledge, validate, and help them hone their strengths.
Does the little girl in your life like to put puzzles together and solve problems? If so, keep supporting that interest! You never know—you could be raising an engineer!
2. Encourage them to challenge themselves. Provide guidance. Do whatever must be done, but don’t let them give up!
Once a person (even a little person) overcomes one challenge, when presented with another they will have the confidence to confront it. This practice will serve them in every aspect of their life.
3. Tell them they are wonderful, intelligent, fabulous, brilliant, loving, caring, gorgeous, kind, sweet, generous . . .
I’m the type of person who is quick to compliment someone if there is something that stands out about them. They could give off great energy, be a great leader, have awesome shoes, hair, jewelry, makeup, or just an awesome smile. Whatever my compliment may be, it’s always genuine, well-received, and a day-maker. I’m sure there are many adjectives you could use to compliment your little one. Compliment her today! She will love you (and herself) all the more.
4. Support I Know I Can! :)
It's never too early to start inspiring our girls to dream big, and have the courage to take action. This book is meant to be read to little girls until they can read it and understand it for themselves!
I know that if we begin or continue to do all these things and more, the little girls in your life will certainly have self-esteem that extends from their hair follicles to their toenails, with some leftover love to share!
I Know I Can! - Blog!