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‘SISTER POWER 2.0’ - Preparing, propelling forward the next generation of Black women and girls

By Starla Muhammad, J.A. Salaam and Rhodesia Muhammad | Last updated: May 8, 2018 - 11:44:59 AM

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Preparing, propelling forward the next generation of Black women and girls

Black women are often described as the backbone, soul, conscience and heart of the Black community. Whether fighting on the front lines for racial and social justice, strategizing behind the scenes in other arenas, or being a guiding force in the lives of their families, the impact and influence of Black women is undeniable.

For many sisters, it is just as important that they use their influence and sway to prepare and cultivate the next generation of Black girls and young women by passing the baton of leadership in politics, business, education and activism, helping them to rise to their God-given potential or by simply guiding and mentoring them through the challenges of life.  

Nadia Francois is founder and executive director of Sisters of Empowerment, Inc. A licensed hair stylist, Ms. Francois has guided young girls from behind her beauty chair for the past 12 years. It gave her the opportunity to interact with girls of all ages that were struggling with life issues and needed guidance.

Ms. Francois established her nonprofit organization in 2013 to empower youth and young adults in her community of Baton Rouge, La. She hosts empowerment sessions which include teaching life skills, after school tutoring, summer camp and an annual self-esteem and confidence building pageant.

“It is important to empower the next generation because if we don’t teach them, no one will. I see so many young women that don’t know how to cook, clean, and sometimes think and rationalize. These are all skills that are needed to survive and thrive. I encourage youth entrepreneurship because if I can teach them ways to maximize their potential then they won’t have a desire to go and do illegal and unsavory things,” said Ms. Francois.

Preparing that next generation is a mission that comes with its fair share of ups and downs, but it is also very rewarding, explained Carla Morrison, executive director of Sisters of Today and Tomorrow, a nonprofit mentoring program based in the metro Atlanta area. She sometimes has to be reminded by others about the impact she is having on the lives of girls and teens. 

“You don’t think about it because you’re just in the trenches doing the work. You don’t really think about it until you’re able to take a breath and step back or until one of your girls show up at one of the upcoming orientations who’s an alumni and says, ‘hey Ms. Carla I just wanted to come by and say good luck with your next group of girls and I have a donation for you.’ That recently happened and that was exciting,” she said. 

Ms. Morrison admittedly has experienced disappointment including not garnering the necessary funding and consistent community support at times but credits her faith in God as the source that keeps her in the fight—even when she has wanted to quit.

Her organization will be celebrating its official 10-year anniversary on Oct. 1. At least 400-500 girls have matriculated through the program, said Ms. Morrison. Several of the young ladies are now in college and doing well.

And recently, an acquaintance who supports the work and mission of her organization donated an office space in a building in East Pointe, Ga. 

Sisters of Today and Tomorrow is preparing to convene its annual Leadership Conference for Girls, in late June in New Haven, Conn., at the Yale University African American Cultural Center. This year’s theme is, “Sister Power 2.0.” 

Influence and power

While it is true that Black women and girls are disproportionately leading in areas that are not good—Black girls are suspended and expelled from school at higher rates than their White counterparts, Black women suffer from higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure and other health maladies and make less money than White women—there are several bright spots.

According to the report, “African-American Women: Our Science, Her Magic,” at 24.3 million Black women are 14 percent of all U.S. women and 52 percent of all Black Americans.

The 2017 report released by Nielsen outlined the power and influence of Black women in various areas including entrepreneurship, education, social media use and shopping habits. “Black women’s values spill over into all the things they watch, buy and listen to, and while they control the lion’s share of the African-American community’s $1.2 trillion in spending power, they are doing so with an eye toward the tangible and intangible value of those dollars spent,” the report states.

Some key findings in the 60-page Nielsen report included:

  • · 60 percent of Black women agree they are more likely to purchase brands that support a cause they care about.    
  • · Between 2013 and 2015, 64 percent of Black females enrolled in college immediately after completing high school. Twenty-three percent of Black women over age 25 have completed at least a bachelor’s degree, an increase from only 18 percent in 2005.

There is also a push to increase the number of Black women running for political office. As of Feb. 19, some 276 Black women (273 Democrats, 3 Republicans) served as state legislators nationwide, including 207 Black women members of state houses and 69 Black women members of state senates, noted “The Chisholm Effect: Black Women in American Politics 2018,” by the Center for American Women and Politics and the Higher Heights Leadership Fund.

Jocelyn Harmon, co-founder of BlackHer a new online community for and about Black women, recently released the 41-page “The Black Woman’s Guide to the 2018 Midterms,” to make sure women have the necessary information to make informed decisions leading up to the fall elections.

And, according to the number of businesses owned by Black women grew 322 percent since 1997, making Black females the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black women are the majority owners in more than 1.5 million businesses with more than $42 billion in sales and $7.7 billion in payroll.

Advocates say it is important for Black women to network and encourage one another while also encouraging younger women to be part of the conversation on using their gifts, skills and talents wisely. Movements and initiatives like #BlackGirlsRock, Black Girls Code and Black Girls Run are just a handful of efforts to cultivate the mind, body and spirit of the next generation of young sisters.

An honorable and noble work

Preparing young girls to be future leaders, entrepreneurs and teachers is the focus of Traci Berry-McGhee, founder of SistaKeeper Empowerment Center in St. Louis. 

“When I am mentoring, my goal is to allow that young lady to realize life is not just about you it is bigger than you. But to get to your number one goal to help others you must know yourself first, be comfortable in your own skin, shed the mask and allow the person to see deep inside you,” she explained.

Mentors must display unconditional acceptance, uniqueness, and caring qualities, she explained. “If you represent those characteristics as an individual your mentoring abilities will crossover, and that young lady will say ‘I know what it takes to define me, and I feel good about myself,’ ” said Ms. Berry-McGhee.

One of her mentees, Asia Marion, told The Final Call, “I started going to SistaKeeper when I was six years old. I learned how to discover myself and accept who I am and that everyone has issues and it’s okay to cry and let things out.”

“It is a program very big on recognizing who your spiritual self is and connecting with others like yourself, so you don’t feel like you are alone. And now I’m in college and have become a stronger woman and am comfortable speaking and saying what I have to say. I’ve learned so much from what Traci experienced in life and that has inspired me to be who I am today,” she added.

Mary Elizabeth Grimes is president of the family-focused, faith-based Marian Middle all-girl private school in St. Louis. Marian Middle is an independent non-archdiocesan school.

Students learn to be assertive, make positive choices about their own lives and doing good for others.  “We are open to girls throughout the city of St. Louis, girls of every race, culture and every religion. But our target is for girls who really don’t have the means to have access to a private education. Because our mission is to break the cycle of poverty,” said Ms. Grimes.

She says the school’s philosophy is to develop the whole child. “The children are here for 10 hours a day and 10 months in the school year. Not only are we a middle school, we continue to develop these girls from middle school all the way up to what we call career success. We are putting things in their toolbox the first day they come here to get them thinking about womanhood and personhood. We mentor them in high school, in college and help them get their first job after they graduate college,” she explained.

Sadiyah Karriem is a Houston-based attorney and is also a founder of Queendom Come Inc., a nonprofit empowerment organization that offers several programs including a sisterhood program where girls are taught the importance of moral character, integrity, values and giving them positive role models and examples of what that looks like.

The group tries to target a wide demographic, targeting ages 8 to 70. “Our mission is to help women and girls live their life on purpose with purpose. So much of the time we are living a life that has no purpose or we’re accidental about those things that we do; and what Queendom Come focuses on is being intentional about our lives and that which we desire,” she explained. 

For women, Queendom Come offers a monthly #Queenstream, where prominent professional women who are experts in their field share wisdom and advice.

Atty. Karriem, a member of the Nation of Islam, also brings a unique perspective to what she does. She grew up in foster care from the age of 10 until she graduated.

“When I went into foster care I went in because I was sexually abused when I was a child and I went through the legal system. I remember getting prepped for my trial as a complaining witness and I had made an intention at that age that I was going to help those who couldn’t help themselves and advocate for those who couldn’t advocate for themselves,” she explained.

The women and girls of the Nation of Islam, the Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class (M.G.T. and G.C.C.) have a uniquely designed and specialized class tailored for them based on the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad under the leadership of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

“It is very important to teach and train young Black girls because to teach is to incline one to proper guidance and understanding. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has taught us that when you educate it produces proper cultivation of gifts and talents,” said LaShonda Muhammad, student southern regional M.G.T. captain. She is based in Atlanta.

The more we teach young Black girls and develop their God-given gifts and talents, the closer they become to God’s divine purpose for their life, she continued. The uniqueness of training young Black girls is that they will grow up to become mothers, aunts and sisters and will play a vital role in the community, nation and world, added Ms. Muhammad.

“The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us that when you teach a man you have taught an individual but when you teach a woman you have taught a nation. So, it is vital to teach young Black girls who will grow into women that are principled, cultivated, and God-centered. They will be the first to teach and impart to the next generation of girls and mothers the foundational knowledge that is necessary to produce a new nation, and a new reality for all of humanity.”

(Starla Muhammad reported from Chicago, J.A. Salaam from St. Louis and Rhodesia Muhammad from Houston.)