The #YearofTheGirl Summit empowers teenage girls
By Anjelicia Bruton
Special to the Outlook
#YearoftheGirl Summit held last month in Tallahassee’s City Hall welcomed girls from grades 7-12 to empower them with interactive activities.
The event was hosted by Tallahassee/Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Each year the commission chooses a new topic to focus on; last year’s topic was economic security for women. This year’s topic is focused around young girls.
Sha’Ron James serves as chair of the commission and said the idea of #YearoftheGirl came to mind when she thought of many issues teenage girls deal with.
“It has been apparent to us that girls are struggling with self-esteem and self-image issues,” James said. “A lot of challenges stem from bullying, eating disorders and having estranged friendships.
These challenges all stem from girls not loving themselves, not valuing themselves. Ultimately, girls have to be empowered in order to lead and we want our girls to be leaders.”
The program opened with guest speaker, R. Jai Gillum (the mayor’s wife), who brought up the issue of women not embracing other women; an issue she sees in young girls and women.
“Sometimes girls and women can be mean and cruel to each other,” Gillum said. “It’s important that we support ourselves. Self-care is important, get rid of self doubt, have good self-esteem. Once we take care of ourselves we have to care for each other.”
Gillum also spoke about her favorite song, “Get it Together” by India Arie. Gillum said this song inspires her and wanted to share it.
Gillum quoted the song. “The words that come from your mouth, you’re the first to hear,” said India Arie.
You believe first, Gillum said, you have to speak it for yourself then speak it into existence.
Gillum’s introduction led to breakout sessions dividing the girls into groups by their grade.
The first breakout topics were “ Unleash Your Potential”(Grades 7-8), “Be Deliberate and Afraid of Nothing: Strategies for Success in School and Beyond”( Grades 9-10), “Healthy Relationships”(Grades 11-12).
Reisha Williams and Taylor Novak, coordinators at the Refugee House, spoke to the older high school group about dealing with unhealthy relationships.
Williams said their presentation was set up to address different types of abuse in relationship on a level the girls could relate to.
“Normalizing the conversation is an important first step,” Novak said. “ Whenever we go to events like this, it’s interesting to see that when we bring it down to their level and we talk to them not in an academic way, not condescending, but we just bring it to them they’re able to engage in the conversation.”
The Tallahassee/Leon County Commission of the Status of Women and Girls also highlights a girl every month who excels in school and outside of the classroom.
Faith Thomas, a sophomore at Florida High, was presented with a gift for being September’s Year of the Girl Honoree. Thomas received the award for her commitment to her classes on top of extracurricular activities. Thomas is a member of her school’s basketball, track, marching band and volunteers with many organizations such as Volunteer Florida.
Thomas volunteers over 300 hours a month and said she can’t wait to take what she learned back to help her community.
“Girls really need to start using their voice, then we’ll be good and people will start looking up to us, ”Thomas said. “I’m going to talk to other girls and let them know it’s okay to be shy, but people are willing to listen if you speak up.”