Celebrating the Chicago Day of the Girl

by Zeki Salah, Mutual Aid Collaborative Facilitator

On October 11, the Girls Like Me Project, Inc. hosted the 11th annual Chicago Day of the Girl at the South Shore Cultural Center. The event coincides with the International Day of the Girl, which is an international observance day established by the United Nation on October 11, 2012 to increase awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide and to support more opportunities for them. The Chicago Day of the Girl focuses on recognizing and providing opportunities for Black girls ages 13 to 18 years old in the City of Chicago.

This year, the theme of the Chicago Day of the Girl was “I Belong” and the programming was aimed towards reclaiming spaces for Black girls that often feel inaccessible. La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, a 2020 Chicago Peace Fellow and the Executive Director of the Girls Like Me Project spoke to the importance of reinforcing the girls’ right to spaces throughout the city: “Many girls feel like they only belong in certain spaces and that they are confined to their neighborhoods. So we wanted to build a sense of belonging: they belong to this city and that this city belongs to them.” The Chicago Day of the Girl worked to address the way the city is segregated by race, class, and income by showcasing how different organizations and resources can be utilized to celebrate and center the voices of Black girls. The South Shore Cultural Center also made for a significant venue because it gave the girls an opportunity to be in an establishment that is seen as exclusive.

Chicago Public Schools across the city participated in the Chicago Day of the Girl, with 253 girls attending in total. The University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn, Gary Comer Charter School, and Nicholson STEM Academy were some of the schools that were connected to the Chicago Day of the Girl through partnerships with the Girls Like Me Project, Inc. The event was held from 10am - 3pm, allowing the girls to leave the classroom and receive educational enrichment outside of their schools.

As an educational enrichment opportunity outside of the classroom, the Chicago Day of the Girl was able to address issues that receive limited attention in schools, allowing programming to be gender responsive and internationally oriented. The day’s activities aimed to make the girls in attendance feel like they belong and are included in a global empowerment conversation. The Chicago Day of the Girl originally grew out of the Girls Like Me Project’s Global Connections program, which aimed to show girls in Chicago what girlhood looks like in other spaces around the world. This has influenced programming to have an international reach, that aims to not only bring the voices and perspectives of Black girls into international conversations, but also to provide resources that help them travel internationally.

Girls who attended the Chicago Day of the Girl were provided with connections to the global community and opportunities for international travel by local international organizations. WorldChicago, an internationally-oriented nonprofit focused on citizen diplomacy, presented their Youth Diplomat program to the girls in attendance. This program admits students to engage in cross-cultural conversations with international peers and attend lectures and workshops with global and Chicago area academics, government officials, and community leaders. Tiffany Smith, a travel writer from Bronzeville, also shared her experience traveling outside of the country and the barriers to travel she faced as a Black girl. The Global Strategists Association addressed some of the challenges girls might face by sharing information about passports. The Girls Like Me Project will also sponsor passports for three girls who attended the Day of the Girl, as well as African ancestry tests. Collectively the organizations involved provided tools for Black girls to engage with girlhood internationally while also showing that their voices are needed in an international space.

Organizations across the city of Chicago also collaborated to show their commitment towards supporting, celebrating, and amplifying the voices of Black girls. Damon Reed, a local Chicago artist, came and showcased murals that girls involved in the Girls Like Me Project painted with his support. The murals depict missing Black girls whose stories have not received significant media coverage. Dr. Ruby Mendenhall of UIC Champaign-Urbana also created an exhibit which was featured at the Day of the Girl by working with the mothers and daughters of the Girls Like Me Project. Their exhibit featured portraits of what brings them joy and healing. These projects showed the girls in attendance the importance of their experiences and how their stories can be told in a powerful and influential way.

The Chicago Day of the Girl provided Black girls from Chicago with a sense of belonging within both local and global communities and emphasized their capacity to enact change. The girls who attended were given tools for advocacy by the participating organization and a platform for self-expression. Local talent was also showcased, with dance performances from the Girls Like Me Project, music, a teen talk show, and a performance from Dee Dee Davis of the Bernie Mac Show. Reflecting on the day’s events La’Keisha Gray-Sewell said, “this day was all about Chicago girls and uplifting them and providing them with a platform to celebrate themselves.”


Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Ladies of Virtue Recognize Youth Leadership


On Saturday, May 18, the Ladies of Virtue (LOV), founded and led by Chicago Peace Fellow Jamila Trimuel, hosted their 2019 Recognition Ceremony to honor high school and eighth grade graduates as they move on to the next chapter in the program.

Chicago Peace Fellow Jamila Trimuel honors the Ladies of Virtue and provides support as they prepare to head to college.

 

[quote]"Our 8th Annual Recognition Ceremony is a time where our Ladies of Virtue sisters showcase their talent, share what they learned throughout the year, and express how they made a difference in their communities.” -- Jamila Trimuel, Ladies of Virtue[/quote]

 “Over 150 of our dearest supporters - comprised of our LOV family and friends, sponsors and community partners - joined us to recognize all of our girl's wonderful accomplishments," Jamila explained.

Ladies of Virtue youth participants showcase their artistic talents at the recognition ceremony.
The youngest of the mentees, affectionately named the Gems, are drawn from the 4th – 8th grades. When the ladies graduate from the 8th grade, they become high school mentees, affectionately named Queens, which continues from the 9th through 12th grades. High school graduates are encouraged to join the LOV 4 Life program for alumni and sometimes even move on to become mentors themselves.

The program opened with a welcome video from founder Jamila Trimuel in which she recognized the legacy of her former mentor, the Rev. Willie T. Barrow. The Rev. Barrow paved the way for Trimuel to follow, leading her down the path to her passion of mentoring. Trimuel also acknowledged the Chicago Foundation for Women for their recent $35,000 grant to LOV to help with operations.

Ladies of Virtue youth participants share their learnings in a presentation at the 2019 Recognition Ceremony.
Throughout the ceremony, mentees from the Gems and Queens groups showcased their talents in the form of spoken word, theatrical skits, and dance performances. They also shared what they learned throughout the year and recapped some of their favorite moments, including college tours, senior trips, and a professional etiquette luncheon they attended earlier this year.

LOV took extra care of their seniors during the recognition ceremony by gifting them with scholarships in excess of $5,000 and care packages full of items to get the ladies started on their college journeys. Most importantly, each high school graduate was personally recognized by her mentor in a very emotional farewell speech that should guide them through college and into their adulthood.


Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Reflections on Women's History Month from a Colombian Jail

[quote]Being in a Colombian jail working with women and girls who are serving time after being child soldiers is an interesting place from which to reflect on the last day of Women's History Month.  The unique challenges and insights of women and girls who were child soldiers are often lost in the conversations about demobilizaiton in Colombia and around the world.[/quote]

I can't stop thinking about the story of María Mónica Sánchez Jaramillo who was conscripted at age 15 to fight with the guerilla. She was only one of the tens of thousands who have fought during this generations-long conflict here in Colombia. In the eight years she fought before leaving combat, Maria endured constant sexual abuse and a rape that resulted in a child. Today, she sits in prison serving the remaining time of a ten year sentence for fighting in the war.

Through Serendipity, the organization I co-founded, I have been working with many women and girls in Colombia as they go through the official reintegration process which for many means serving time in jail. I think hearing and learning from the stories of these former combatants is critical as the peace deal between the government and FARC comes to fruition and thousands prepare to turn in their guns and start a new wave of returnees entering the reintegration process.

[quote]Child soldiers, many of whom began as young girls, are coming home in Colombia and while their families are celebrating, not all of society is. [/quote]

Colombia’s FARC rebels released the first child soldiers of 2017, and while exact numbers are not known, a recent UNICEF report noted that over 6,000 children are still serving in armed groups but will hopefully soon be demobilized. Of those who have already demobilized in Colombia, 13% are women, and it is estimated that 40% of those waiting to disarm and return to civil society are female. Despite the numbers, there is still no specialized reintegration program for demobilized women.  These women will face the same burdens as other demobilizing soldiers as well as unique difficulties in accessing opportunities in education, housing and the workforce after returning to their home communities.

ColombiaApril2017

In war, women and girls face distinct risks as compared to their male counterparts, starting with the by the breakdown of their traditional social and cultural roles as defined by society.  Colombia is still in many ways a "Macho" society with patriarchal views of purity, care-giving, frailty and dependance. Further, demobilized women report high rates of sexual assualt, forced abortions, psychological and physical traumas, as well as community stigma. In Colombia, it is startling that women who suffered sexual and gender-based violence during combat have an estimated 74% risk of being victimized again in civilian life.

Organizations like ours, Serendipity, believe it is necessary to have community centers where group and individual activities canould be facilitated held based on a cross-curricular gender and restorative approach. While we work in many different ways to support peace, Serendipity is one of the few non-governmental organizations in Colombia -- or anywhere -- that have such a focus and expertise on the care and support of female ex-combatants. From our experiences with imprisoned former soldiers such as Maria, we understand that strengthening and developing the socio-emotional, academic and civic skills of these women and girls is the only way to a peaceful and just future.