Reigniting Excellence: The power of Black womxn and gxrls’ resilience and resistance

FYREInitiativeReignitingExcellenceJune2020

Note: Throughout this article, we use the terms “womxn” and “gxrl” as terms to include anyone, including transgender, non-binary, genderfluid, polygender, and gender non-conforming people, whose key gender identity, experience, and internal perception on the spectrum of gender is woman or girl.

Lessons from YW Boston’s F.Y.R.E. Initiative

The recent lack of media coverage over the lives of Breonna TaylorOluwatoyin Salau, and Na’Kia Crawford, has reignited an outcry about the lack of urgency and attention to Black womxn and gxrls who have lost their lives due to violence. Over the last month, there have been protests and calls for justice, equity, and an end to violence against Black and brown bodies at the hands of law enforcement, particularly violence against Black men. This has brought up the question, “What about Black womxn and gxrls who are losing their lives as well?”

Black womxn and gxrls exist at the intersection of racism and sexism, as well as classism and discrimination against any of their other identities. Historically, their experiences and stories have been silenced, ignored, and erased. That erasure has contributed to the disparaging and marginalization of their voices, experiences, and existence as human beings. Systems of oppression—such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and more—play a fundamental role in the trauma that many Black womxn and gxrls face when their existence and experiences are repetitively dismissed, undermined, and suppressed. The message received by society is; Black womxn and gxrls do not matter. This is not a narrative conducive to the protection and validation of Black womxn and gxrls’ experiences. In addition, it does not represent the vulnerability, struggle, strength, power, and perseverance that has been exhibited throughout history by Black womxn and gxrls.

For Black gxrls—who are labeled with stereotypes that reinforce a narrative that they are powerless, unimportant, and typically “the problem”—this external undervaluation can make it challenging for some gxrls to see qualities within themselves that are positive and that should be encouraged and celebrated. Systems of oppression impact youth as well, even though not always acknowledged in the same way as adults. Young people are facing issues of racism, sexism, classism, and more, in addition to ageism or what is known by some as adultism. Adultism is described as bias against youth that can manifest itself as a dismissal of young people’s opinions and experiences simply because of their young age. 

By not creating a space for Black gxrls to navigate their feelings and perceptions, we are reinforcing the message that they to do not matter. The messages that they are receiving from the media, social media, their schools and communities, and in their interpersonal relationships all play a role into on how they define and perceive themselves and their identity. Black gxrls need a space that encourages healing and self-discovery through experience and reflection. They need support systems that uplift them and provide consistency. 

One of our values for YW Boston’s youth leadership program, the F.Y.R.E. Initiative, is Self-Love/Wellness, where we state:

“A flame only becomes lit when a spark is ignited. This expression serves as the namesake for Fierce Youth Reigniting Excellence (F.Y.R.E.). The F.Y.R.E. Initiative seeks to ignite the spark within youth that allows them to advocate for themselves, discover their leadership potential, and build community with other young leaders. In this name, we emphasize the importance of practicing self-love and taking agency over caring for our minds, bodies, and spirits. This value is especially relevant for a program that serves primarily gxrls and non-binary youth of color whose voices and bodies are too often disparaged and/or marginalized in society. We must learn how to give new life to our holistic wellness practices for the betterment of ourselves and our community.” 

This value represents what we wish to ignite in our F.Y.R.E. Igniters – their ability to cultivate and operate from their inner power. We create a space for our gxrls that acknowledges they are the experts of their own experience. We provide opportunities for them to learn about systems of oppressions and the ways it manifests in our lives and society. We encourage our Igniters to be their authentic selves and show up as they are; not as who they think they should be.

Here are three ways to encourage, support and advocate for Black gxrls’ voices and agency:

1. “Youth are the experts of their own experience”: Acknowledge, Respect & Amplify their voices! 

Create supportive networks that are inclusive to Black gxrl’s experiences and stories. Black gxrls need a space to feel connected, one that allows them to foster trusting relationships with adults and their peers. When youth are considered “too young” or “not old enough,” certain feelings and emotions can be disregarded. An example of this is youth dealing with depression not being taken as seriously as adults dealing with depression. 

2. Create a culture that encourages self-discovery and self-reflection.  

It is important to encourage youth voice and self-expression. Encourage gxrls to reflect on their experiences and provide some frameworks and context that allows them to explore their identity. Check out our F.Y.R.E. Self-Esteem and Positive Identity activity for gxrls. 

3. Do the work too! Empower, Educate, Amplify, and Act. 

Empower yourself and others to be vulnerable and open to examining how systems of oppression influence your identity development and interpersonal relationships. 

Educate yourself and others to explore stories related to Black womxn and gxrls’ experiences in the United States and worldwide.  

Amplify your voice, encourage others to amplify theirs, and bring attention to issues that impact marginalized communities, particularly Black gxrls. 

Act! Answer the F.Y.R.E. Initiative call to action: Collectively work to ensure policies are created to support inclusive and equitable opportunities for the advancement of Black gxrls in Boston. 

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About YW Boston’s F.Y.R.E. Initiative

With the F.Y.R.E. Initiative, launched in the Fall of 2019, YW Boston facilitators conduct a 12-15-week leadership development series for girls grades 6th through 9th. The series brings together social justice education, positive identity development, and civic engagement, culminating in small group civics projects. This model takes place in schools or Out of School Time programs, and it is developed to operate in a “girls group” structure rather than a traditional classroom structure. Core to the program is an effort to provide experiential learning opportunities and dialogue to build understanding and increase social-emotional learning.

Are you F.Y.R.E.’d up? If you wish to participate in YW Boston’s F.Y.R.E. Initiative or want to learn more about bringing the program to your school or community, please contact TiElla Grimes, F.Y.R.E. Initiative Program Manager, at tgrimes@ywboston.org.