150 Girls of Color from Schools Across OUSD Come Together for a Day of Empowerment
Oakland, CA -- Students from across OUSD gathered at Mills College on Saturday, December 1 for a day unlike most others. The girls in grades 6-12 came together for the 2nd Annual Black Girl Power Conference, hosted by the District’s African American Female Excellence (AAFE) initiative. “Even though the theme is Me Too: Return of the Warrior Queen, it’s really how do we look at the other side of ‘me too’? How do we look at the other side that says, ‘I have power, I have personal power, I have inner power,'” explained Nzingha Dugas, the Director of AAFE.
It was a day filled with important personal education, as students got to choose from a wide variety of workshops. The first sessions were about self- love, esteem and worth, and had titles ranging from Living our Best Lives to The Basics of Self-Love and Why We Need It. “There’s a reason why you are here. None of you are mistakes. Nobody is a mistake in this space. We all have a purpose,” said Mizan Alkebulan, co-founder of Spearitwurx, to the girls in her workshop.
“This is a safe space,” said OUSD Board of Education Vice President Jumoke Hinton Hodge. She touched on a difficult topic faced by people of color. “We have a white patriarchal system... So, it’s about resistance in many ways. One of the things that in this space we’ve been saying is ‘am I seen? Do you see me?’ Because inside of a system where it’s all really about whiteness, or ‘my looks are too black or something in me is not OK compared to this other thing,’ this becomes a space where young people get to feel and see their identity and stand in that identity strongly.”
Those powerful sentiments were shared in different ways by several girls. McClymonds High sophomore Denise Cleveland-Jordan said that loving oneself doesn’t always come easily to black girls. “In the world we live in, it doesn’t to our race and our people, especially. They don’t get to love themselves first because they’re always being frowned upon and told they’re not beautiful, and that they can’t love themselves, they’re incapable. It’s in the community and how we were raised. People like our president, who are over us and have power, they feed that to us. And it’s in the media, and it’s all we see. So, when you see that as a little kid, you become discouraged, and you don’t want to love yourself. You start to hate yourself for the skin you’re in.”
“A lot of times, they don’t want to see us win. They like to put us down,” said Skyline High senior, Janissa Salazar, explaining who she meant when referring to “they.” “People outside of people of color. White people, they just think negative about people of color. Like we cannot do things because of the color of our skin. But we can do what we want, as long as we focus and put our mind to it.” (Salazar proved that this fall by winning the Oakland Athletic League Golf Championship.)
The experts on hand said the negative thinking can lead to a vicious cycle in which people of color absorb outside negative attitudes about people of color, start to think negatively about themselves and because they think they are bad, they more easily start doing bad things, which reinforces the outside negative attitudes. “That is a cycle, but when we become aware of that cycle, then we’re able to transform it. So, building that first step is about knowing ourselves,” said Alkebulan.
Other conference workshops included ones on self actualization through life skills with titles such as Being your Own Boss, and Stay ready: Understanding the Role of Code Switching. Self defense workshops focused on teaching girls about their rights should they have a police encounter and how to get home safely through learned techniques for physical protection. Additionally, the conference was a platform for sharing information on topics that heavily impact black girls every day such as Cyber-Bullying and Sexual Harassment.
The overarching conference message was the importance of reversing negative thinking and getting all girls to appreciate who they are. “Let’s engage in things you should know. Things that are about you. Let’s recognize that these (negative) conditions exist, let’s acknowledge them, but let’s also look at ‘what do I offer? What do I bring to the table?’ And let’s affirm that and then grow it,” said Dugas.
It was clear the message and the support were having an impact on the girls. “It’s just giving me a better mindset about how I should look at things and focus more on positive things rather than the negative things,” said Skyline senior, Janissa Salazar.
The Black Girl Power Conference was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, the Warriors Community Foundation, the Oakland Promise, the San Francisco Foundation and Mills College.
About the Oakland Unified School District
In California’s most diverse city, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is dedicated to creating a learning environment where “Every Student Thrives!” More than half of our students speak a non-English language at home. And each of our 86 schools is staffed with talented individuals uniting around a common set of values: Students First, Equity, Excellence, Integrity, Cultural Responsiveness and Joy. We are committed to preparing all students for college, career and community success.
To learn more about OUSD’s Full Service Community District focused on academic achievement while serving the whole child in safe schools, please visit OUSD.org and follow us @OUSDnews.