Grant designed to empower girls of color

Grant designed to empower girls of color

WOONSOCKET – YWCA Rhode Island will use a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to expand its Girls Circle program to empower girls of color in the community.

The organization, which has locations in Woonsocket, Providence and Central Falls, will develop a multimedia exhibit showcasing the stories and contributions of 10 black women in Rhode Island, thanks to funding from the Rhode Island Foundation’s Black Philanthropy Bannister Fund.

Before being permanently housed at a location to be determined, the exhibit, which is expected to launch in June, will likely travel to YWCA Rhode Island locations in Woonsocket, Providence and Central Falls and other venues around the state, says Deborah Perry, president and CEO of the organization.

The exhibit will enhance the curriculum of the Girls Circle, a program designed to promote resiliency and healthy relationships for all girls ages 9-18 through structured support groups and age-appropriate programming. Some specific programs are geared to black girls.

The $6,100 grant from the Black Philanthropy Bannister Fund will be used to hire a professional photographer to document the voices, stories and portraits of the women to be featured. The exhibit will contain 10 individual 20-inch by 30-inch photos of black women, framed and displayed on easels. A recording containing the voice of the portrayed woman speaking about how she is using her power in the world, along with words of wisdom and/or advice she wants to share with the world, will accompany each photo.

Those portrayed, says Perry, will be asked to visit YWCA programs and engage with girls during “woman of the day” program segments.

While the women have not yet been chosen, a committee of YWCA staff and community members will likely select “unsung women who are well known in the black community, working in different sectors of the community and who are impacting the lives of black people on a daily basis,” says Perry. Developed with black girls in mind, the exhibit will be available for everyone to experience and appreciate.

As society sometimes still portrays black girls and women with disparaging stereotypes – hyper-sexualized, exotic, angry and loud – offering a space where black girls value and support one another, have role models who look like them and who are doing amazing work in the world can be powerful and may help to counter these false and racist images of black women, says Perry.

Additionally, black girls face disproportionate challenges in school and in the justice system, she said. Those who experience trauma are more likely to face excessive discipline for behaviors and are less likely to receive appropriate, knowledgeable trauma care. The Girls Circle counters these harmful forces, according to Perry, by offering safe, culturally competent and programming honoring girls’ development and enhancing their abilities. Viewing images of amazing black women can only help to reinforce the Girls Circle goal, she said.

Perry said she wonders how many people know that the current “#MeToo” movement, empowering women to speak out about abuse, was created in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, who is black. Burke coined the phrase “Me Too” to promote empowerment through empathy among women of color who have experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities.

Many women of color have spoken about the fact that the current #MeToo hasn’t represented their stories of harassment and assault, which often involve objectification based on race or ethnicity, among other issues.

“Providing the black community with the resources to thrive goes to the core of commitment to equity and our vision for ensuring that the future is bright for a changing Rhode Island,” Adrian Boney, the Rhode Island Foundation’s program officer for special programs, said in a new release.

The YWCA Rhode Island was the only northern Rhode Island entity – and one of 14 statewide – to receive a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation through its Black Philanthropy Bannister Fund to mark Black History Month in February, the foundation reported.