These may be the best times in human technological advancement, but American teen girls face pervasive sadness, suicidal thoughts, and sexual violence. Black girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth suffer additional difficulties due to misogynoir, the specific contempt directed at Black women.
Girl Be Heard has always known what the data is only now catching up to–that these challenges faced by girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth are insidious, even as they, as a group, remain underrepresented and underserved from boardrooms to Hollywood.
GBH exists to amplify the voices of young women. We hold space for girls and encourage them to tell their stories – the hard truths, the triumphs, and everything in between. Many of our young women are silenced by their environments and long for community. They also seemed paralyzed by the perception of isolation – fearing that no one would understand or empathize with their experiences or feelings. This is why storytelling matters: It liberates us from shame and perceptions of isolation and holds space for bringing matters concerning young people to light. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
Young women need to know they are not alone. Here’s what we know based on our work at Girl Be Heard:
Listen to the Girls! Build Community!
Doing so first requires establishing a space where girls and young women feel secure and in a community with one another. At GBH, the values of our Leadership as Ensemble framework (informed by Black Feminist Theory) are grounded in trust, relationships, accountability, communication, and collaboration. Applying these values in workshop spaces (i.e., creating *BRAVE space agreements in each cohort) lays the foundation for girls and young women to gain the confidence they need to develop and share their stories.
Listen to the Girls! Let Them Speak!
The Leadership as Ensemble framework guides the journey of exploring identity, leadership, social justice themes, and art creation across all areas of programming. At GBH, the stories of girls and young women of color are compelling and essential. We begin this process by exploring identity because we believe there is no story to tell without first encountering who you are. Identity informs how individuals see the world and how the world sees us – which contributes to lived experience. Our curriculum offers multiple artistic pathways to explore storytelling that centers on youth truth-telling and activism. Specifically, we provide a framework for developing and telling their stories (let them speak!) to motivate others toward action.
Listen to the Girls! Let Them Lead!
Leadership can take many forms, from authoritarian to participatory to service orientated – and in various spaces – communities, classrooms, professional spaces, recreational spaces, the home, etc. At Girl Be Heard, leadership is about challenging the status quo and standing up for justice -that is, expanding leadership to include representations of and voices of folks that have been excluded. So, we guide participants through explorations of their individual and collective leadership styles to allow them to understand better how they show up in spaces. Exploring leadership style requires participants to ask themselves critical questions regarding where and how they might step up and lean in to support the collective. Finally, exploring leadership allows participants to develop and strengthen their activist voices and social justice fluency to speak as leaders and orient their communities toward justice. Our values-based approach to leadership centers on the collective, which works to disrupt dominant cultural habits of white supremacy that value individualism, intellectualism, perfectionism, and power hoarding. There is room for us all to lead!
Listen to the Girls! Hold Space!
Every GBH program culminates with an opportunity for participants to ‘stage their revolution.’ This is how we hold space for girls and young women to speak their truths passionately. These culminating opportunities include performances, screenings, and community events. Through their program experience, GBH participants become ‘Artivists,” developing their technical and artistic capacities to use the stage to articulate stories that inspire social change. Holding space for girls and young women affirms that there is value in their voices.