Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

For the past few months, I have been searching for specific ways to be involved in community efforts — particularly youth development. During my search, I came across the works of Dr. Monique Morris and Girls for Gender Equity NYC. What I found shocked me to my core while simultaneously bringing back far too many bad memories of my adolescent years.

I was saddened hearing the stories of many young women across the U.S. who are experiencing being policed and marginalized in schools for speaking out on issues, profiled as hyper-sexual,practicing their religious beliefs, and cultural expression. Schools ought to be a safe place of nurturing children and assisting in molding them into contributing members of society. Far too often, policies are created without truly considering how it can affect students in terms of their self-esteem, personal and academic development.

Although I was never suspended from school for disciplinary issues, this topic has struck a cord within me. Some of the stories that I have been learning remind me of what I went through in school, attending church and living in my community. Believe it or not: name calling such as ‘sassy’, ‘loud and angry’, ‘bossy’ and ‘fresh’ can lower a young girl’s self-esteem. I can tell you that under all of what you see on the surface is a manifestation of possible trauma, talent and intelligence. Most of the time when teenage girls express themselves, they experience suppression by adults who are not sensitive to what may be going on in their private lives. Also, there are times when teenage girls are shut down simply because they speak, dress, and walk differently than what adults expect of them. If girls are not fitting into the mold of how society outlines they should behave, they can be pushed to the side or made an example out of to their peers. Many girls learn to cope with these negative experiences in a variety ways — most times its practiced by unhealthy methods.

Young women who experience victimization of being pushed out of school are often funneled through the criminal justice system. In result, economic and educational opportunities are stripped from teenage girls who experience discrimination in schools and communities. Thankfully there are thought leaders and organizations leading in changing this epidemic, yet we need more. I think we owe it to our youth to learn more of their world, to love on them and listen first. Once we understand, we must take action. Think about the various ways that you can use your resources to help in the development of a teenage girl in your community.

I am conducting research and looking for initiatives where I can take action. If there are any opportunities to collaborate with fellow leaders on this issue please e-mail me at

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