The Re-Imagining of Black Girls
Confessions of an Invisible Black Girl
Invisible, that’s often how I felt as a middle school student. Not invisible in the sense that my presence wasn’t acknowledged but that my identity didn’t matter and when it did it wasn’t to celebrate me. Although I went to an elite private school on Central Park West in NYC, I never saw myself reflected in my history books, teachers or in media. It’s as if my identity as a Black female did not exist. Other than my mother and members of my family, I had no one to emulate or provide me guidance as I blossomed into a young woman.
Private school provides the space for independence, access to resources and among other things a life of excess. Without guidance or support I often felt myself following others and assuming the identity of the white girls in my classes and school. Without a mirror image of myself, my identity as a Black girl slowly dissipated. I began to question who I was and my identity began to emerge through this amalgamation of what was present in my environment, what was projected in books (Judy Blume, Beverly Clearly) and what was presented to me on screen.
In addition, the level of privilege was something that I had never experienced before, taking cabs to softball practice in Central Park, eating lunch at Tavern on the Green and the Russian Tea room and crazy house parties in which drugs and sex were rampant. I learned early on that my behavior was heavily scrutinized and although I didn’t participate in any of the drugs, sex or partying, I was treated as if I was the deviant. I was blamed for minor indiscretions at school and never praised for my work, either in class or on the softball field. Living in two worlds became burdensome. I had no one to talk to, to ask questions about minor things like hair and body shape, or simply to identify with. In fact, I wondered why I was going through all of this trouble to attend school. No one besides my parents would notice if I dropped out and quite honestly, they probably wouldn’t care.
My experience was unique as an adolescent. My access to a school that provided me resources and an outstanding education that allowed me to think critically and excel in academics is something that adolescent Black girls rarely have. Yet, my experience of invisibility and the scrutiny of my behavior is likely one that many other black junior high school girls in a urban or rural school can identify with.
Why is that? Why are Black girls either invisible or seen as disruptive regardless of their environment?
In schools, inaccurate depictions of behaviors start to perpetuate a false story and Black girls behaviors are seen as negative. There is a focus on discipline and control of Black girls rather than providing a high quality education and support services for Black girls’ overall social, emotional, and academic success.
As a result, there is an increased amount of Black girls being pushed out of schools which increases their risk of incarceration. Behaviors that are often seen as adolescent development in other girls are seen as disruptive and Black youth are often criminalized and disproportionately referred to the juvenile justice system for school code violations.
As I experienced in middle school, many Black girls are taught to suppress their identity and take on attributes that are valued by their school settings. It is not surprising that the research shows that when Black girls experience stress, silencing, personal expression, violence and a low quality of education they are increasingly placed in correctional facilities.
The juvenile justice system was not a part of my trajectory but could have been my pathway in life if I had made one misstep. There is no forgiveness for Black girls. The data does not lie.
It is with these hard facts in mind that I established Adventure Girlz. As I began to talk about the work and my passion to re-imagine the lived experiences of adolescent Black girls I soon discovered that my story and journey resonated with so many other Black women. This awareness lead me to partner with Dr. Moriska V. Selby to incorporate actual research data into developing the curriculum that we are currently using in our program.
The main tenants of Adventure Girls Are Move, Talk, Mentor and Lead.
- MOVE (Develop a healthy lifestyle by participating in non-traditional sports activities and field trips),
- TALK (Understand the lives of Black girls and women and how the world perceives them),
- MENTOR (Devise ways to dismantle the negative stories that have been told about Black girls and women), and
- LEAD (Attend workshops to learn personalized goal setting, reflection techniques, and how to grow as social justice leaders).
Adventure Girlz focuses on personal youth development for Black girls. Our adventures allow them to get out of their comfort zone and try non-traditional sports that allow them to experience personal empowerment. In addition, they develop the skills to be team players and extraordinary leaders.
Our goal is for Black girls to celebrate themselves, be more successful in school, have positive social relationships, develop a passion for sports and wellness and prevent a generation of girls from having interactions with the juvenile justice system.
We need allies in this work! If you are interested in funding one of our programs, donating to the organization or you just want to volunteer please contact us, http://www.adventuregirlz.org/get-involved.html.