Black and Latino girls of Generation Z received much-needed attention with a special day of events aimed at their empowerment, thanks to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser keeping her promise.
The “Reign: Empowering Young Women as Leaders” initiative held its inaugural conference Saturday, June 3, at Howard University in Northwest, where hundreds of girls from public and charter schools received information for college and attended workshops on confidence and leadership skills.
“In DCPS we want to make sure that all of our students succeed and all of our students are prepared for success,” said DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson. “It’s particularly important for us to ensure that our young girls and women of color are celebrated and they are put in the best position to be successful.
“The Reign initiative is an important part of that work for us,” he said. “It’s important for us that all of our students go to school in places that have high expectations for them and more importantly places that inspire confidence.”
The “We the Girls” Leadership Conference and Pep Rally kicked off with music from 16-year-old DJ Sierra Roundtree, also known as DJ Beauty and the Beatz, remarks from Deputy Mayor of Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden and the keynote address from Voto Latino founder Maria Teresa Kumar.
“The reason I started working with Voto Latino is because where I grew up in rural California, my community had very similar issues that I would say D.C. was facing at the time I was growing up,” Kumar said. “In my community, we had the highest gang rate, one of the highest poverty rates, one of the highest HIV rates, teen pregnancy and dropouts. Does that sound familiar?”
Kumar said through her mother’s insistence and witnessing inner family turmoil, she realized that, like many of the girls in attendance Saturday, she needed a mentor, roadmap and extra help to have a different life.
“About three years ago after Trayvon Martin, Voto Latino said we have an issue with police violence in our home, too,” she said. “You know why, there is a 13-year-old young kid, Andy Lopez, who in broad daylight was shot by police. They assumed he was carrying a weapon [when], in fact, he was carrying a toy gun.”
Kumar said her community responded with over 400 middle schoolers walking out of the classroom in protest.
“There is not a story that you can tell me that I haven’t heard, but it’s through that strength, tenacity and experiences that make us stronger,” she said.
In March, Bowser launched the Reign initiative in light of the overwhelming news of the numerous missing black and Latino girls in the city. The initiative would serve as her answer to the special needs and issues that girls of color have in the classroom and at home.
“As we continue making the investments necessary to give every student in DCPS a world-class education and the resources and support they need to reach their full potential, Reign will ensure that our young women of color are not left behind,” Bowser said.
The Reign aims to create spaces for young women of color to build community, confidence, and leadership skills inside and outside of school, started with the leadership conference and continuing with a series of workshops throughout the 2017-18 school year.
“Next school year is just the beginning for Reign and, in fitting with the goals of the initiative, we will continue to expand the program based on the feedback we receive from the young women in our schools,” Bowser said.