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​The POWER of Local Community Organizing

Helping Girls in High-Risk Environments Find Their Inner Divas

“Grit” may be a new word for many of the 11-17 year old girls involved in our POWER Divas program at two communities in Jackson, Mississippi, but it is a trait that they know they want to develop.

The purpose of this program is to coach young girls in high-risk environments to better understand themselves by learning and practicing life and social skills while developing a sense of purpose in an effort to Perfect Our World & Environment Responsibly (POWER). The premise is this: if girls can positively effect change in themselves and their immediate surroundings, they can make a difference on a broader scale, and ultimately, change the world.

In the third week of the ongoing 10-week program in partnership with the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, our POWER Divas at Commonwealth Village drifted into the community room at 4:00 PM, throwing backpacks to the ground, giggling about experiences at school, and pulling chairs together into a circle.

This scene occurs weekly at Commonwealth Village and neighboring Lincoln Gardens. The girls arrive for one and a half hour sessions organized through Springboard to Opportunities, eager and willing to share and grow together. As they explore themes of conflict resolution, time management, saying “no” in relationships, and the risks of being a people-pleaser, the Divas grow more comfortable with each other and with themselves each week.

There is no grade, academic credit, tangible reward, or incentive for participation. The POWER Divas program is not mandatory, attendance isn’t sent to parents, and no girl is required to attend; yet the group has formed a unit and bond that brings them together each week.

POWER Divas is successful, in part, because the program comes to the girls and not the other way around. Participants do not need transportation — the meetings are in their small neighborhoods, easily accessible from the school bus stop. Engaging girls shouldn’t be separate from where they feel in control. These young people want this support and need programs like POWER Divas to be incorporated into their lives in a manner that is accessible, comfortable and safe.

These girls attend each week because they have that grit that cannot be underestimated despite poverty and other obstacles in their lives. They show perseverance and an inner-resolve to better their lives and the courage to recognize that their community can and should help them with the process. These POWER Divas explore their strengths and address areas for improvement in a protective and kind atmosphere that is close to home and with their peers, who are constant in their school and social lives.

After sharing journal entries and concerns with the groups in the third week, we played a game to get the girls up and moving while reminding them of the commonalities and differences in the group. Seated in a circle, the girls were instructed to call out a statement, to which they stood and switched chairs if it applied to them. They called out things like being born in Mississippi, hoping to go to college, loving to dance, and being the oldest sibling. One Diva called out: “change places if you like coming to this group” and every single girl stood up quickly and rushed to find a new chair.

Though still at the beginning of the program, I am personally inspired by these gritty girls who recognize the importance of self-awareness and development and, most of all, are enjoying and embracing the process of becoming a POWER Diva.