Don’t Count Us Out

Mina is a rising sophomore interning at Girls for Gender Equity.

This summer, I will be interning with Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), an organization that works with young women to develop them as leaders through community organizing and leadership development. GGE also advocates against gender-based violence, sexual harassment in public schools, and other educational, economic, and physical barriers against gender equality.

My role this summer at GGE will be helping to plan the Urban Leaders’ Academy, GGE’s after school programming in three middle schools that continues GGE’s overall mission to instill social justice principles and develop leadership skills of young people. While there, I will also have opportunities to meet and talk to some of the young women involved in the GGE’s programming.

I love everything about Girls for Gender Equity, both their advocacy and campaign work and their work developing young leaders. I’ve actually had a lot of experience working with young women between the ages of the 12 and 16, particularly young women of color.

Adolescent and preadolescent girls are a fun group, full of energy, young and ready to take on the world. But what I’ve noticed through the years is that they are also a group that easily counts themselves out, easily downplays their own abilities and potential. Especially as women of color and/or as women that occupy a lower socioeconomic class, they’ve been told by many sources – parents, teachers, the media – that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough to achieve the things they want to. While they may have big dreams (“I want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon!”), they often lack the resources, access to information, and just plain confidence to realize these big dreams. That’s where I come in. I hope by what I do and the example I set, I can show them that they can reach their goals in life, that they matter just as much as the next person, and they should never expect any less out of life just because of who they are or where they may come from.

However, I find myself grappling with many of the same difficulties that I want the girls I work with to overcome. After finishing my first year of college, I still have no idea what I want to do with my life, if I am good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to be able to reach all my goals in life. I still struggle with feeling counted out and underestimated because of my gender, my race, and where people perceive that I come from. I, too, am still coming of age and learning how to navigate through this world as a young woman of color and how to develop this new womanist/feminist consciousness I’ve adopted. How can I help others realize their full potential when I have yet to reach mine?

I’m starting to realize that the process of mentoring and of being mentored is a life long process, and that you don’t have to have all the answers or all the life experiences to inspire others. It’s also a two-way street. As much as I’d like to imagine that I’ve helped  all the girls I’ve worked with, honestly, through their stories they’ve shared with me, they’ve taught me so much more about life than I’m sure I’ve taught them. Mentoring isn’t about telling someone what to do or being the ultimate example of how to do life right (sometimes you can be the example of what not do to). It’s about forming a relationship, where each person validates the experiences of another and affirms their thoughts, opinions, and dreams. While as a mentor I can do this for someone else, she can also do this for me. When she comes to me with her questions and concerns, listens to what I have to say, and takes my advice, she is validating my experiences and affirming my thoughts. As we continue to grow and seek mentorship as well as giving it to others, we create a community of women who affirm one another, a network of women who have each other’s backs and recognize each other’s full potentials – which is so necessary in a world that often tries to count us out.

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