On Tuesday June 27th, 2017, a WorldChicago’s Coffee Conversation Series on “Engaging the African Diaspora in Chicago” was held downtown by four active members in the African American Chicago community. Amongst these educated panelists was LaKeisha Grey-Sewell, who is the founder of the Girls Like Me Project, Inc. This program is geared toward fostering self-discovery in young African American girls ages 10-16 through media literacy. During the panel and in her everyday life, Grey-Sewell raises the significance of the cultivation of Black girls from a young age and their involvement in global happenings.
So often the images in digital media that are pushed into Black and mainstream narratives are unfavorable; constantly seeing oneself depicted one way can lead to adverse actions. It was this very circumstance that inspired Grey-Sewell to create her program.
“I noticed girls at an increasingly younger age were adopting negative behaviors portrayed in the media that were causing inter-relational conflicts and perpetuating a destructive, limited mindset,” said Grey-Sewell, who is trying to protect the minds and spirits of the Black female youth. And as the mind controls the body, this is a very important mission.
Grey-Sewell also aims to expose and encourage young women to that which may be unfamiliar or seem unrealistic, such as Chicago Day of the Girl, which is a celebration for and in advocation of Chicago’s inner-city girls; and Pampered Power Talks, in which girls get pampering treatments while being exposed to careers in STEM. Through programs like these and good mentors, young girls can see something for themselves that they may not see on television or movies or in books, or even in their household. Being told or shown that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to and being celebrated for it, can be a definitive game changer in your life.
Part of adopting a healthy and expansive mindset is being able to communicate one’s own narratives to both the community and the public. Through Girls Like Me, young ladies are able to have some control in the way they are represented in the media. Digitally Innovate Voices of Advocacy Sisters (D.I.V.A.S) is Girls Like Me’s signature program. Here, specific curriculum is used to instruct Black girls in creating digital content over the course of 6-13 weeks. At the end, their work is displayed across varying platforms, revealing that there is power is being the storyteller of one’s own story.
Another transformative part of this mission is not just breaking down the rigidity of African American women stereotypes, but also spreading this love and mission to young girls across the world. As a woman, one is automatically placed into a global sisterhood. The problems facing young women in different places “are no different than girls in Chicago and other cities in the U.S.,” says Grey-Sewell. “There is a resilience and brilliance that shines through no matter where a girl finds herself, and when that is supported by sisterhood and connectedness, we witness the magic of girls as change agents.”
Grey-Sewell’s programs wants to promote not just a positive mindset of self, but a global awareness and domino effect of support and strength as well. It’s a local project with international thought. The community suffers when young Black girls are not accounted for, when their dreams are not nurtured, when they are not shown their total beauty. The effects are a “diabolical cycle of instability and low self-worth.” Girls of low self-esteem and destructive tendencies grow into women, now with jobs, families, bigger communities, and greater influence. However, with projects like those of Grey-Sewell, these girls are given an opportunity to raise their palm to that cycle and say “No.” Thus, reclaiming their power.