A Focus on Dignity and Non-Violence at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy

By Natasha L. Foreman, MBA

On April 15th I was honored to lead a Dignity Day session as a HOPE Corp Volunteer through Operation HOPE (HOPE) at the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA) in Atlanta.

What is amazing is how the majority of this class of ninth graders were initially completely turned off to the idea of having to listen to yet another speaker that day as they were just returning to their classroom from an assembly that focused on the theme of 100 days of Non-Violence…so they were shifty and closed off. But about 15 minutes into our conversation some of the girls who had crossed arms were soon raising their hands and answering questions.

I started off by talking about the concept of legacy and that that day we were laying the foundation and road map for them to create and eventually leave behind a strong, dignified legacy. I had them define the term legacy in their own words and then share some of their dreams, goals and aspirations. Then as our conversation deepened I shared with them the history of how HOPE was founded, the services and programs that HOPE offers, and I started to weave a story where life included them and their legacy.

I think helping them share the names of empowered and dignified women they see in their family, community, and elsewhere who had similar or worse lives growing up helped them to see that they too could be those same type of women- that they are these women but in-training and with the potential to do more and help more in the long run because they are being equipped with the tools at a young age; and our adversity isn’t an excuse to let life pass us by or a crutch to coast through life doing and expecting the bare minimum, but a reason and motivation to excel and succeed.

These young ladies were shocked to hear that the civil rights movement as it pertained to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Ambassador Andrew Young was sparked, motivated, and pushed along due to their wives Coretta Scott King and Jean Childs Young- two women who endured and overcame adversity and strife. Hearing this information made many of these girls sit up straight in their chairs and listen intently.


When I spoke about not holding grudges, and that forgiving people is not to benefit the person they were forgiving but to help themselves heal, grow, and overcome- some girls shifted in their seats their seats, a few others rolled their eyes in disbelief; but then when I mentioned Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Iyanla Vandzant and their ability to forgive their abusers and using strife as a launching pad towards success- some of the girls started naming other people like Fantasia and Tyler Perry who was sexually and physically abused and how he also overcame and pushed himself to success.

We discussed the concept of family and that it isn’t just our immediate family we need to be concerned about but our neighborhoods, cities, state, our country, and our global family. Because I know that girls can be equally as cutthroat as boys, I made sure that we had a heart-to-heart chat about trash-talking and “clowning” people and how although initially it can be lighthearted and funny, it can also be crippling and tear apart our “extended” family.

We discussed being relevant not only in this country but globally, and that true wealth (spiritual, financial, etc) can only be maintained long term by leading a dignified life, not by living up to the negative stereotypes that are projected globally about Black females. We discussed self-empowerment and not waiting on the government or specific programs to help us, that we have to help ourselves. That we shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to pick up trash on our sidewalks- we should pick it up ourselves.

We shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to cover the graffiti on our walls and buildings- we should paint over it ourselves; we shouldn’t wait for someone else to beautify our streets and parks with trees and flowers- we should plant them ourselves. I explained that they should be volunteering in their community through church or some other organization taking pride in restoring, building, maintaining, and beautifying their neighborhoods.

We had a pretty good time. We laughed and talked about boys and expectations of being respected by males and all people when you carry yourself with respect and dignity. We discussed the language of money and being financially literate, and how this literacy will empower them. It was refreshing to see that many of them have savings accounts and that two of the students had traveled abroad- one to London and the other to the Bahamas. Two young passport carriers living in an underserved and underrepresented area of Atlanta- doesn’t that give you hope? It gives me hope and encourages me to continue my work in the community, and my work through Operation HOPE.

I hope more men and women find it in their hearts to invest one hour of their time at least once per month to volunteer in a church, in a class room, or in a youth center through Operation HOPE. One person can make a difference!

Copyright 2011. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.

>Banking on Our Future: Taking Back Our Schools and Community

>Today I visited a middle school in Atlanta, Georgia to share a lesson on financial literacy with a group of young ladies, grades 6-8, who meet with me for roughly one hour during their art class. This is my third visit to this particular class. I visit their school as a HOPE Corp Volunteer through the Operation HOPE (HOPE) Banking on Our Future (BOOF) program. After my last visit next week, I will be returning independent of HOPE to continue reinforcing the principles and skills I have shared with them the past few weeks. I also intend to share other valuable lessons and skills that I truly believe these students need to know in order to survive and thrive in this gigantic, constantly-changing world.

When I see them I see young African-American girls who are faced with challenges of fitting in and being a part of the status quo, or stepping out and bringing about the change they want to see in their lives and in their community. I see young girls who could thrive in their studies and excel in life as leaders and change agents, but some of them would rather settle for mediocrity because they assume that is what is expected of them. Some of them have bought into the lies and imagery they see on the news, in movies and music videos; and what they hear in songs. Some of them only see what is around them, but do not take the time to dream for what could be beyond. Some look at their family situation and are content with that also being their future. Some have seen a cyclical pattern of behavior that sucks the life and hope out of people- and they don't conceive of how they can break the cycle. Some have bought the lie that they are not as smart and gifted as the average student. There are a few who have bought the label of being "special needs" and are content not pushing beyond this negative threshold.

Then there are the ones whose eyes still shine, who clearly dream big dreams, who want for more, who see a life in college and outside the boundaries of a neighborhood plagued by lack of hope and faith. These girls are more than the stereotypical pretty girl 'eye-candy' most would claim them to be; they are gifted and intelligent. Some of these girls are clear that their 'now' will be their 'past' because they have goals and aspirations of becoming educated career-women. There are a few girls in this class who are dreamers, but they are nervous to speak up and speak out in fear of being teased and criticized. They are the silent wells of hope, that believe that their dreams can come true but it is safer to work towards their goals silently than sharing outwardly. These young ladies smile through their eyes even in pain.

All of these young ladies are our future. Not to be forgotten. Not to be statistically categorized as 'beyond reach'. Not to be discounted as merely future booty-popping, sexually driven females who will amount to nothing except recipients of state-assistance, pole-swinging strippers, or guests on the Maury Povich or Jerry Springer shows. These girls told me today that they aspired to become pediatricians, chefs, and teachers- they have the potential to reach their career goals- they have the potential to afford to write the mock $10k checks they wrote today in class. They have the potential to live a life far-better than the one they have today. They have the potential to learn the lessons their elders were not taught, so they can have superior credit, own a home, own their car, travel the world, and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

We need to take back our schools and our communities. We need to stand up, speak up and speak out. We need to create a flow of communication between the state, neighborhoods, school districts, administrators, teachers, parents, and the students. Everyone must work to develop a system that works. Without total buy-in from these stakeholders, the system will fail and our country will suffer an unimaginable fate. We need to stop talking about it and start doing something. Parents, teachers, and administrators have to come together in order to effectively communicate what is needed and required for our youth to succeed both in and outside of school. We need more mentors coming to the schools, speaking to the students, working with the school personnel and the families of the students.

We need parents to be more engaged in the learning process, not just when they want to come to the school for a confrontation with a teacher or administrator. We need parents to take the time to ask, see, and know what is going on with their children in school and in the neighborhood. We need parents to ask for help when they need it; help with tutoring their children; help with showing their children a buffet of positive role models to learn from and aspire to become. If you are a single parent and your work schedule is hectic- ask for help to effectively connect with your child and their teacher(s). Parents need to stop relying on teachers to handle all of the teaching and disciplining of their children. What is taught in school is to be reinforced in the home. What is taught in the home should be a positive example displayed and expressed at school.

Teachers need to re-engage and reconnect, not waiting until a child has reached a failing grade- but showing care and concern once that child falls below a "B". Teachers need to take the time to reach out and talk to the students who clearly need more positive reinforcement. If you know that the vast majority of your students come from home environments filled with negative images and influences, why would you perpetuate this same negativity in the classroom? If these children are living in environments of fear, hopelessness, and diminishing faith- why would you not want to create and maintain an environment where they can feel safe and loved?

So many schools have signs around their campuses claiming a 'commitment to excellence', yet mediocrity is the norm. We have upset, frustrated, and disconnected parents who yell at upset, frustrated, and disconnected administrators- who then yell at upset, frustrated and disconnected teachers- who walk into their classrooms and yell at upset, frustrated, and disconnected students- who only model the behavior of their upset, frustrated and disconnected parents. The cycle of behavior won't stop until we stop it; until we stop passing the buck and blaming everyone else for our problems.

Historically the undervalued, underserved, underrepresented has always banded together to bring themselves out of the depths of darkness. In the 1950s we fought for our children's equal education rights. In the 1960s and 1970s we raised our standards even higher for teaching and education. Even in the early-to-mid-1980s our children knew that all eyes were on them; the administrators, teachers, the neighborhood, and the parents were all on the same page- and our children knew to walk the straight line.

Where did we go wrong? When did we stop caring? When did our vision of role models shift from the intelligent, courageous, and driven change agents- to the hard-core, lazy, thugs and 'barbies'? When did we go from working towards self-empowerment to self-entitlement? What are you doing to take back your community? Stop making excuses and start doing something. NOW! It takes a village to raise a child- we must reunite our village. We have to be the change we want to see!

Natasha L. Foreman

Copyright 2010. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.