Imagine walking into a lecture hall where 150 girls sit in lightly polished wooden chairs. At the front of the room stands a group of established professional women. On either side of the room stand more supportive women. All of these women look like you and are only here to encourage you. All of the girls you sit next to are here to be enlightened.
I have rarely been in a place where people like me or people in general share the same positive goal — to empower. This scene gave me a sense of intellectual power the moment I stepped in Barnard College’s Lehman Auditorium lecture hall. Women who wanted to encourage and help today’s young black women surrounded us in a supportive square — in front and on either side of us. My peers were also very supportive because we all wanted to lift each other up and leave more empowered than when we came.
Girls Who Code
At Girls Who Code, our instructors and mentors constantly pushed us to get out of our comfort zones. Being a female, my instructor knew that girls tend to not answer questions in class in fear of answering incorrectly. She called on us anyway because she knew it was more important for us to get the wrong answer and learn from it than stay silent and confused. It is important for the world to hear our voices, both metaphorically and literally.
This became evident when a male speaker spoke with us. He was so passionate and excited about building and innovating. But when he opened up the floor for questions, we all asked him about security development. He and his male counterparts only thought about the “cool” and “money-making” parts of technology but never about how to keep buyers safe from hackers. In contrast, a female speaker explained her job to test different medical databases and try to hack them to figure out how to make them more secure. It was then I realized the importance of innovating to solve people problems rather than innovate based on a want that may do more harm than good. This taught me that women are needed in the tech space to clean up the mess males might have made and to innovate technology that will help more people than the upper male class. This sense of empowerment in the classroom prepared me for the spiritual empowerment I received in Black Girls Lead.
Black Girls Lead
The second program I attended last summer was Black Girls Lead, a one-week leadership conference for girls of African descent where we stayed overnight at Barnard College, a small liberal arts college for women in New York City, and learned life skills — from finding your career to learning to love yourself.
Black Girls Lead, led by Beverly Bond, was the first program I have ever been to that was specifically for women of African descent. This is important to me because I find myself as the only one, or one of two people, of African descent in my classes and extracurricular activities. Because the program was specifically for girls like me, taught by women like me, I did not have to censor myself in fear of being misunderstood or bashed because my counterparts do not believe that oppression to people of color exists.
Because Black Girls Lead was an overnight program and designed specifically for girls of African descent, sisterhood quickly formed in that one week. We bonded by our similar stories, unique interests and cultural differences. Some of the girls I bonded with were from the Bahamas and Virgin Islands, and some of the girls shared their experiences as American Afro-Latinas and biracial girls.
During dorm sessions, we helped each other apply the wisdom we gained from the panelists each day. Jovian Zane, one of the panelists words resonated with us the most: ‘’Every time I stand up confidently, I may inspire someone else to do the same. Be bold enough to show your desire; to call it into your life. You can’t be your best self by yourself.’’
In both of these programs I was constantly encouraged to be the person I thought I never could be. I was motivated to be a person who is proud of her differences rather than angered by them, and a person who is not afraid to encourage or motivate others to do the same. Essentially, I was finally able to start living up to my name, Samaria, “woman of great power and great influence.”
Samaria is a junior at Riverwood International Charter School, and is an aspiring computer programmer, musician and writer.