By Kimberly Ortiz
As 2021 comes to a close, the Women’s Leadership Project would like to highlight some of the most significant events this year, along with the goals we set and issues we addressed thus far.
#Standing4BlackGirls Wellness Initiative and Task Force
In December 2020, WLP began the #Standing4BlackGirls Wellness Initiative that provided free, culturally responsive, humanist individual & group therapy for LGBTQI+ straight/cis & femme young Black women and BIPOC youth sexual and domestic violence survivors between the ages of 16-24 in partnership with My Choice My Power Counseling secular therapy and Open Paths Counseling Center. This was a wonderful opportunity for many students that were in need of mental health support, especially in light of the pandemic. These confidential sessions with BIPOC, LGBTQI+ and female-identified therapists created a safe space for youth who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford therapy. Lack of access to culturally responsive therapy was one of the main issues identified by Black girl sexual harassment and sexual violence survivors who responded to a survey WLP youth conducted with South L.A. youth in 2020.
This opportunity was one of our core demands in the #Standing4BlackGirls Task Force.
Other key task force demands include:
Develop a regional fund to continue the #Standing4BlackGirls Wellness Initiative that is specifically for Black girl survivor-focused trauma-informed therapy, holistic support and safe spaces on school campuses and in South L.A. (Provide culturally competent health care practitioners attuned to the social and emotional needs of Black girls)
Gain support from and maintain relationships with policy makers for #Standing4BlackGirls, a Black women and girls-led regional task force focused on Black girls with an intersectional focus on disabled, LGBTQIA, unhoused and foster care girls
Develop Wellbeing Centers in South L.A. High Schools that will provide reproductive justice-aligned access to birth control, abortion, and health screenings for Black girls across class, sexuality, and ability.
Provide rental assistance to Black women domestic violence and sexual violence survivors & unhoused Black LGBTQI+ youth
Develop resources and protections for Black trans girls in culturally competent health care, housing and safe spaces/harassment-free zones
Develop a Sexual Harassment Prevention Education bill to implement mandatory restorative and transformative justice-aligned sexual, domestic, and intimate partner violence curricula across genders in after school and during school enrichment programming
Paid Youth Internships and Scholarships
WLP students received paid internships through L.A. County’s Youth@Work program and the WLP fund. The Youth@Work program provides paid employment for low-income, foster, formerly incarcerated and unhoused youth throughout L.A. County. Youth interns conducted surveys, workshops, and helped convene monthly #Standing4BlackGirls task force meetings with policy makers and community advocates. In addition, graduating WLP seniors and alum received college scholarships (up to $1000) for their participation in the program. Merely Morfin (CSULA), Deaven Rector (Howard University Law), Desja Sheridan (CSUN), Zorrie Petrus (El Camino College), and Arrai Lugo (LACC) were this year’s winners.
LGBTQIA+ Youth of Color Institute and Black Women in Rock Roundtable
In early March, WLP held a third annual youth-facilitated LGBTQIA+ Youth of Color Institute for middle and high school students. The session focused on mental health resilience and leadership building. It featured queer youth spoken word artists, summer camp information from Brave Trails LGBT Camp, Black and Latinx feminist education, as well as giveaways and interactive activities for participants. King-Drew/GSA alumni and UC Berkeley student Karen Ruiz did a presentation on Black Queer icons. WLP Gardena High alum Jadyn Taylor performed spoken word on Black liberation, identity, and queer self-love.
In October, WLP alum Brianna Parnell and Jadyn also served as camp counselors at the Black LGBTQI+ Parent and Caregiver group and Brave Trails virtual camp for Black queer youth.
On Saturday March 27, 2021, WLP and #Standing4BlackGirls celebrated Black Women’s historic impact on American rock music by having visionary guitar artists Ghetto Songbird, Malina Moye, Felice Rosser, and Gabby Logan as guests. Rock Camp for Girls L.A. and the Maurock Music Academy were co-sponsors of the event. The discussion focused on the influence that Black women had in the making of rock music from the early twentieth century to the present. Influential historical guitarists Rosetta Tharpe, Memphis Minnie, and Elizabeth Cotten were also featured. WLP members facilitated the session and asked the guitarists questions related to the progress of their careers, obstacles they encountered, advice for youth interested in getting into the music industry, tips from early mentors, and their opinion on supporting music education for youth of color in their communities. I believe events like these can create an impact for younger women of color to stand up for how they are viewed when it comes to them building their careers. Just because there are not a lot of people that look like us in the careers we want to follow, does not mean we do not belong. Knowing that these Black women musicians were able to endure obstacles and racist/sexist hostility from other people throughout their life, but yet still manage to get to where they are now, could touch hearts and encourage other girls to do the same.
Future of Feminism Conference
During June, we hosted the Future of Feminism Conference through zoom focusing on “Black and Latinx Feminist Visioning, Resistance, and Ending Sexual Violence and Domestic Violence”. WLP Youth volunteered to lead break out sessions that covered information and discussions on the #MeToo Movement & Women of Color in the Music Industry. Accompanying us as guests were Shaunelle Curry, Chardonnay Madkins, Slauson Girl, Mandisa Thomas, Molly Watson, and the Jenesse Center (which provides housing and services for domestic violence victims). In the first breakout session, participants were introduced to the basic concept and purpose of the #MeToo Movement, which was founded by Black feminist Tarana Burke. Participants learned about who this movement has impacted and the significance of this movement to girls and women of color. The questions that guided this session were, “How can girls of color become involved in the #MeToo Movement?” and “Does #MeToo overlap with other movements?”. The second session involved a more reflective activity about the major issues Black women are facing in the music industry. One of the topics that was highlighted was the oversexualization of women in music videos. “It’s not just the visual aspect of music videos that show this oversexualization of women in this industry, but also the lyrical content of songs and the way they describe women.” These sessions allowed us to think critically about the difference between how white women are treated in the music industry compared to Black women. WLP members defined important situations when it comes to Black women and girls standing up for themselves.
Young Women of Color Health Survey, Purple Ribbon Award, Publications and Film Festivals!
During November and December, WLP surveyed nearly one hundred girls and female-identified students about their experiences with sexual harassment, college access, self-esteem, sexism in textbooks, and safe spaces on campus. Many participants identified sexual harassment as a major issue in their lives in the community and at school. Sexual harassment, abortion rights, colorism, and racism were among the top issues identified by student respondents. WLP will continue surveying youth in the new year at King-Drew, Gardena, Augustus Hawkins High and other South L.A. schools. The survey results were shared with the #Standing4BlackGirls task force. Two major action items will involve conducting peer education on sexual harassment and sexual violence and developing a sexual harassment and violence prevention education bill. The bill would focus on culturally responsive sexual harassment education that addresses the specific challenges that Black and Latinx girls experience around sexual violence when it comes to anti-Black racism (misogynoir), victim-shaming/blaming, gaslighting and criminalization.
In October, WLP was awarded a Purple Ribbon award from Domestic Shelters for Outstanding Youth Initiative of 2021!
WLP members also published articles on poetry, rape culture, femicide, and misogynoir on our blog. In addition, WLP filmmaker and photographer Zorrie Petrus’ documentary short, “Defining Ourselves, For Ourselves: Unhoused, Black and Female in L.A.” was featured in several film festivals, including the African American Women in Cinema festival, New York’s Socially Relevant Film Festival and Media Done Responsibly’s social justice film festival.
#Standing4BlackGirls October 2021 Rally
On October 16th, WLP and the #Standing4BlackGirls coalition held our second annual community action against rape culture and sexual violence. Speakers and co-sponsors included Peace Over Violence, Positive Results Center, Media Done Responsibly, Connect with Clay, Rights4Girls, California Black Women’s Democratic Club, Slauson Girl, Black Skeptics Group, Butter Influence, Keep it Vertical, Neighborhood Organics and Blended Berries. WLP members helped organize a beautiful event by making posters for participants to use when walking through the community to promote awareness on the importance of ending rape culture and sexual violence. Special guest advocates included Skid Row poet and activist Suzette Shaw, Kaitlyn Parhm, founder of Inglewood’s Helping Hands, poet Curly Dynamite, Supervisor Holy Mitchell, Shaunelle Curry, founder and CEO of Media Done Responsibly, and singer-actress Cydney Wayne Davis. The purpose of this event was to educate the community and make an impact with our mission statement and demands. Every person dropped lots of gems, and one of our highlights included a special performance with the founder of WLP, Sikivu Hutchinson, Cydney and WLP alum and intern Zorrie Petrus. Shining light onto some of our members, Brianna Parnell was the coordinator of this year’s #Standing4BlackGirls and she discussed some of the important issues our community faces including mental health effects. Zorrie helped organize a video to capture the entire event and grabbed some amazing footage through it all. This was a memorable event that tied all of this year’s planning together. The #Standing4BlackGirls rally has become an annual event and we look forward to pushing forward with more of our demands around the regional fund and LGBTQI+ safe community spaces in the new year.
Women of Color Beyond Belief conference and Foster Care Youth initiative
This fall, WLP program coordinator Eclasia Wesley and Ms. H participated in the annual Women of Color Beyond Belief conference sponsored by Black Nonbelievers, Black Skeptics and WLP. The conference focused on social, educational and gender justice for secular women of color and is the first of its kind. WLP youth interns also participated in a foster care outreach event for K-12 youth in West L.A.
Wellbeing Center, Mobile Health Unit and Virtual Homegirl Podcast
Looking forward to 2022, we are happy to announce that we have been planning for several months on a new project which centers on creating a Wellbeing Center and Mobile Health Unit for King Drew High School’s campus and at Gardena High school. #Standing4BlackGirls has partnered with Planned Parenthood (PPLA) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) and Supervisor Holly Mitchell’s office to develop a plan for these facilities. They will feature sexual health, reproductive health, and mental health services (strictly confidential for students). PPLA and DPH are working with high schools throughout the county on these initiatives. The centers will offer reproductive justice-aligned access to birth control, abortion, and health screenings for BIPOC girls and youth across class, sexuality, and ability.
As a New Year’s resolution, WLP will continue to dedicate ourselves to providing resources for Black girls and women of color in need; educating and creating leaders in South L.A. high schools. Finally, I’d like to highlight that our “Virtual Homegirls” podcast that launched in January now has 4 episodes available to listen on Virtual Homegirl Podcast. Make sure to check that out if you’re interested in learning more about what our WLP members have to share with you all.
Thanks so much to our generous community supporters and allies!
California Black Freedom Fund
Harrington Family Fund
Black Skeptics Los Angeles
Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and many more!
Kimberly Ortiz is a 17 year-old twelfth grader at King-Drew Magnet HS in South L.A. She loves meditation, nature walks, politics, and aspires to attend UC Irvine to study criminology and become a FBI agent. “Making a difference in the world has always been something I’ve wanted”.