Segregation or Mentoring….You be the Judge

Considering my residency on the East Coast has been a short one, I’ve had the opportunity to jump head first into mentoring young black girls academically and socially, and to support them in developing THEIR identity while transitioning to high school.  In my neighborhood, at the middle school there are 40-50 young black girls who are in desperate need of guidance, exposure to positive role models, mentorship and academic assistance.  These young girls come from all walks of life; home grown and newcomers to the area all within the last 3-5 years.  While the school is committed to assisting and developing ALL students, a group of professional black women in the surrounding areas were tapped to provide assistance to these young girls development; and we humbly obliged!

After meeting and interacting with the girls, it was apparent that there existed a need for positive identity formation, appreciation of their black heritage, analyze cultural values, and an understanding of how these components play into the young girls overall success at school.  Henri Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory proposes that individuals get their sense of self esteem, belonging and worth from being a part of a group.  So naturally, we wanted to form a network of women who reflected the diversity within the community and who would be positive role models for the girls.

From the beginning there was an understanding that we would not categorize these girls according to how WE felt they should identify themselves.  But rather, we should be cognizant of the fact that other outside and environmental factors would also contribute to their overall development.  This process of self-categorization has helped then form their own system of identifying themselves (either with an “in-group/out-group”) and would also set the framework for further comparison between themselves and peers.  It is likely that our efforts (mentoring, tutoring, enhancement of cultural awareness etc.) will be housed within the middle school setting; for the intent is to draw positive examples from within the existing environment from which the girls are expected to thrive (form a sense of “self”, and obtain academic achievement) before entering high school.  Through intentional mentoring, guidance and tutoring our stellar diverse group of women have made overwhelmingly progress in helping the young girls develop a sense of pride in their culture and positive identification of themselves

As a child, I too struggled with balancing a desire to belong and compared myself to what I believed to be “dominant” groups within middle school.  Like most young black girls in this country, it was a challenge for me to form a positive self-image and to develop a sense of worth.  It was the mentorship of other women, just like this group, who helped me to appreciate who I am (no matter the environment), appreciate how God made me, and to make positive comparisons between my culture and others.

This initiative ties in to a new movement happening around the country (Experimenting with Segregation); which confirms our belief that in order for our black youth to positively and  effectively develop their identity, it requires revisiting cultural values AND the positive influence of those who have chosen to categorize themselves in the SAME social identity group.  Despite some back lash regarding the segregation or establishment of an “outcast” group, suggesting that the majority was the superior or “in group”; I’m happy to report that the movement has not died. With continued support of the middle school, district and like minded supporters within the community, our initiative will continue to thrive, hopefully for years to come (or at least until the achievement gap is filled).

The orAKAle has spoken…………………….

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