Letter of Support for the Women’s Leadership Project

Dr. Mr. Robin Toma,

Secular Woman is a supporting partner of the Women's Leadership Project (WLP). Secular Woman is the first and only international or national organization focused on promoting non-religious women.

WLP is a vital and vibrant program focused on training and developing secular humanist feminist women of color, many of whom have not been exposed to a secular humanist social/gender justice curriculum. This program provides a unique experience for young women to experience learning in a different environment that is more conducive to their history, experiences, and learning.

WLP provides curriculum focused on empowering young women of color to take ownership of their lives and communities through understanding their history and opening up how they envision their future and their place in society.

Through this program they learn self-confidence; they learn to question what they see and hear; they see themselves as agents of change and leadership; they learn how to collaborate with individuals and groups, and more.

Because of their experiences in this program, participants have gone on to be professionals, scientists, and attorneys.  Before this program, they might not have met a black woman scientist or learned how to question stereotyping and low expectations in STEM education.  WLP allows them to hear, first hand, that others struggle with racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious discrimination.  It also shows clearly that success is possible for them within our society.  Additionally, participants start to see the larger societal forces of institutional oppression and become knowledgeable and experienced at understanding those forces and how they limit and dehumanize.

WLP is one of the shining programs for young humanists of color.  It is vital that young women have access to the role models, leadership training and curricula that this program provides.  This program produces results that are changing lives, changing our communities, and changing the future.

Secular Woman is 100% supportive of this program as a vital part of our community.  We see this as a project that should be replicated and modeled across the country so that other young women can benefit from its successes.

Sincerely,

Kim Rippere
President
Secular Woman

An Interview with Women’s Leadership Project

SW: Why do the girls participate in the program?

WLP: The girls participate because they feel empowered by learning about the social history of feminists of color and connecting them to their lived experiences.  Many feel as though they’ve been shafted by mainstream public education’s drill and kill high stakes testing regime that shuts out meaningful critical engagement with the contributions, social capital, cultural knowledge, and liberation struggle of communities of color in the U.S. and beyond.  For  example, during our annual Denim Day outreach we don’t just address the objectification  and abuse young women experience in their daily lives and relationships but also examine the impact of media and social imaging of women of color.  Because white European women have always been constructed as the universal beauty and human ideal, Black, Latina, Asian, and Native American women are sexualized in ways that European American white women have never been.  Pretending like "all women" are oppressed by sexist exploitation ignores the role racism, segregation and white supremacy play in the way black and Latina women are  brutally marginalized in the workplace, denied access to reproductive health and demeaned/ marginalized in media portrayals of "proper" or even so-called empowered femininity.  When we address sexual harassment and sexual assault we contextualize them vis-à-vis the history of  exploitation and commodification of the bodies of women of color through slavery, imperialist  occupation and dispossession.

SW: What is the program focused on accomplishing?

WLP: We educate young women of color in feminist humanist practice.  We empower them to take ownership of their lives and communities by connecting the struggles of previous generations with their present and future.  We specifically develop curricula on women’s rights, social histories and activist traditions.  The program also focuses on peer education and training on HIV/AIDS prevention, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, reproductive justice, media literacy and safe space creation for LGBTQ youth.  
We also provide college resources for financial aid, tutoring, scholarships, job and internship opportunities and undocumented youth resources.

Two girls of color smiling into the camera. Both are wearing badges. One is wearing a medal.SW: What changes do you see in the girls as they progress through the program?

WLP: They become  more confident, they question and challenge social norms, and they begin to view themselves  as scholars, intellectuals and activists.  They learn how to collaborate with other groups, train  their peers, respectfully debate viewpoints they disagree with, and engage with adults as  stakeholders in the school-community.  They don’t accept the criminally low expectations that  mainstream society imposes on them, and, most crucially, they begin to think outside of the box about the kinds of professions and roles they’ve been told they’re best suited to.  We’ve  had a number of young women decide to be doctors, attorneys and academics as a result of their involvement with WLP.  We recently hosted a young African American planetary geologist (now a program manager at the California Science Center) who was literally the only black woman to receive a B.S. in astrophysics in her graduating class at UCLA.  Most of our students had never heard of a black female scientist, much less met one in the flesh.  I think being exposed to a cross-section of female of color professionals and hearing their stories struggling  with racism, sexism and homophobia in male-dominated fields has been invaluable to them.   But far more than just viewing themselves as high achievers they become critically conscious  of the way institutional oppression limits and dehumanizes their communities.  The schools  where WLP is based are at the epicenter of what has come to be known as the school-to-prison  pipeline.  Many of our youth see the devastating effects of mass incarceration up close and  personal.  They see their peers get sucked into the dead end cycle of low wage employment,  unplanned pregnancy, juvenile detention, probation and homelessness.  So our intense focus  on writing, public speaking, publication, peer education, feminist consciousness-raising and  college has a direct impact on their outcomes as well as that of the overall school-community.

SW: What cultural forces do you see the girls struggling with? One of the biggest is that sexism and misogyny don’t matter.

WLP: In the U.S., most girls are not socialized to "see" these forces  in their lives and reflexively dis-identify when they do.  One of the greatest challenges our  students face when they do peer training is framing sexual abuse and degradation as a human  rights violation.  Intimate partner violence, sexual assault and STD contraction is extremely  high amongst girls of color.  But because they are always told that racism is the "real" issue  in their lives, and that men of color "have it harder", they often overlook sexism and gender  discrimination.  Over the past decade prostitution and sex trafficking have become a major  factor for younger girls in our communities.  In addition, we’ve been having more discussions  about the impact porn culture and reality programming has on their lives and psyches.  Some  girls at the schools where WLP is based have even filmed themselves committing pornographic  acts because they are so starved for attention and validation.  Others are coerced into exposing  themselves online in order to please a "boyfriend" or adult predator who is exploiting them  for sex. Certainly much of the normalizing bitch/ho/pimp/hustler pop culture language in  mainstream media has facilitated these trends.  Girls see hyper-sexuality as a means of getting  validation and affirmation from males and this leads to destructive internalized sexism/ self-hatred.  This is especially lethal for African American girls because of the prevailing  historical association of black female sexuality with pathology, criminality and "welfare queen"  shiftlessness.

SW: What have you learned from the participants?

WLP: Feminist organizing and education in WLP is  driven by students’ lived experiences, community context and cultural knowledge.  Culturally  relevant teaching means that so-called adult experts/authority figures like me become students  in the teaching and learning process.  Unlike many of my students, I grew up in a middle class  family and never had to worry about whether or not I was going to go to college.  I was never  expected to sacrifice my education to be a breadwinner and/or primary caregiver, nor did I  have to struggle to find a place to sleep at night.  As an American citizen I’ve never had to  hustle to find financial aid resources for college while worrying about deportation.  And as a  straight girl my sexual orientation was never questioned, marginalized or demeaned by  teachers, textbooks and the general school-community.  Moreover, even though black youth  were criminalized when I was in school (hostile encounters with the LAPD were certainly a vivid  part of my upbringing), the experience was not as insidious as it is today.  Virtually every young  person we work with knows someone their age that has been involved in the system.  Whole  families have been destroyed by racist sentencing policies, leading to greater numbers of  African American youth being placed in foster care and/or becoming homeless.  This  perspective drives my work with youth in WLP and other programs.  Drawing from their own  experiences, the students help shape our curriculum and have an active role in developing  instruction.  The students lead these workshops and their frontline experiences with misogynist  dehumanization drive much of our in-class media literacy initiatives.  Students analyze how  specific images, songs, and shows socialize young women and men to view violence against  women as normal and acceptable.  They gain greater insight into and empathy about the  everyday inequities girls of color face.  Ultimately this approach allows us to explore feminist  alternatives vis-à-vis busting stereotypes, building healthy relationships, boosting academic  expectations and improving campus climate.

SW: How can the general public support the girls and your efforts?  

WLP: We’re trying to expand WLP into other schools to develop more feminist humanist programming.  It’s immensely helpful  when organizations and groups like yours promote our students’ work.  We’ve also been  working with Black Skeptics Los Angele to secure grant funding.  This year, BSLA launched  the First in the Family Humanist scholarship fund to support students that are historically  under-represented in the college-going population.  The fund provides scholarships for  undocumented, LGBTQ, foster care and homeless youth (for more information contact  [email protected]).

Secular Community Steps Up for South L.A. Scholars

Originally posted at http://freethoughtblogs.com/blackskeptics/2013/02/06/secular-community-steps-up-for-south-l-a-scholars/

“Perhaps adults believe if they just don’t talk about gender or racism, then they won’t exist in our lives. The truth is that we see the effects of racism and gender bias everyday on television, on the Internet, in the beliefs of teachers, friends, and ourselves.”

–Ariana Mercado, 12th grade scholar, Gardena High School

“As an African American teacher it is important for me to constantly address and affirm all of my students as scholars, activists, intellectuals and visionaries.  Black and Latino children are never viewed this way in mainstream American classrooms — to many teachers, and the world, they are potential drop-outs, they are f–ups, they are discipline problems.” 

–Markham Middle School teacher, Watts

Over the past week, members of the secular community have stepped up mightily and helped Black Skeptics Los Angeles exceed its fundraising goal for the First in the Family Humanist scholarship fund. Because of the generous sponsorship of individuals and organizations like Foundation Beyond Belief, the American Humanist Association, Black Non-Believers of Chicago, Debbie Goddard of African Americans for Humanism and Ian Cromwell of the Crommunist Manifesto, BSLA will be able to offer four $1000 scholarships to college-bound South Los Angeles students. We at BSLA also appreciate the tremendous boost given to the effort by blogs from Skepchick, PZ Myers, Crommunist and others.  For our recruitment outreach we are proud to partner with exemplary teacher-resource providers like Dr. Melanie Andrews, Angela Rodriguez and Shirley Van der Plas of Washington Prep High School; Debbie Wallace and Diane Schweitzer of Gardena High School; Tabitha Thigpen of King-Drew Medical Magnet and Marlene Carter of Dorsey High School.  It is largely because of the efforts of these unsung teachers, mentors, health providers, and scores like them, that homeless, foster care, undocumented and LGBTQ seniors make it to college.

Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) issued annual “report cards” for all schools. Washington Prep has a 44% graduation rate and Gardena has a 52% graduation rate; far lower than that of the district average. With the exception of King Drew Medical Magnet, and a few other outstanding high schools, the four year college-going rate at most South Los Angeles schools is abysmal. These scholarships will reinforce the work of first-in-the-family student activists like Jamion Allen, Destiny Davis, Ariana Mercado and Leticia Patton (pictured above). As youth leaders in the Women’s Leadership Project and Gay/Straight Alliance, these young women are engaged in critical humanist work that addresses homophobia and sexism on their school campuses—despite the fact that gender and sexual orientation issues are deemed “less important” than those that involve racial conflict.

The support of secular allies is an important step toward making secular, atheist and humanist social justice organizing visible in communities of color where there is little to no history of an activist non-believer presence. We are immensely grateful to everyone who stepped up to move this groundbreaking effort forward and will be compiling a list of individual donors for public appreciation.

Scholarship awards will be awarded and celebrated in June in Los Angeles.

 

Black Skeptics Los Angeles,
Sikivu Hutchinson

Elizabeth Ross

D. Frederick Sparks

Nicome Taylor

WLP 2012 Highlights: Our Feminist Future

Originally posted at http://www.womenleadershipproject.blogspot.com/2013/01/wlp-2012-highlights-our-feminist-future.html

 

WLP/GSA Washington Prep, Day of Dialogue

2012 was an amazing year for WLP students and alumni.  Our girls made tremendous strides in leadership, public speaking, writing, college matriculation and academic excellence. In an era in which girls of color are routinely demonized in mainstream media and the dominant culture as hypersexual vixens and "baby mamas," WLP students have been leaders for feminist social change in their communities, teaching about and pushing back on gender justice. 

 
Leadership Outreach and Peer Education
WLP Wash Prep & GHS developed and facilitated Days of Dialogue, HIV/AIDS, reproductive justice, sexual assault awareness, AB540, media literacy and voter awareness presentations
 
WLP Wash Prep students registered new voters at Wash Prep and Duke Ellington HS
 
WLP launched Wash Prep's Gay/Straight Alliance
 
WLP students and alum developed and presented at the HRC’s annual Youth Media Education Conference
 
WLP alum joined with community partners Black Women for Wellness and FUEL to conduct four college panels at Wash Prep, GHS and Cal State Dominguez Hills
 
WLP Wash Prep president Jamion Allen spoke before the LAUSD Human Relations Commission on bullying and harassment
 

WLP presents on the 2012 election, health & reproductive justice policy

WLP Wash Prep sponsored Chicano student movement activist and change agent Paula Crisostomo for Women's History Month & the Women of Color Speaker Series

  
 

Karly Jeter, Posse Winner '13

 

WLP GHS alums (class of '12) Janeth Silva, Brenda Briones, Liz Soria, and Jimena Villa formed a post high school AB-540 group called The Five DREAMers.  
 
 
Academic Excellence
WLP GHS member Karly Jeter (class of '13) won a full four year Posse Foundation Scholarship to the College of William & Mary in D.C.
 
WLP Wash Prep member Victory Yates (class of '13) was a finalist for a Posse Foundation Scholarship to Grinnell College
 
WLP GHS president Miani Giron (class of '12) won full scholarships from the Posse Foundation and the Horatio Alger Foundation

WLP GHS seniors & alum Lizeth Soria, Janeth Silva, Imani Moses, Brenda Briones, Mayra Burunda, Clay Wesley (class of '10), Miani Giron, Jimena Villa and Ronmely Andrade received community leadership "First in the Family" scholarships from the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable and the Wells Fargo Foundation

Mayra Borunda (class of '10) made the President's List at CSU Long Beach during her first semester with a GPA of 3.8 and is currently on the Dean's List with a GPA of a 3.67.

Brenda  Briones (class of '12) got a 4.0 during her first college semester
 
 

 

WLP alum Liz Soria withDiane & Sikivu

WLP Wash Prep, Victory Yates
Posse Finalist, '13

"In my home and in my community I have always understood that a higher education is not as important as having kids and staying home to clean and cook like a “real woman/ wife” does. 
I think of Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) as the light in the darkness. As a senior at Gardena, I had no hope or desire to go to college before WLP. I used to think it would be impossible for me to attend college because I’m undocumented."

–Liz Soria

“After listening to (deputy city attorney) Heather Aubry talk about the challenges facing African Americans in the legal field I think I can make it through law school too…I felt much more motivated to pursue a legal career. ”

–Victory Yates

WLP interns and alums, Marlene, Imani, Mayra & Clay
Class of 2010 & 2011

 

“I never really questioned how the media portrays women of color. So, having WLP teach us how to observe and analyze the media helped me understand why young girls feel pressured to have ‘that long hair,’ ‘those blue eyes’—even if they are contacts, and “that nice body.” Aside from learning how to recognize these issues, we also did a lot of work to fight things that like sexual harassment. I know some people may say, ‘oh, just ignore it,’ but it’s not ok to ignore sexual harassment because by staying quiet, you begin to normalize it.”
–Imani Moses, Class of ’11 (CSULB)
 
Media & Publication
Articles by WLP GHS members Janeth Silva, Brenda Briones and Miani Giron were featured in the Feminist Wire, L.A. Progressive, USC Intersections and KPCC blog
 
Articles on WLP’s work by Sikivu Hutchinson and Diane Arellano were featured in the Feminist Wire, Racialicious, Arizona State University’s LeadCast blog, the American Humanist Association, Free Inquiry, Black Agenda Report and Alternet
 

Brenda Briones, author,
"Repro Justice Could
Save Lives…"

 

"Reproductive justice recognizes that women of color are impacted by a lack of access to reproductive health services and outdated machista views of sex and sexuality in our communities. It is a human right for a woman to choose when and/or if to have children."

 

Janeth Silva, author,
"Undocumented & Unafraid"


"It is difficult to put into words the feelings that come over me each time I see military recruiters targeting my fellow peers. I’ve learned to recognize that look in their eyes when they know they’ve spotted an insecure senior who doesn’t have top grades and isn’t sure what to do after high school. From my point of view, they look like hungry lions hunting for meat. They lure students with false promises and use our hopes and dreams against us."?

 

Secular Woman Announces Partnership with Women’s Leadership Project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information, please contact:

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727 E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail

Secular Woman Announces Partnership with Women's Leadership Project

Secular Woman is proud to announce that we are partnering with the Women's Leadership Project (WLP).  The WLP is a feminist service learning program designed to educate and train young middle- and high-school age women in South Los Angeles to take ownership of their school-communities. Founded in 2006 by Sikivu Hutchinson, WLP has over 20 active students and alumnae.

Secular Woman applauds the goals of WLP of empowering young women of color to develop their own voice. Promoting the young women who are members of WLP  is consistent with our organization’s desire to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of secular women. Our goal is to increase the exposure of their works in order to connect them to the secular movement as we feature the stories of the young women from this group on our site.

###

Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: www.SecularWoman.org.

For more information about the Women's Leadership Project, visit: www.womenleadershipproject.blogspot.com/

 

Women’s Leadership Project

Women's Leadership Project

The Women's Leadership Project (WLP) is a feminist service learning program designed to educate and train young middle and high school age women in South Los Angeles to take ownership of their school-communities. Founded in 2006 by Sikivu Hutchinson, the project is sponsored by the L.A. County Human Relations Commission and the Gardena Healthy Start program. WLP has over 20 active students and alumnae and uses a humanist curriculum with a social justice lens to:

  • Empower young women of color to develop their own voices
  • Increase their self-esteem
  • Foster healthy relationships
  • Promote critical consciousness about  and activism around race, gender and LGBT equality
  • Prepare for college and careers

WLP guides young women through public advocacy projects of their own choosing, helping them develop and sharpen their critical thinking, writing, organizing and leadership skills.

"The advice that I would give to a young girl of color growing up in this community 100 years from now is to never give up and always keep fighting for what they believe is right. They should never give up because at the end of the struggle they might accomplish their goal. What I didn't know that I know now before I took this class is that women face a lot of challenges in their daily life, some choose to put up with it meanwhile others fight to hear their voices heard or to keep up with the rest of the world." – Karen Carrillo- 11th grade, Washington Prep.

"I think of Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) as the light in the darkness. As a senior at Gardena, I had no hope or desire to go to college before WLP. I used to think it would be impossible for me to attend college because I’m undocumented." – Liz Soria – Senior, Gardena High School

"Educating and mentoring young women became a passion of mine after joining WLP and participating in this retreat only reinforced that desire. The retreat was a success and I believe events and places like WLP give girls an opportunity at futures they choose instead of futures that are prescribed to them as urban young women of color." – Mayra Borunda – Cal State University Long Beach Student, WLP alumna

"Other young people of color, particularly women of color, I need you to believe that there is so much more to life than marriage, babies, drugs, and minimum wage. I’m living proof that we have access to that life if we choose to pursue it." – Miani Giron, Gardena High School

The voices of atheists of color tend to be drowned out and ignored by the overwhelming presence of white voices. Secular Woman is proud to partner with the Women's Leadership Project, its students, alumnae and leaders to help raise the visibility of these young women.