Living in a large metropolitan area, there usually a lot of things happening from a cultural perspective both during the week and on the weekend. Big cities are a place for leaders to rise up and bring focus and enlightenment to communities as needed, usually paying special attention to the younger generation who have yet to experience life in full. I have a special love for the younger generation, as I remember almost every day of my youth; both the good days and the not so good. So when I’m asked to be a part of something that I know I would have benefited as a youth growing up in New York, I try my best to participate. I was recently blessed with such an opportunity and although I was super sick the day of the event, I had a wonderful tine watching and observing a wonderful group of young women, participating in a conference created just for them.
Ebony Wheeler, Program Manager at Women Inspiring Strength and Empowerment (Club WISE), held a conference recently in Washington, DC dedicated to Youth Empowerment entitled “Project Me”. Club WISE provides young women with a structured and supportive space to learn about healthy femininity and refine what it means to be a strong woman. Club WISE shares several outlooks with Style Stamped such as challenging the images and “dominant stories” seen in the media and encourage young women to look within and become their “best selves.” At Style Stamped our quote is “dress the way you want to live”, but you can’t do that until you “decide who you are” which means you have to come to terms with, an identity for yourself, your best self, and live and dress accordingly.
Growing up as a woman is not an easy task, and sometimes growing up as an African-American woman can add a few more challenges. Through Club WISE, Ms. Wheeler seeks to have a program that can be the catalyst for maturation into self-aware and confident young women. This is not always an easy task! But how wonderful is it to know that there are individuals out here in the world like Ms. Wheeler who care to give it a try? I would have loved to have a safe place to discuss issues that arose while I was growing up. Even more, I’m glad to know that my daughter will have opportunities to be a part of projects such as Club WISE. Project Me allows a place and space for teens to connect with themselves and others. Attendees of the conference had an opportunity to hear from positive female presenters and speakers, and come away feeling inspired. The positive vibes in the room were strong!
There were several speakers, presenters, poets and artists. One of the speakers was Kristina Gilchrist, a DC native who is an author, community activist and consultant who works with various organizations including the DC and PG County Public School Systems. Mrs. Gilchrist develops programs for elementary, middle, and high-school students focused on gender equality and self-esteem. She is also the founder of Live Your Life On Purpose (LYOP). She has an amazing story that fits right in with the WISE mission. Learn more about Mrs. Gilchrist here. A survivor of sexual assault, teen dating violence, and a product of two parents addicted to drugs, Mrs. Gilchrist has a lot of wisdom to share. Her story, and her experiences, do not define who she is. She is not defined by what society thinks she should be, or who society thinks she should be. She asked the young ladies in the audience, “If there was one word to define yourself, what would it be?” It’s a good question for all of us to ask ourselves. She also asked the group, what does society say about you? Most of the comments and responses had a negative connotation of young, black women. Mrs. Gilchrist pointed this out, and dug for the young attendees to also add some positive words to the societal outlook of themselves. I was proud that my own 11 year old daughter yelled out “smart!” African-American women are smart. This conference showed that more than anything.
I noticed while at this conference (in between my heavy, smoker-like coughs) that art and poetry were heavily integrated into this event. Although it wasn’t spoken about, I know that art is a way of expressing yourself the way that no one else on earth has the capacity to do. As unique individuals we all have unique talents, and this WISE conference gave us a glimpse of the strength in art and showed how art plays a major part in all of our lives and offers an expression that a normal conversation may not convey. On top of that, well, it’s just interesting and dope!
Jay Mills, the lady lyricist, also from DC, showed us her live poetry skills at the event. The “Real Jay Mills,” as she’s called, is also a community activist, recording engineer, pianist, composer, and CEO of 80’s Baby Productions. Whew!
The DC School Without Walls (SWW) Poetry Club had two members at the WISE conference that also represented with their spoken word skills. Rated as one of America’s Best High Schools, the SWW poetry club has been in existence for the past three years.
All of the young ladies in the audience came together for a vision board project. The project went from blank to colorful and written photos cut out from magazines that represented each of them.
The keynote speaker, Ronne Brown, was another amazing young woman who spoke to the audience, telling her story. Defeating many odds, born and raised in DC, Mrs. Brown leaves “no excuses” for one who wants to better their lives. At the age of 16 she became a mom for the first time, eventually was an unemployed mother of 3, and now is an entrepreneur wife and mother of four. She served as an inspiration for the young ladies, and an example of what not to do, but even if you do fall off track, she let it be known that your story ends there. A true testament of how you make your mess your message!
These kind of events represent everything that Style Stamped is about. Becoming yourself, growing into yourself, and defeating all odds. Last but not least, being proud of who you are and your story. Your story is like no other. That’s what makes it Style Stamped!
For more information on Club WISE please contact Ebony Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artwork by Tish from Graphix 124.