Do not let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter. – Former First Lady, Michelle Obama
Everyone is talking about girls, girls, girls!
Girls, Girls, Girls, is more than just a hit song released by rapper Jay -Z in 2001. Ever since the hit song, we’ve seemed to not be able to stop talking about girls and the importance of empowering them in schools. It’s a much-needed conversation that has been carried on by many female leaders including former First Lady, Michelle Obama. The recently released blockbuster film, Black Panther has sparked the topic of why we must continue to empower our girls to take on breaking barriers in STEM careers. The Marvel film displays black female characters as never seen before and it says to young black girls that they can be real life heroines!
#BlackGirlMagic on the Big Screen
I recently featured the voice of fellow educator Dr. Katrina Mallory in our EdLanta blog discussing the importance of empowering young, black girls in schools. She also shared her views on #BlackGirlMagic as being more than a hashtag, but a movement! Although the women’s rights movement is actively gaining progress, Black women are still behind their counterparts in leadership and business roles. I believe that this film provides a cool depiction of Black women helping to save their communities and the world. My hope is that the racial gap in women equality will change in the years to come from more young black girls saying, we can and we are!
Seeing black women in non traditional roles on the big screen is major. Black Panther displayed #BlackGirlMagic in action. The female characters in the movie did not have a super power like the main character Black Panther. However, it’s the strength, wisdom and resilience of the female characters that made them stand out from the rest. This is exactly what we want girls in schools across the world to see. Especially in middle school when young girls are starting to come into their own. It reinforces to them that they are good enough and can serve in the same professional positions and roles just like men without anything extra needed.
A Young Black Girl Shares Her Views
The female characters in Black Panther are empowering young black girls to excel in STEM and STEAM! The “a” does matter, says Zen’Ayah Finley, an 11-year-old student at Manchester G.A.T.E.R.S School who in interested in the arts and creativity that inspired the movie. While living in Fresno, California, Zen’Ayah is aspiring to take her gifts and talents throughout the world. She is even more hopeful of her aspirations coming into fruition after seeing the black female characters in action. “It was so inspiring to see Black women play such strong roles in the movie from the General, an engineer, an activist, a doctor and yes, even a mother,” says Zen’Ayah. The role of Angela Bassett as “Queen Mother of Wakanda,” was one of the most inspiring characters for her. I don’t think that we are even beginning to see how impactful this movie will be on young black girls and their future career choices. The opened doors have just been widened.
Check out my conversation with Zen’Ayah about the movie Black Panther, as well as her thoughts on how we can improve the way we’re educating and empowering young black girls.
ProfessorJBA – Why is the movie Black Panther important to you?
Zen’Ayah – The movie was amazing! I love the connections to African culture, the rituals, the dances, the beautiful cultural attire and fashion. Black Panther is so important to me as a young, black girl because it shows us endless possibilities of what we can be. It was pretty cool to see so many fearless black women in action.
ProfessorJBA – In your opinion, what are the top areas of improvement regarding how we educate girls?
Zen’Ayah – We aren’t seeing a lot of seeing historical figures in American history that are women; especially black women. Men weren’t the only pioneers of America but as young girls we don’t see ourselves in prominent roles. We’re being taught that women weren’t equal and in many ways it feels like we still aren’t!
ProfessorJBA – Are educational programs and schools empowering girls to be more than just domestic workers?
Zen’Ayah – We are learning good information in our core subjects but not how to build an empire like Oprah or even create a movie such as Black Panther. That’s what I want to learn how to do in school.
ProfessorJBA – Myth or fact: Are girls behaviors better, just as bad or worse than boys?
Zen’Ayah – LOL, Just as bad!
ProfessorJBA – Talk to me about the importance of mentorship for girls?
Zen’Ayah – We need more in our schools. At my school, the 5th graders mentor the 2nd graders as buddies but no specific mentoring programs to help empower girls or help us come to age.
ProfessorJBA – From watching the movie, can we empower more young black girls to advance their education?
Zen’Ayah – Exposure to colleges and universities at an earlier age. Encouraging college students to empower young black girls to explore careers seen in movies like Hidden Figures and Black Panther that require advanced education, preparation and training.
ProfessorJBA – What are effective ways teachers can help improve the social acceptance and affirmation of girls in schools?
Zen’Ayah – Affirmations are important. I learned this at home from my mom and grandmother, both educators. Social acceptance is so important because a lot of my peers and even I struggle with this. I wish we had more class discussions and sessions for girls and even boys to show the importance of diversity and cultural differences with plays a big role in social acceptance.
ProfessorJBA – What message would you give to other girls about being judgmental or degrading towards each other?
Zen’Ayah – I learned from my grandmother and mom to always be proud of who I am. They taught me to celebrate the uniqueness of others. I believe that girls have to celebrate and empower each other because traditionally our society hasn’t. If we don’t change how we embrace each other, the world never will. This has to be done across color, economic and religious barriers.
There is hope! ShaRhonda Knott- Dawson recently wrote a post, To My Black Daughters, which has inspired me to focus in on why empowering young black girls is important in such a time as this. We need more schools to create and provide successful paths for girls to take on more careers in STEM, business and medicine. Humbly serving as the Board Chairman of Georgia’s first state commissioned charter school for girls, Ivy Prep Academy, I’m proud of how our educators and leaders are working tirelessly to educate the whole girl. I’m also proud of the many educators, both male and female, of all races, creeds and religions that are empowering our girls to take their place in today’s society. Historically, women in America have not been embraced, empowered or even considered to be in top positions of large companies or organizations. Young black girls of this generation have great examples of female leaders, Michelle Obama, Oprah, Ava Duvernay, the numerous mothers, educators and activists who are setting the path of change. This generation of girls may be the game changers needed to place girls in top positions throughout all industries and show that black girls can too.
What’s Next: A Wrinkle In Time directed by Ava Duvernay.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.