As Women’s History Month comes to a close, one key concern to keep in mind is making sure that the development of Black girls, who can serve as future leaders, is taking place.
And while it is critical to include girls identified by and involved in informal training programs operated by organizations such as the Helping our Teen Girls (HOTGIRLS) of Atlanta, Black sororities and other nonprofits, it is also vital to nurture those who through their own independent actions demonstrate leadership potential and capabilities.
India Rockette is an example of a natural-born leader.
Rockette, a sixth-grader at Lakeside Middle School in Perris, Calif., whose family migrated from Los Angeles, found herself compelled to write a song addressing one of the most pertinent issues of our times.
“Me and my little brother (Kobe) were talking one day. I was asking him about his day, and he told me about a couple things he had seen,” explained Rockette, who decided to combine her brother’s observations with her own to come up with anti-bullying, self-empowerment song called “Who I Am.”
The idea behind the song is to let kids worldwide know that they are not alone, and that other people get bullied and teased for being different.
After finishing the song, India said she began to practice it repeatedly before she was ready to sing it for her family.
They were blown away by it.
“When she sang that song, it left me stunned” said her grandmother, Brenda Landreth. ” . . . you’re concerned as a parent and a grandparent; is something really going on? I called her back into my bedroom and asked her to sing it again. I asked what made her sing a song of this nature, because the words are very powerful.”
India’s aunt, Amelia Landreth, too, was struck by the compassion behind the song. “I just thought it was really, really big; that it was empowerment, compassion, and there was a sense of self-worth in it,” she said.
While her relatives were a little amazed at India’s song, they were not at all surprised at her compassion.
Her mother, Ingram Rockette, recounted the story of a little girl in India’s Perris elementary school who was obviously extremely poor.
“India asked me if she could give the little girl her clothes that were too little. I thought that was sweet of her, considering that India really didn’t know the little girl,” said Ingram. “She did it very discreetly; she dropped them off with the secretaries in the office, and they gave them to the girl,” explained India’s mom, who believes her daughter’s song probably resulted in part from living in Perris and being just a little different, and from not blending in and not looking like everyone else.
“That’s made her find her own way.”
Just as being a humanitarian is not new to India, her mother said music is also in the family. Her husband, Dwayne, and his whole family are musically inclined.
“I do consider myself a leader” said the 11-year-old, who is on the student body council at her school and has talked with her principal about doing a conference to help kids who are being bullied.
Marlow Wyatt loves young girls like India who exhibit that leadership capability at an early age.
But what she has seen while she ran her nonprofit mentoring group, Girl Blue Project, is that in their raw state, many young Black girls are not ready to fill the leadership pipeline.
One of the reasons, she said, is because she is seeing adults allowing young girls to get away with living down to very low standards.
“Everybody wants to be everybody’s friend, instead of being their mother, father or grandmother. There’s no hierarchy anymore.”
Wyatt said they also lack the local, accessible role models they need who can show them how to become leaders.
“. . . Everyone is in survival mode . . . This is so simple, and as corny as it sounds, you can talk all you want, but kids do what they see; actions speak louder than any words.”
To get prepared for the leadership pipeline, Wyatt believes that any training has to be ongoing. It cannot be confined to only the weekend.
“That’s why Girl Blue had them do something every day. You have to learn by repetition. If you took the same class everyday for six weeks, it’s impossible not to learn. When you do the same thing over and over again, you develop habits.”
And these habits can be taken into the world with you.
While Wyatt called Girl Blue Project an empowerment program more than a leadership-training organization, the program did provide girls with some of the basic foundation skills needed to begin to prepare for leadership training.
HOTGIRLS in Atlanta is another organization that has a leadership development component.
These include its Young Women’s Leadership Council for those in college or university, and Teen Advisory Board, which enables girls to educate their peers about teen issues and get leadership training for themselves.