The GIFT (Girls Interested in Finding the Truth) Rites of Passage program was created by Queen Aminah Muhammad as a way to do something about the negative influences impacting youth in South Los Angeles. The mission of the organization is to improve the lives of young women ages 10-19 who have been adversely affected by illiteracy, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, gang violence and other social problems, and to create positive change in their lives.

“I used to own a clothing store in downtown Inglewood, and as the children would get out of school, they would walk past the store and they would be loud and cussing and fighting and kissing etc., and it always spurred up a conversation in the store about the state of our young people. But one day I realized that rather than just talking about it and doing nothing, instead of being part of the problem, I could be part of the solution,” Muhammad said.

Queen Aminah has, in the past, worked with the KJLH radio station’s Women’s Health Forum to help impact young girls and had started working with youth in schools during Black History Month. She recalls that the feedback from the students as well as the parents, teachers, and administrators was overwhelming.

“I had their support, but at the same time they only wanted me there during the month of February and I knew that they needed this type of mentorship and these lessons more than just during Black History Month, so I decided to launch the GIFT Rites of Passage program at my own store. Now I am able to do it my way, and I can get through to these young girls on a more consistent level.”

Queen Aminah says that she decided to target young girls because she believes that if she can teach them and help them to improve and maintain their self-esteem and self-respect, then the young men will follow. “Helping the girls will help the whole society,” she said.

One important aspect of the GIFT Rites of Passage program is teaching abstinence. Through the program the girls are taught African dance, poetry, sewing, knitting, crocheting, jewelry-making, etiquette, yoga, and learning these creative skills helps to focus their energies less on boys and sexual activity, believes Queen Aminah.

Secondly, with the state of the current job market, she realizes that as the young girls graduate from school, there aren’t going to be many jobs lined up and waiting for them. So, giving them these skills may enable them to have a small business of their own. “We need to bring something holistic back to the community,” she said.

Registration for the program begins July 12., which is also the first day of instruction and the program will run for six weeks through Aug. 23. Classes will be held Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to noon and Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. at Queen Aminah’s clothing store The Sister’s Marketplace at 4339 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles.

The cost is $10 per class and scholarships are available. No one will be turned away.

For more information, contact Queen Aminah at queenaminahclothing@yahoo.com or by telephone at (323) 772-6315.