I spent most of last Friday afternoon in tears instead of celebrating the end of another school year. I always find the end of year emotional and draining but this year so much more so as most of my Mighty Girl club left to go to secondary school. The female empowerment club I run at work for nine to eleven year old girls is what drives me to be a better teacher and a better woman and my favourite thing to do is watch young girls learn about themselves and their place in the world.
I started this club after learning about about the Radical Monarchs, an organisation which creates ‘opportunities for young girls of colour to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities and contribute radically to their communities.’ I can’t go into too much detail about my place of work but needless to say, I realised that of course this was exactly what the girls I work with needed! I was given the go ahead at work straight away and throughout the year, I have been given nothing but support and encouragement from senior leadership. I only have one hour a week to work with the girls but throughout the year we have learnt about food banks and organised a collection, learnt and performed Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, made affirmation mirrors, bracelets and worry dolls, raised money for Malala Fund and learnt about barriers to girls’ education throughout the world, drawn self portraits inspired by Frida Kahlo, discovered just amazing our bodies are, made protest signs and attended Processions, a huge event to celebrate one hundred years of some women getting the vote. We’ve also danced on tables to Beyonce A LOT.
The girls I said goodbye to are bolder, wiser and more empowered than they were a year ago but I’m not stupid. While I have done everything I can to be the person I needed when I was their age, the truth is I never will be. I work with mostly girls of colour in one of the most deprived areas of London and I am a white woman in her thirties. I will never be able to change how this world treats these girls, how their own communities and even families treat them. I feel like a fraud teaching these girls that they can fly as high as they want when I know that in only a matter of years, the world will bring these girls to their knees. What do you say to a ten year old girl when she says that you don’t understand what it’s like as no one tells you who you have to marry? I speak from a place of white privilege when I tell these girls to talk to their families about how they’re feeling and I’m sure they will have more choice than their mothers did. How do you talk to young girls who are already dreading a future that was mapped out for them at birth? I know that there is only so much I can do and I feel like I am failing them.
If these girls are already feeling like this before the experience of a secondary education designed to eliminate any creativity or free thinking, the onslaught of social media, adolescence and growing up in a white supremacist, heteronormative patriarchy, all the feminist crafting in the world will not stop this world battering their self worth, aspirations and dreams. I cried on Friday, not only because I am so proud of them and their achievements and I am sad our time together has come to an end, but because of the battles that lay ahead of them, battles that I cannot fight for them.
There are so many things that I want the girls to know, some of them things that I wish I knew at their age but also words I want to say as a white person to children of colour who is complicit in their treatment at the hands of a world that hates them: Don’t ever make yourself small to make someone else feel comfortable. Don’t ever lower your voice to keep someone else happy. Don’t ever move in the world to avoid being seen. Don’t ever look for yourself in someone else as everything you will ever need is inside of you already. Stay brave, stay bold and stay mighty because you are going to change the world.