By Clarisa James

April 4, 2014, 8:37 am

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 8.35.35 AM

For the past six years I have worked in the after-school setting in the communities of Bushwick, East NY, Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant.

I have worked in the capacities as a teaching artist, youth worker and site director. In my journey in youth development in urban communities what I’ve learned is that our girls of color, more than anything need to know they are loved and worthy.

While working full time in youth development for a college access program, I worked at developing DIVAS for Social Justice and it had a profound effect on the way programming was designed for the organization.

DIVAS (Digital Interactive Visual Arts Sciences) for Social Justice encourage girls in underserved communities in New York City to use technology for social change.

Initially when I decided to use my MFA towards teaching youth of color to create socially conscious media from a historical standpoint of highlighting the struggles we’ve faced as people of color, I learned what they needed was a trusting relationship to be able to share their feelings.

We still created socially conscious media but we also formed incredible bonds of trust, which gave them the courage to assert and develop their voices.

The students I served were not use to seeing a person of color as the teaching artist in their program. It was an adjustment for them to work with me and they were initially not open to my strict approach and political stance but they soon learned that it was all underlined with love.

With the young ladies I worked with, they saw me as a confidant and shared with me their issues of self-image, their questions about relationships and the value of their existence in this world.

Sometimes a girl would attend afterschool because her mother worked late hours. So it provided a safe space as well as food. Even though I was there to teach media, I soon developed the nickname Mom.

This year I took on the responsibility of working for DIVAS for Social Justice full time as the Executive Director.

It’s extremely important that the vision of the organization reflects the needs of our girls. While girls of color perform better academically, they struggle with self worth and identity in my experience in youth development.

I believe our community has as much of a responsibility to our girls as our boys. As a multimedia teaching artist, and woman it was a conscious decision to develop the My Sister’s Keeper App for our girls.

The youth in our program worked for six months developing an app that would provide loving affirmations to girls and a platform where their most intimate questions could be answered about image, self worth and relationships that were important to them.

Multimedia-producer Murray Cox and I were able to train our girls in digital media and coding in order to launch My Sister’s Keeper 1.0. We made a collective decision to make this app a free download so that it can reach all girls in need in need of a positive maternal voice.

Women of the Central Brooklyn community lent their voices to answer the questions our girls asked on camera. To be to witness the interaction of the girls filming the women of their community providing answers to their questions with loving affirmations was an honor and a sense of hope for me.

App Icon for the My Sister's Keeper 1.0, Alydia Wells, 12 years old

App Icon for the My Sister’s Keeper 1.0, Alydia Wells, 12 years old

We, as women have a collective responsibility to lift up our girls. Sometimes we are taught as women to be judgmental of each other and competitive.

It does none of us good and it trickles down to our girls that continue the cycle. DIVAS for Social Justice hopes the My Sister’s Keeper App 1.0 can help start a dialogue and start a new cycle of sisterly love.

The My Sister’s Keeper App is a FREE download, available on iPhone and Android platforms. DIVAS for Social Justice is seeking out venues and partners to present the app to girls and have community conversations.

 


Want to write for us? We're looking for interns and experienced writers! Go here for more information.

About The Author

Clarisa James is the Executive Director/Co-Founder of DIVAS for Social Justice, an arts/technology based organization that encourages youth in underserved communities to use technology for social change. Ms. James holds an MFA from the Integrated Media Arts Program at Hunter College, City University of New York. Visit her website at www.divasforsocialjustice.org

Clarisa James is the Executive Director/Co-Founder of DIVAS for Social Justice, an arts/technology based organization that encourages youth in underserved communities to use technology for social change. Ms. James holds an MFA from the Integrated Media Arts Program at Hunter College, City University of New York. Visit her website at www.divasforsocialjustice.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.