The third edition of our Real Girl Leaders series features 2013 IGNITE Change finalist, Rout Asefa. Ms Asefa is 17 and lives in Cambridge, MA. Below is Rout's winning response when asked the question "If you had $1000, what would you change about the role of women and girls in your school, community or city."
Bridging the Gap Center for Young Women
"Women have to harness their power- it's absolutely true. It's just learning not to take the first no and if you can't go straight ahead, you go around the corner." – Cher
As a young woman of African descent I have not only withstood the constrictions of living in a male dominated society I have also had to prove myself as an able competitor, colleague and individual. I have thus learned what I believe is an essential skills for young women everywhere; I have learned how to define for myself my abilities and qualities not because it was prescribed by my race and gender but by my choice. I have had to show my male counterparts that I too, in spite of their misguided presumptions, was born with the innate ability to work hard and be successful in any endeavor.
This has been a daily protest or me in high school in my Advanced Placement and Honors courses. I have seen both my gender and my skin color make me a minority, a reality that can often feel isolating and intimidating. Fortunately, with the influence of phenomenal and fearless women in my life I have not succumbed to these feelings. Instead I have chosen to challenge myself and thrive under these circumstances. This however has not been the case for many of my female friends. When I ask my female friends why they choose not to enroll in these particular classes, I receive answers ranging from, "it's too hard" and "I feel awkward being the only black girl in a class full of white boys." I have found this to be extremely problematic and deeply disturbing because I understand firsthand how crippling these feelings can be in stunting someone's growth and development. Many of my female counterparts are planning to apply to the same colleges as these men but as a result of their course history they will seem less qualified to the admissions officers who won’t understand the racial and gender disparity in many of these classes.
It is my firm belief that if there were a program that helped to nurture, challenge, support and inspire young women immediately as they entered high school and followed them through out, then they would be in a far better predicament. If my friends had a program that supported them in this way then their high school experience would be far more telling of their potential and less reflective of their socialized distortion of the place of women of color. The rhetoric that I was capable of achieving any dream, any objective, if I but commit myself to the work that it required has shaped who I am as a young black woman today. I am forever indebted to these words for it has truly helped me to "harness my power" and go confidently in the direction of my dreams.
The project that I hope to begin, would aim to encourage, prepare and support young women in my community to compete with their male counterparts academically. Ultimately my project would even out the playing field and ease the sense of inferiority that exists in the mind of many young women. The project I designed is one that will be sustained with women who have graduated from the program returning as mentors.
My program will target high school students as they enter their freshman year and will be a resource that they can tap into for all four years. It will provide these young women with the individualized support that they are in need of. It will be an open center for female students in which they will be able to make appointments with one of our many female volunteers. They will be able to meet with the volunteers either before or after school. The volunteers that will be at the center will be local college students and professionals that are passionate about helping the young women of Cambridge find their voice and find it early. The program will be based in the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School thus being very convenient for many of the girls. It will be a personal and interpersonal development program helping young women find the value in their ambition and goals while also helping them support one another.
Through this program they will lean time management, effective organizational strategies public speaking, and financial literacy and while also having the opportunities to attend seminars funded by the program about subjects of importance. The program aims to provide the students with a taste of the real world and will give them the necessary tools to navigate it.
The center will serve as a resource for young women to turn to when they need support academically and personally. Transitioning from a smaller middle school to a big high school can be a harsh adjustment to make. High school is a time that young women undergo a unique se of pressures and growth and thus the program can extremely supportive.
The program aims to encourage the girls by surrounding them with like minded females that are passionate about learning. Through this program, the young women will be prepared for the many challenges that they will face. They will understand that it's okay to ask for help when a class gets too overwhelming. The volunteers that give their time and knowledge will help guide these young women and bequeath the many lessons that they have learned.