The chant of “Black girl power!” chant echoed throughout a room filled with purple balloons and ribbons early Saturday morning. More than 100 girls and their mothers, teachers, mentors—and one father—filled an auditorium on the Mills College campus for the first Black Girl Power Conference hosted by the African American Female Excellence Program (AAFE).
The AAFE is a new initiative from the Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) Office of Equity. The initiative’s goal is to increase the academic achievement of African American girls within the district. The conference focused on providing girls with the skills and encouragement to find and enhance their self-confidence. AAFE Director Nzingha Dugas said she thought very carefully about the conference title. She said she decided not to name it after the recent “black girl magic” slogan. “I don’t want it to be ‘magic,’ because I think sometimes that magical notion doesn’t understand the power that black girls carry with them. That they can dig deep inside and pull that out at any moment if they just know how to access it,” she said.
When planning the conference, Dugas talked to elementary, middle and high school girls about what topics the conference should cover. The workshops were then formed around the requested topics. “It was really birthed in the communities’ need for girls to have a space where girls can learn about themselves, and it’s done by people who look like them, people who’ve been black girls or are close in age to them,” she said.
As the conference began, eager young women and girls approached the registration tables. Every girl was immediately presented with a gift bag including a book and beauty products. Each item in the bags was created by a black woman.
Dr. Joy Degruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury & Healing, was the opening keynote speaker for the conference. In her address, she emphasized the importance of sharing African American history and knowledge to the next generation. “Everything I do is for you,” she said. “I’m passing the baton to you.”
Degruy also handed out free copies of her book.
Following the opening remarks, the day was divided into workshop sessions for students, with separate options for adults. Each session had a theme, with several workshops to choose from. For example, in the session themed “Healing Self, Each Other and the Community,” the workshops focused on natural beauty, college preparation, and how to have respectful communication for conflict resolution. Girls were encouraged to freely discuss their views on themselves, their friendships and their surroundings.
Speakers gave motivational words to the attendees. “You have everything in, near you and around you to heal yourself,” said Nyisha Moncrease, co-founder of the Pink Panther Sorority, a nonprofit community sorority for young black girls in the bay area. Her organization promotes self-esteem and sisterhood. “Self-reflection over self-destruction,” she said.
Moncrease was a co speaker for the “Natural Beauty/Don’t Touch My Hair Workshop.” The workshop concentrated on encouraging each girl to understand her own individual beauty and the beauty of a strong positive support system of friends. Moncrease asked every girl to remember three important things from the workshop: to love themselves, to love their sisterhood, and to succeed as young woman.
Another session’s theme was “Academic & Professional Preparation.” In this session, girls were given advice on career paths, interview tips, college preparation advice, guidance on understanding finances, and being mindful of their personal goals and values.
McClymonds High School freshman Diamond Moore, who attended the “Transferring and Understanding the College Process Class,” said she aspires to be a computer scientist because of her passion for technology. In a workshop, a presenter guided her about which classes she may need to take. Moore listened eagerly to the opportunities available to her. “It’s good to learn about black girl power and what we can do,” she said.
The third session theme was “Arts, Culture, Politics and Herstory.” The workshops in this session focused primarily on self-esteem and leadership. Jazz Hudson, a teacher and poet, was the speaker for the “Intersection of Hip-Hop Identity, Sexism and Self Esteem” workshop. She took a unique approach to beginning her workshop by asking every girl in the room to shout out names they hear often in association with women.
After she collected a long list of words, she then examined which words the girls picked. “A lot of the words they gave me for how they identify or how people refer to them was negative. We started to explore how sexism plays a role in social media, in music and what we consume,” she said.
During a lunchtime panel, the girls were encouraged to directly ask questions to the panelists. The panel included author Dr. Monique Morris, Regina Jackson, who is the executive director of the East Oakland Youth Development Center, and author and songstress Taura Stinson.
Questions ranged from how to pick your career passion, why boys are means to girls, and how each the panelists feels about reality television.
The panelist agreed boys are often means to girls because they may have a difficult time explaining and acknowledging their own emotions.
“If you can’t find what you love to do then start a business doing it. Black women are creators,” said Morris, when answering the question about how to find your career path.
“Reality television isn’t reality, it’s scripted. Likes and followers do not define you,” said Stinson, answering the one about reality TV.
Following the question and answer session, each panelist concluded with a central message about the journey to success. “Remember to reach back and pull others forward with you,” said Jackson.
Among the many adults present in the conference, there was only one father in attendance. Ajmel Goines is the father of both Amirah, age 11, and Amineh, age 6. He accompanied his daughters to each workshop. He was surprised to see he was only father, but wasn’t embarrassed to be there. “I’ll do anything for them,” he said. “Having them see the sisterhood here, and having them seeing the messages reinforced we already teach at home, is nice. Because when we say certain things at home we’re just mom and dad. It’s in one ear and out the other. But it means a lot more to have other people saying the same things to them, that they are powerful.”
Before the conference concluded, each girl voted by applause on the new logo for AAFE. Two designs were displayed: a black and white photo of a young girl wearing a painted golden crown, versus a photo of a young girl with maroon accents splashed on the page. The winning design will be revealed to the public later. Every girl was also invited to a free concert later in the evening featuring Sistah Iminah, Vocal Rush and Honey Gold.
Oakland Technical High School junior Kamaiya Brown said that at the conference she learned about her worth as a queen. “It was really uplifting and empowering, because the way the media depicts us is just kind of sad. It’s cool to learn different,” she said.
Iminah Ahmad is the lead program consultant for the AAFE. She, along with Dugas and a team of interns, planned the conference for months. She was overjoyed to see the how participants received the conference. “I’m excited that this is a reality and everyone is having a good time. I’m looking forward to the next one now,” she said.