I consider myself an agent of social justice, and as someone always looking for new opportunities to grow, learn, and empower marginalized communities, your six-week program immediately piqued my interests. -Sierra Leone Anderson
In September, we received a particularly memorable scholarship letter for our LeadHERship Club. We immediately knew we had to accept, and not just because the student’s family had been heavily impacted by COVID. She wrote, “I consider myself an agent of social justice, and as someone always looking for new opportunities to grow, learn, and empower marginalized communities, your six-week program immediately piqued my interests. From Black Lives Matter to combating climate change, this is a session in which my range of advocacy is both met and expanded in an engaging journey, and I couldn’t be more excited to dive in. I am especially looking forward to discussions on the scope of Black Lives Matter and connecting with girls from all over in collective action for change … I can promise you that I am dedicated to this program and will use vigorous effort to apply the skills I learn into my own lifelong activism journey.”
The student who penned the moving request was ninth grader Sierra Leone Anderson. She heard about the program from her Advisory teacher and Girls Leadership Power ColLABorative Training alum Adrianne Warlick.
Sierra Leone included in her letter that Adrianne recommended her “because she recognizes I am at a point in my life in which my voice as an activist and leader is steadily developing into a powerful positive force for social change.”
A POSITIVE POWERFUL FORCE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
Three weeks into our program, we witnessed Sierra Leone’s force when she shared her powerful poetry reading with hundreds of girls for our International Day of the Girl celebration. She had written the piece as part of an exercise in our LeadHERship Club, focused on the assigned theme of community among women and female empowerment. “When I think of women empowerment, a lot of times it can shift to strong, White, liberal feminists, and things like that,” she explains. “But really what I think of when I think of strong women — I think of the women in my family.”
“It was hard for me to think ‘female empowerment’ and just start with that,” she continues. “In life it’s been degrading for women. So I used a word which is often used to degrade women — the B word — and redefined it. I made it about the women in my family being B’s but redefining what it meant to me. There had to be strength and power in that. I’m constantly surrounded by women who care so much about other people that I had to redefine and give power to that word. It was largely inspired by the women in my family, and more specifically my mother.”
LEADHERSHIP CLUB IMPACT
Even though Sierra Leone volunteered to speak at the International Day of the Girl event, she initially hesitated and had to push through the perfectionism thoughts in her head: “There’s a lot of people here, keynote speakers who are really cool, oh it’s not going to be good enough … I had to push through that and make a lot of leaps and jumps to get through what I want. My voice got stronger; I had to make that space for myself: I want to do this; I want to be here. If another opportunity came up, it’d still be a push, but it’d be something I know I’d be capable of doing.”
My voice got stronger; I had to make that space for myself: I want to do this; I want to be here. If another opportunity came up, it’d still be a push, but it’d be something I know I’d be capable of doing.”
She has since shared her LeadHERship Club learnings with her classmates at school, upon Adrianne’s request — four more are now joining us. “A lot of the things I preached was [about] stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping into yourself,” she says. “And being empowered by the people you’re around. It’s so motivational to see these people and educated girls, and feeling like, ‘Yeah we can do something.’ That was my main takeaway from Girls Leadership, and I really appreciate the experience.”
CREATING A COMMUNITY TO TAKE ACTION
In addition to influencing her classmates to join LeadHERship Club and step into their activism, Sierra Leone is forging another way to lead with her LeadHERship Club cohort. Though the sessions are now over, the girls have their own group chat and meet every Saturday (virtually, of course).
“We created our own club out of that as well. It’s very new in the process but we’re talking about what we want it to be, and kind of just making a space for us,” explains Sierra Leone. “We have a lot we want to talk about. Something in particular was focusing on world news and globally what’s going on in the world, which is something I know partly about but could be more educated on. … I’ve heard about it but am humbled in so much I need to know and realize.”
Sierra Leone has already impacted hundreds of girls with her voice at the International Day of the Girl event (our Zoom chat was going crazy during and after her performance). She impacts even more youth in her work to make Black lives matter in schools via Students Deserve, a Black youth-led group. She also knows poetry is her tool for activism, something her poetry teacher of more than three years, Ms. Knopler, tells her.
“She reminds me that what I have to say in my art, no matter how small it may seem, is important and someone needs to hear it. That’s given me confidence in performing and saying what I want and need to say,” says Sierra Leone.
Much like the way her teachers have impacted her, she’s also impacted them. Adrianne says Sierra Leone gives her so much hope for our future. “[Seeing her] not only developing as an agent of change in the world, but developing as a person and individual, has been beautiful.”
When we ask Adrianne why she entrusts her students with us, she states, “All these students are brilliant with strong voices, but they’re not sure where to take it — what outlets to use it and express themselves.”
We’re honored to be an outlet for these girls to express their powerful voices.