September 2021

Columbus organization Black Girl Rising empowers girls with love letters

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Micah Walker
September 30, 2021

In May, shortly after Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was shot and killed by a Columbus police officer outside a foster home on the Southeast Side, fran frazier felt like she had to do something.

The founder of the Columbus-based advocacy and social change organization Black Girl Rising, frazier (who prefers her name lowercased) sent out an email to about 100 women she knew in Columbus, asking them if they could talk later that day.

“And at 6 p.m. that night, 73 Black women showed up on the Zoom call,” frazier said. “And so I knew something divine was happening because you can’t get that many sisters at 6 p.m.”

By the end of the meeting, frazier and the women decided that they would start a campaign to write love letters to Black girls in the city.

Black Girl Rising organized an event Wednesday to feature some of those letters, which have since been compiled into a small book, “Love Letters to Black Girls.”

Students at the Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School in New York City wrote the letters in the book.

Held at the Huntington Empowerment Center in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood, the presentation featured guests such as Columbus Urban League CEO Stephanie Hightower and judges Beth Gill, Monica Hawkins and Lasheyl Stroud from the domestic relations and juvenile division of Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

The event also featured a virtual appearance from students at the Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School in New York City, who wrote the letters in the book.

“I want you to know that things are happening for our girls, but they need to see it more publicly. They just need to hear about it,” frazier said to a room full of mostly Black women.

“It’s just a way of saying to our girls, ‘We see you. We see all the good you’re doing. We see all the rough stuff you have to deal with, but we are here for you.’ And so, that’s really what this love letter campaign is about.”

Sending love from Harlem

fran frazier, founder of Black Girl Rising, presents copies of “Love Letters to Black Girls” Wednesday that will be distributed to girls in foster care and the court system.

Shortly after starting the Love Letters to Black Girls campaign, Samantha Sterling, a sixth-grade reading teacher from Democracy Prep, sent frazier an email about the project. The teacher wanted to get involved and have her 30 students write love letters to girls in Columbus, frazier said.

“I really appreciate you and all the hard work that you’re doing, Columbus, Ohio,” Sterling said over Zoom on Wednesday. “I’m super inspired by you, and I’m glad that I found you in the partnership.”

One student who decided to recite her letter at the event was seventh-grader Leiana Lynch.

“I want you to know that we are here for you and girls must stick together,” she said. “No matter what size, race, gender, sexuality, or disability, you deserve love…”

Four hundred copies of the book of love letters are going to Franklin County Children Services and 100 copies are going to the juvenile branch of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. All copies will be delivered to Black girls in foster care and the court system.

Stroud said she wanted to be at the event because she knows what it is like to face obstacles in life as a Black woman. She mentioned that many people told her she should forgo pursuing a career in criminal justice.

“Whenever I hear of organizations like this, I get behind it 100% because I realize the importance of all of us coming together to encourage our Black girls so that they know that they are resilient, that they are at a place of promise,” Stroud said.

Showing some self-love

Aliya Horton, 20, of the East Side, has been a member of Black Girl Rising since seventh grade.

In addition to Black women in the community writing love letters, teens involved in the organization’s Black Girl Think Tank, (a program that allows girls to discuss the issues they face in their communities and schools) wrote love letters of their own — to themselves.

Aliya Horton of Columbus’ East Side, who was not at Wednesday’s event, wrote her most recent one last year. The 20-year-old Ohio State University student has been a member of Black Girl Rising since seventh grade and has done similar activities.

“It was nice,” she said. “I always remind myself of how great I am and so, it was very easy to do. It was very much a motivational aspect for me.”

Jiselle Jenkins, 12, of Columbus, is a member of Black Girl Rising.

Newcomer Jiselle Jenkins, 12, wrote hers while attending the organization’s virtual summer camp last month. Unlike Horton, the Berwick resident had some difficulty giving advice to herself.

“The activity was to write a letter to a friend,” Jenkins said. “And then they said to keep the ‘dear’ blank. I ended up writing one to a friend who was going through a tough time. So then when I had to turn it around on myself, it made sense, but it was also kind of awkward because it was a real moment that a friend was going through. But self care is very important which is why I thought that activity was important.”

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