Earth Mama Healing: Why Empowerment Programs are Critical for Young Black Women
Today, approximately one in five Americans is a woman of color. By 2060, women of color will comprise the majority of all women in the United States. However, this growing population is at risk due to a long list of inequities. For example, research indicates that, at school, Black girls are suspended at disproportionately higher rates than girls of any other race or ethnicity.
Black girls are also disproportionately overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. Though they make up only 14% of the population, they comprise 33% of the girls who are detained and committed as juvenile delinquents. Additionally, statistics from the CDC reveal that while adolescent pregnancies are decreasing for many populations, they are still twice as likely among Black teen girls and women.
When their behaviors are deemed “at-risk” by institutions, it often deprives these girls of their dignity and future, leaving them depressed, angry, and hopeless. According to the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, around 15% of Black girls in high school attempted suicide, and deaths resulting from suicide of Black girls aged 13 to 19 increased by 182% between 2001 to 2017.
In 2011, seven forward-thinking women between the ages of 18 and 62 saw the importance of mentoring and empowering this population, and came together with a mission. Their goal was to empower emotionally-strong, spiritually-connected, and socially-smart girls of color.
Rolanda Wilkins, executive director of Earth Mama Healing, has carried that vision into another decade by designing programs that help young women of color to challenge their status quo. About these programs, she says, “At Earth Mama, we enable girls to dream a positive reality outside the world they know, so they can create the world they want to live in.”
Quality of Life Road Trip
Each summer, Earth Mama Healing takes young women on a transformative road trip across the United States and Canada. This summer marks the sixth Quality of Life Road Trip. “Each year, we journey with a group of young ladies between the ages of 14 and 21 on a 4-week road trip to experience America,” says Wilkins. “We will stop in 22 cities along the way. In each location, the girls participate in activities strategically designed to foster a deeper understanding of the lifestyles and contributions of girls and women of African descent throughout the nation.”
The road trip inspires young women of color to explore the beauty of their country’s landscape and culture. Dozens of organizations and individual community supporters across the United States collaborate with Earth Mama Healing to make each summer’s journey the road trip of a lifetime.
Activities scheduled for the Quality of Life Road Trip are crafted to address the issues, concerns, and desires expressed by the girls during their year-round My Dream Academy empowerment and leadership groups. One of the primary goals Earth Mama Healing has for the trip is exploring best practices and innovative approaches for inner-city education. “We recognize that today’s children learn differently than yesterday’s children,” Wilkins remarks. “Today’s rise in behavioral issues in our inner-city schools is a manifestation of children’s frustration at being unable to grasp academic concepts and their lack of self-discipline. We set out on the road trip each summer with the goal of demonstrating a new kind of teaching.”
Before and after the trip, all Quality of Life Road attendees are given pre- and post-academic assessments. The pretest identifies areas where the girls struggle academically in core subjects such as Geography, English, History, and Social Sciences. At the trip’s conclusion, the posttest measures growth in these subject areas.
During the journey, the girls learn about United States history, culture, and geography through a combination of hands-on strategies incorporating touch, taste, sight, and reading. This year, for example, the group will look at Canada from across the river and touch one of the Great Lakes.
Wii Girls and My Dream Academy
Earth Mama Healing inspires wise dreamers and future leaders through empowerment and leadership programs for females ages 12 to 21 known as Wii Girls and My Dream Academy. The mission is to enable young women to create, visualize, and articulate a dream for their future. Next, they develop a plan to turn that dream into reality.
Through engaging and stimulating activities, the young ladies are challenged to connect their day-to-day actions with their future aspirations. Wii Girls and My Dream Academy aim to decrease risky behavior among young girls of color by promoting positive alternatives. These programs demonstrate just how much a successful future depends on good performance in school, positive plans for the future, and strong connections to family, school, and faith communities.
“Wii Girls and My Dream Academy address the issues impacting a young woman’s life today and for years to come,” explains Wilkins. “We create experiences to inform youth about their heritage and history. We also challenge them to look forward through lessons vital to their future success on topics including life skills, etiquette, health and wellness, the importance of education, financial literacy, and civic responsibility.”
Wii Girls and My Dream Academy foster leadership and life skills by encouraging the development of self-esteem. Enhanced self-worth has the power to develop wise decisions in academic achievement, social interactions, and reproductive health. “Our educational workshops and seminars allow participants to make informed, positive decisions about their physical, mental, and social health,” says Wilkins. “Since 2001, we have engaged with thousands of youth and families in Sacramento and Marin County schools.”
There have been numerous achievements from girls and young women of color, but challenges and disparities persist. Earth Mama Healing comes alongside high-risk girls and young women of color whose day-to-day struggles cause them to experience depression, doubt their self-worth, and develop low self-esteem. Its programs offer the girls a space to be heard, and an opportunity to envision a brighter future.