Growing and Glowing
Seeing my students' insight, passion, and commitment is the most rewarding part of my job as a Women's and Gender Studies professor. But I don't always get to see their remarkable promise come to fruition while they are still here. That's why I am especially grateful for Maya and Mahogany.
Every Monday, a group of African-American middle-school girls gathers at the Louisville Urban League to talk, reflect on their experiences, and be inspired. This is the Girls League of the West, or GLOW, a weekly afterschool program established by A&S students Maya White and Mahogany Mayfield in partnership with the Louisville Urban League. The purpose of GLOW, as Mayfield says, is to "celebrate, liberate, and motivate black girls." Girls come from all over the Greater Louisville area to take part in the program, which offers activities like the Melanin Mixer, where girls have an opportunity to network with female leaders in the community, and a field trip to the UofL campus, where they learn more about the college experience.
The energy emanating from the girls' weekly meetings might give the impression that GLOW is just a fun place to be. But White and Mayfield see the program as much more than that. It is about positive self-definition. As Mayfield explains, she and White learned from their coursework that their identities as black girls were both shaped by and very different from what society imagines. In fact, one recent national study found that black girls are perceived as less innocent and feminine than their white counterparts, and as less in need of nurturing, protection, support, and comfort from adults. These perceptions contribute to an environment where black girls are disciplined rather than mentored, where they are almost three times more likely than white girls to be referred to the juvenile justice system, and 20% more likely to be formally charged with a crime once referred.
Through their work in GLOW, White and Mayfield are hoping to change that. "It's really about reclaiming our humanity," says Mayfield. Asked about her future plans, White says, with a laugh, "I want to be a professional black girl. Whatever I do, I want it to be as real as it can be, and as loving as it can be."