Too big. Too short. Too dark. Not pretty enough. As a young girl, these thoughts often ran through my mind as I struggled with low self-esteem. With the limitations society places on the definition of beauty, my self-image was severely distorted. I yearned for a positive influence, someone who could help me discover my unique beauty and encourage me to pursue my dreams. When I look back on my thoughts and feelings as a teenager, I am amazed by the person I have become.
By day, I enjoy serving as a 2011 Teach for America corps member and eighth grade math teacher at KIPP Tulsa College Prep. In the evening, I’m the Founder and Executive Director of Women Empowering Nations, an international nonprofit organization committed to self-esteem and educational development of young women in Oklahoma and Gambia, West Africa.
Managing my schedule becomes challenging at times. I spend long hours planning lessons, tutoring and grading papers, yet I eagerly devote my time to Women Empowering Nations each day. I manage this busy schedule because I strongly believe in the power and potential of our youth to change the world. During my time as a corps member, my vision for this cause has grown, my desire to help children succeed against the odds has heightened, and my confidence in their potential is undeniable.
When I share with my students the courage it took to establish a nonprofit organization immediately after graduate school and within days traveled to Gambia to teach, their eyes light up. They are intrigued by African cultures, historic sites and children. While they would love to have the opportunities I have, I teach in an urban community where many have not yet traveled outside their home state.
With my students in mind, I decided to set an ambitious goal to take ten students on a girls’ leadership travel seminar to North and West Africa. My vision for the seminar includes a trip to Casa Blanca, Morocco and Banjul, Gambia to explore North and West African cultures, tour historic sites and participate in a girls’ leadership conference with local Gambian girls. The conference will include sessions on education, social justice and global women’s empowerment.
While I paused initially at the thought of convincing parents to allow their daughters to travel so far from home and most importantly, raising $35,000 to make this opportunity possible, my desire to promote experiential learning and global leadership outweighed my hesitation and self-doubt because of what these opportunities afforded me when I traveled to Gambia; a path to self-discovery.
I chose to lean in to this project because I believe my students will learn more about themselves and African history, while developing self confidence and friendships beyond borders. Working with young girls who face the same childhood challenges as I have, allows me to serve as a role model, changing their perspective as they grow into inspiring global leaders.
As I continue fundraising for the seminar, I am inspired by my students like Kerrigan who is eager to learn more about her ancestry, and Christina who wants to study African art while escaping the troubles of her neighborhood. Their dreams are real, their potential is limitless, this opportunity awaits them because I chose to lean in.