The October 29th inaugural Girl Interrupted Conference, hosted by Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Youthline with Project DIVA at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, marked a vital community event, encouraging and enlightening teens, empowering them to prepare for difficulties in life that all too often victimize young females.
Disturbing information is well documented. The Frontline article (www.mcasa.org) “Past Child Sexual Abuse among Women of Color” cites, among other statistics, that based on an anonymous survey of more than 300 Black women, “60% of Black girls experience sexual assault…by the time they turn 18.” (Black Women’s Blueprint, 10 Questions about Rape, 2011).
Women who’ve been sexually assaulted as children “have double the risk of being raped in adulthood as women with no history of rape.” (Tjaden & Thonnes, “Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey,” NIJ, 2006); and “1 in 4 Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.” (Stone, R.D., No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse, 2004).
Yvette Griffea-Gray, a youth program specialist who conceived the conference, states, “Three years ago I attended a women’s [symposium] at my church where one of the speakers asked the audience to turn to a neighbor and share when their life had been interrupted as a girl. After sharing with my neighbor, I looked around the room and saw all these older adult women weeping about things that had happened to them in girlhood.
“In that moment,” says Griffea-Gray, I thought to myself, we have to get to girls quicker so they can heal. We have to intervene in girls’ lives closer to these traumatic events so that girls aren’t carrying the baggage of these ‘interruptions’ into womanhood.”
She adds, “Girls [experience ‘interruptions’] by a variety of circumstances such as physical and sexual abuse, poverty, human trafficking, parental neglect, absent fathers, etc. We can’t prevent the interruptions, but we can manage how these interruptions impact…lives.”
Neda Kellogg at Project DIVA, a grassroots initiative well known for helping “inner-city” girls grapple with tough social circumstance, notes, “Our girls in Project DIVA that attended left changed forever. Although they already have a foundation of strong women and sistah-girls who they know care about their well-being, there is nothing like being able to be embraced in a conference-style setting, having fun while getting a handle on where they are in life, and supporting other girls throughout the city.”
During conference workshops “Surviving Bad Touch” and “Current but not Permanent,” speakers shared personal experiences about how they overcame traumatic girlhood interruptions such as molestation and related challenges. Girls then could process the information and discuss the presentations with professionals from the Hennepin County Public Health Clinic.
Griffea-Gray reflects, “Both Neda and I experienced tragedy and negative circumstances early in our young lives. When I personally reflect on how I overcame, I have to credit my family and other adults in my life who helped “tuck me in” so to speak. I had a caring family and other community help me pick up the pieces.
“As Neda and I planned the Girl Interrupted Conference, we wanted the girls to know first and foremost that they are not alone. We also wanted to provide girls resources and access to get help when needed it, and finally we wanted to convey that they too could make it in life,” says Griffea-Gray.
This being but the beginning for the Girl Interrupted Conference, based on its success, the future looks bright for sustained outreach. Griffea-Gray attests, “Based on the responses from the girls in attendance, we believe the conference was very inspiring. Many expressed a desire to attend another GIC event and also want to help plan future events.
“In addition, many of the impact statements written by the girls indicate that they connected with the speakers and walked away from the conference with tools to overcome obstacles and negative [circumstances].”
With such enthused participation and quality feedback, this seems to be the sort of event that stands a strong chance of making a crucial difference in young lives and, thereby, the community. “The success of Girl Interrupted has prompted planning for a second annual conference, because the need for our girls to be heard and have a space to truly hear others’ stories…most definitely shapes our upcoming events that will lead to the next year’s conference.
“We touched on an important need, creating a safe space for girls to hear from other women who have overcome similar obstacles. As Neda and I plan for future events, we will continue to address issues that are most pressing in the lives of teenaged girls.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.