Project DIVA helps at-risk girls avoid life’s pitfalls

Annual Style Show celebrates their successes

Neda Kellogg
Neda Kellogg

Project DIVA’s 9th Annual Style Show, “She’s Worthy of It All,” may sound like some sort of cute-fest, but it is nothing that shallow. In fact, the event is part of an invaluable program that intervenes to enhance the circumstances of middle-school girls and high school young women, empowering them to lead vitally constructive lives.

Founders Neda Kellogg and Keeya Allen devised Project DIVA as a grassroots initiative providing affordable attire and social outreach. This includes the kind of quality mentoring and networking that, among other concerns, prevents females from being sexually victimized.

Kellogg notes that “She’s Worthy of It All” is “about the girls being able to share what their experience [has been] with their career coaches.” Adults advise them in the areas of academics; self-identity; relationships; physical, mental and emotional wellness; career choices and financial competence. The evening, she states, features both beauty and brains.

“The girls will definitely be styled,” says Kellogg. “But they are showcasing who they are becoming through skits and presentations.” This includes aspiring to careers in law enforcement.

Kamesha Gibson seeks a future as a police officer. Her career coach of these past three years is Lt. Toni Weinbeck of the City of Brooklyn Park Police Department. “Kamesha has followed her as she moved up the ranks,” Kellogg explains.

One young woman has an eye on the stage as a livelihood. “Jada Smith has stuck with being an [actor] from fifth grade to seventh grade,” says Kellogg. “Her coaches have followed her through school, guiding her.”

Part and parcel of the program is responding to the pressures girls in urban environments characteristically experience. “They receive guidance and support in respecting themselves, parents, their school situations,” says Kellogg. “How do you handle frustration when you get upset at school [or] when you’re the oldest at home and have to help Mom with everything?”

Importantly, you may fall out of school, you may fail at life — it as simple as that and just as final. At best you may wind up in a dead-end, poor-paying job or parasitically subsisting on welfare. At worst, you land in prison.

“Our girls are at risk now more so than ever,” says Kellogg. “The [incidence of] Black girls being in the prison pipeline today is three times more than the Black boy.” And no one needs statistics to be aware that there’s no short supply of males in jail. Getting a GED behind bars is the pound of cure that can’t compare to an ounce of prevention.

Accordingly, Project DIVA intercedes, affording females the means and wherewithal by which to head off potential pitfalls from which there’s little chance of fully recovering. Kellogg adds that an obstacle to education can be firmly in place no matter how well they cope with personal problems and situations.

Their “swag is different than that of their [White] counterparts,” explains Kellogg. “Their emotional responses are bolder, more exuberant. White teachers are not understanding that.”

As a result, a teacher is apt to overreact, misinterpreting energetic self-expression as perhaps unruly or belligerent. This easily can become a scenario whereby the best case is that they are tracked in so-called “special ed” curricula where expectations are minimal and they’re in effect warehoused to await social promotion. Rather than graduate in the course of receiving an actual education, they are discharged to get them out of the way so the next group of girls can be set aside and stored.

And the worst case can be, as Kellogg attests, “We see them rerouted to juvenile centers.” Project DIVA arms its participants with the ability to compensate for culturally incompetent teachers and school administrators. “We are giving them tools we learned in life so they are also able to get through it.”

Neda Kellogg sums up, “Each year we come together to celebrate the commitments [they] have made to their personal development all year. Each year, we see them continue to evolve.”

This time around, the evening is facilitated by the contributions of Fabulously Authentic’s Stacey Clark. “I am extremely excited about having Stacey…as the event planner for this year’s show. She is taking our event to a whole other level with her expertise, and the girls are loving her!”

Those who can’t attend the show and want to support this community-strengthening initiative can simply visit www.projectdiva.org.

 

Project DIVA’s 9th Annual Style Show “She’s Worthy of It All” will be held at Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts, 1617 North Second Street in Minneapolis on Saturday, April 16,  from 2-4 pm.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.

About Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.

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