BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — When young women applied to be a part of a new initiative from The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, they weren’t asked for the list of clubs they are involved in or their grade point average.
They were asked what issues in their school and in their community trouble them, and what solutions they have for addressing them.
The responses were “pretty uncomfortable,” said The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham President and CEO Jeanne Jackson.
The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham on Jan. 22 unveiled its new young women’s initiative, which includes a 14-member Young Women’s Advisory Council made up of young women ages 14 to 24.
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Jackson said Birmingham is working in collaboration with eight women’s foundations across the country on the initiative designed to give young women of color a collective voice. She said the initiative is an extension of The Women’s Fund’s focus of providing education to single mothers and childcare for their children.
“Based on the research and focus groups we conducted last year and our extensive work with single mothers over the past four years, we know there is a need to address the economic barriers common for low income women at an earlier age,” Jackson said.
Young women of color in Jefferson County are twice as likely to be in poverty than her white male counterpart, she said.
The members of the Young Women’s Advisory Council were selected to apply based on- recommendations and referrals from professionals working with young women. Between 50 and 60 young women applied and were interviewed.
“We are putting young women at the forefront,” said Rebecca Harkless, who works at the YWCA of Central Alabama and is serving as coordinator of the Young Women’s Advisory Council. “We are asking women what they need, and letting them make those decisions.”
She said the council gives the young women a forum to talk about what will make their lives and their communities better.
The community can change if we elevate these women’s voices, Harkless said.
Over the course of eight months, the women will also be charged with coming up with solutions to those problems and working with The Women’s Fund to secure grant funding.
“What we know is there are enormous disparities in education, economic outcomes, poverty and wellbeing for young women of color,” said Carla Crowder, director of programs and policy at The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. “This gives those young women the chance to learn about those issues, to learn about advocacy and to bring their ideas and their experiences to solving their own problems.”
The women will learn storytelling, advocacy, grassroots organizing, she said, and they will partner with community leaders and government officials for mentoring.”
TaKaiya Cooper, 16, a junior at Ramsay High School, said she applied for the council because she wants to provide resources and counseling in the community for victims of sex trafficking.
As a freshman in high school, Cooper said she saw a documentary where victims of sex trafficking told their stories.
“It just kind of got to me,” she said. “I just felt the need to do something about it.”
Ashleigh Richardson, 16, a junior at Ramsay High School, said she wants to help stop sexual harassment. She wants to create an anonymous online tool where victims of sexual harassment can report what happened to them.
“A lot of people think (sexual harassment) is a joke,” she said. “It is honestly not a joke. I think it is very serious, and I wish more people would speak up about it.”
Cooper said she was a victim of sexual harassment on her school bus last year. She said she reported the incident but nothing was done about it.
Here are the members of the Young Women’s Advisory Council:
— Desi Hall, 20, junior at Birmingham-Southern College
— Myranda Bell, 16, junior at Ramsay High School
— Kyra Bell, 15, freshman at Cornerstone Schools of Alabama
— Jamese Dotson, 18, freshman at Lawson State Community College
— Jalyn Plump, 14, freshman at Ramsay High School
— Noble Rasheed, 17, junior at Shades Valley High School
— Zaharia Anderson, 20, sophomore at University of Alabama at Birmingham
— Tanisha Hudgins, 16, junior at Helena High School
— TaKaiya Cooper, 16, junior at Ramsay High School
— Himani Modi, 18, freshman at UAB
— Ashleigh Richardson, 16, junior at Ramsay High School
— Cynitria Jones, 20, sophomore at Lawson State Community College
— Amauri Pettaway, 18, senior at Parker High School
— Diamond Smith, 16, junior at Ramsay High School
The initiative began in the spring of 2017 with a series of focus groups where The Women’s Fund listened to 35 young women about their goals and struggles.
In the summer of 2017, the Women’s Fund, commission research from UAB on the status of young women in areas like economics, education, health and safety.
A stakeholder committee was formed to help guide the process. It is comprised of a cross-sector of professionals who work closely with young women, including members representing: Girls Inc., of Central Alabama, Carver High School, Jefferson Co. Family Court, UAB Adolescent Medicine, Children’s Aid Society of Alabama, YWCA Central Alabama, Young Women’s Empowerment Conference, Urban Ministries, Girls Spring, Hope with Grace.
Information from: The Birmingham News, http://www.al.com/birminghamnews