When We Dream Big: Highlights from the Young Women Rock! Leadership Luncheon 2012

What happens when a recent graduate looking for work dreams big? She creates an organization to empower women and girls that utilizes the power of mentoring to transform the lives of teenage girls in under-served neighborhoods.

What happens when a group of mentors dream big? New York State Senator Velamanette Montogomery and Dr. Brenda Greene, founder of the Center for Black Literature and mother of Talib Kweli , make keynote speeches at the first closing ceremony for the mentees in the YWR! mentorship program.

The theme of our first annual Young Women Rock! Leadership Luncheon was Dream Big! On Sunday, June 3rd at 1:00 PM, fifty guests walked to the second floor of the YWCA of Brooklyn to the Gallery Room to honor the acheivements, goals and dreams of the young women in the YWR! Mentorship Program. Bianca (Head of Public Outreach) and myself welcomed our guests and invited them to join us at the front of the room where the Meet & Greet portion of the afternoon commenced with sparkling cider served in champagne flutes, and mini red velvet cupcakes catered by Blessed Confections.

Never underestimate the power of a woman. – NY State Senator Montgomery

State Senator Montgomery’s opening speech informed the girls that challenges still exist for women, and women of color, but that it is important to view these obstacles as opportunities. She encouraged the girls to consider entering into politics to make a difference, and to take on internships in her office or other offices in city government this summer.

The first empowerment workshop of the day was led by Ashley Johnson and Diamond Wynn from Urban Word NYC, a nonprofit organization that presents literary arts education and youth development programs in the areas of creative writing, journalism, college prep, literature and hip-hop. Much like Young Women Rock!, Urban Word believes that teenagers can and must speak for themselves on the issues that hold the highest importance for them. The workshop began by audience members calling out words that describe “loving.” Diamond wrote the words, such as beauty, love, caring, feeling, honest, positive, spiritual, kind, sunshine, comfort and warm on a board at the front of the room. Mothers and daughters then took part in a pseudo-Taboo creative writing exercise that required them to write a poem about what love is like… without using the 20 or more words they had initially used to describe the feeling! Several mentees and their mothers presented their pieces with the audience – an occasion that left the entire room feeling more loved and connected.

After the guests enjoyed a lunch catered by Sabrosura caterers, Sharon De La Cruz led the second empowerment workshop entitled, Catch Your Dreams. Sharon is a Director at The Point Community Development Center, which works to revitalize the community of Hunts Point in the Bronx. Sharon’s W.O.M.E.N’s group is one of our most recent partners, with whom we will be working with closely this summer – briding the gap between the Bronx and Brooklyn. The Catch Your Dreams workshop brought the mentees closer with their guests, as their families helped them create a dream catcher. It was beautiful to see the mothers, fathers and sisters of our girls helping them put in writing their accomplishments thus far, and their dreams for the future. The girls’ dreams included loving themselves, improving their health, graduating from high school and a four-year college, traveling the world, becoming a lawyer or doctor, starting their own business, owning their own home, giving back to their families and communities, and starting their own families (see image).

At 4:00 PM that Sunday afternoon, Bianca and I led the closing ceremony for the young women who participated in the YWR! program. Tears, smiles and embraces were shared as we called each mentor to the front of the room to present an Excellence Award to their mentee. Each mentor spoke about their mentee’s acheivements and improvements since being in the program, and what a joy it was to learn as much from them as they learned from us.

As a surprise to those in the audience, I concluded the ceremony by also presenting each mentor with a certificate of Outstanding Service for their outstanding dedication and leadership during the length of the program. We felt compelled to thank one mentor in particular whose mentee was unable to continue with the program, but who herself stayed in the program acting as a mentor to all the mentees, and in place of mentors who were unable to attend cultural outings. Our mentors have gone above and beyond, often visiting the home of their mentees to ensure that they are doing well and to personally introduce themselves to their mentee’s guardian. It would be impossible for me to continue this program without the support and commitment of these remarkable mentors.

Dr. Brenda Greene’s words of encouragement, inspiration and wisdom closed our ceremony. She shared quotes from well-recongized writers and poets, while also sharing her schooling experiences including being the only black child in a class and not being invited to play, to being “geeky” in junior high school. Her words resonated with our guests as they reflected on the desire to fit in, without completely molding to societal expectations.

 Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. – Shirley Chisholm

I cut into a beautiful cake baked by Blessed Confections, as fifty people cheered to the success of the first annual YWR! Leadership Luncheon. This day honored the mentees and mentors who make YWR! significant, special and successful. I am eternally grateful to the support and love we have received since the launch of our mentorship program in Februrary of this year. The Luncheon marks the success of our semester-long pilot program, and in the Fall of 2012, we plan to expand to the High School for Civil Rights, FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety, and Performing Arts and Technical High School, the three other high schools in the former Thomas Jefferson High School site in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York.

A Special Thank You

Friends and family including Lancil Burnette and Peggy Scianna

Speakers: Velmanette Montgomery, Brenda Greene

YWCA Brooklyn

Workshop Coordinators: Sharon De La Cruz (The Point); Diamond Wynn, Ashley Johnson (Urban Word)

Performing Arstists: Vanessa, Elle, A. Lyric

Florist: GRDN Brooklyn

Caterers: Blessed Confections, Sabrosura Caterers

Photographer: Dyane Ramkelawan

Videographer: Brandon Braithwaite

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