"There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.” First Lady Michelle Obama reminds everyone of one of the most powerful affirmations of all—that the brilliance of women is something that cannot be dimmed in the face of adversity, and there is no limit to what women can continue to achieve. Picture a room of 115 young Black girls, proudly wearing sparkly tiaras, repeating the affirmations that they are strong, beautiful, kind and brilliant. They excitedly color in photos of crowns and write their own affirmations as points on the jewels of their crowns. “I am smart. I am funny. I am a queen,” their pages say. On Monday, October 17th, 2016 this powerful scene became a reality when the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans hosted an AfAmEdLit(eracy) Princess Party to celebrate literacy while reframing narratives around beauty and brilliance for girls of color. The most important part of this party? The leader is six years old. Jordan West, author of “Princess for a Day,” read to her peers the empowering story of a young Black girl who wanted to throw a party for girls who are homeless or are in the foster care system to ensure that they too, feel like princesses. One of the main lessons that surfaced was that young girls of color from marginalized communities can make a difference right now and recognize their potential to be the change they want to see. Following the reading, a mirror was passed around and each girl was encouraged to say one thing she liked about herself. The party wasn’t about turning girls into princesses, but ensuring that Black and Latina girls experience how self-love transforms the way they view themselves and the pivotal role they play in leading and shaping our world. Reading a book about a Black girl written by a Black girl only has positive effects on a girl’s life. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, fewer than 10 percent of children’s books released in 2015 had a Black person as a main character. When girls don’t see themselves and their experiences in the stories they read during a formative period of their growth and development, they struggle with actualizing their dreams and aspirations. It is difficult to be what you cannot see. For this reason, books can be a touchstone to the souls and spirits of Black girls. Stories are our human means of connection to lead lives of authenticity, pursuit and compassion. Humans process lived experiences through telling stories. Caring and concerned adults allow Black girls to thrive through telling and sharing positive stories by and about them. We must also create spaces where girls of color shine in their own light. In a world that often conveys the message that Black girls are either not enough or too much, positive affirmation is critical. Criticism and stereotypes follow girls of color everywhere, but if we affirm their brilliance, beauty, and worth by encouraging them to tell their stories, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. With young change agents like Jordan West, Morgan E. Taylor, Marsai Martin and Marley Dias sharing and starring in positive stories, we only have hope for the future of positive representation. If you see a Black girl, tell her she’s beautiful. More than that, tell her that she is brilliant and that she shines. It is our responsibility to our princesses that we speak their truths into power and affirm them until they know how to dig deep to find that empowerment for themselves. She will carry that with her, even on her most difficult days, knowing that she is and always will be enough.
\Photo of Jordan West reading.
Lauren Mims is the associate director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.