Pearls for the Girls: Words of Wisdom for your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE

 

crown-1049927_1280

BY KIARA

Let’s face it. Life ain’t always easy when you’re in a constant balancing act — balancing school, work, a social life, planning for your future, taking care of your family, keeping your finances afloat, maintaining your relationships and more. All these things bring challenges, especially while on your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. Struggle, hard times, low points and times of doubt are all part of the journey. 

You’re about to hear from 8 women who are movers and shakers, doers and go-getters, hustlers and game changers with one thing in common: they’ve all tackled their challenges head on. Now, they’re offering you their pearls of wisdom — advice for the toughest days of your #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE.



racheida

Racheida Lewis, M.E | Ph.D Student at Virginia Tech | BS in Electrical Engineering (VCU ’13); M.E. in Electrical Engineering (UVA ’15)

“The most meaningful advice I can give to a young woman in engineering (especially first generation) is that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I started out as 1 of 4 black people in my major and 1 of 4 girls. I come from a poor background with no exposure to engineering prior to attending college. Like me, I’m sure that there will be times when you feel like giving up. There will be times when you feel like “this isn’t for me” because you may be behind your peers. There may be times when you’re intimidated by the fact that you’re 1 of few, or the only one like you in your classes. You may feel like a different major is a better fit. And it’s ok to experience those feelings. You’re not a quitter for feeling like a failure sometimes. It’s how you get up and take your next steps that count. Make friends within your major and outside your major (because you need a sane place to escape to). GO TO OFFICE HOURS and DEMAND the assistance you seek. Some professors may be jerks and it’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day they are just as much responsible for your learning as you are – don’t give into the negativity of “this isn’t high school anymore”. Find something that brings you joy – an organization, a hobby, volunteering, etc. Lastly, find support that keeps you grounded – this can be your family, friends, church, the place and people you can feel most vulnerable with without feeling the pressure of judgment. College is difficult and being in a technical field doesn’t make it any easier – but there are strength in numbers and there are so many who have come before you that are rooting for your success. If you decided that this isn’t for you because you’ve found passions elsewhere then that’s perfectly acceptable – but whatever degree you decided to pursue, you make sure that by any means necessary you don’t leave that university without it!”


caitlin

Caitlin Eberhardt | Graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law | Law Clerk at the Supreme Court of Hawaii

“One proverb that I hold close to my heart is, “Be not afraid of going slowly. Be afraid of standing still.” Following that thought, my advice to women struggling in school is not to measure your progress against that of your peers. Everyone starts at a different level and learns in different ways. As long as you are better than you were yesterday, that is success.”


mariah

Mariah Williams | Virginia Commonwealth University Graduate Student | Founder, Black Girls Meet Up

“I remember being in middle school and listening to some girls say, ‘I don’t get along with females’ or ‘girls can’t be trusted so I don’t hang out with them.’ I never understood that because so many of my great friends were other girls and I loved being around them, especially because I learned so much from them. My advice for girls in schools would be to surround yourself with girls and people in general who uplift you. In the age of social media, it is so easy to be distracted from your purpose or to allow things like Facebook and Instagram to affect your friendships negatively. Don’t let it. There is so much you can learn from the women around you! Don’t see other women as a threat. Empower each other. Encourage each other, especially in the classroom.”


christine

Christine Marie Quilpa | School Counselor at Augusta County Schools | UVA Graduate (2012, B.A. Sociology with Asian Pacific American Studies minor; 2016, M.Ed Counselor Education)

“Some circumstances and some people, including yourself, will try to put you down, but don’t let your spirit to be crushed. You were born to be great, and in order to find your greatness, you will learn a lot of lessons and experience a lot of experiences along the way. There will be many times when you will feel disappointed, sad, angry, hurt, and other emotions, but instead of letting these challenges set you back, be open to them. Use your emotions and experiences to become a bolder, braver, better you. And if you ever feel uncertain about where your passions and purpose may be, think of a problem that has made you upset – and let yourself be the solution to it.”


“The best advice I could give would be don’t forget to live while you complete your

ashleybond

Ashley Bond | Teacher | Graduate of University of Richmond

education.  One of my biggest struggles in school was that between not
having the academic skills I needed to do my work quickly, and having to work on the side to pay expenses, it took up nearly all of my time.  I would put in 18 hour days between school and work, and spent little time doing things that I wanted to do.  After
a while, I became very burned out, depressed, and bitter with my situation.  I was angry at the whole world for making my life so hard when it was really me who wouldn’t allow myself to take a break.  I moved from Utah to Virginia to go to school largely because
I had always wanted to see Virginia and the East Coast in general.  I didn’t take nearly enough time to go see the sights and experience the culture.  Looking back, I wish I would have spent less time on studies, let my grades fall a little bit (Getting C’s and D’s isn’t the worst thing in the world.  You will still graduate and end up in the same place; I promise.), and taken the time to enjoy myself.  School would have been so much more meaningful if I had,  and I may have avoided some of the terrible choices
I made after I graduated from school in an attempt to escape the life I hated.  A broken nose from a fist fight, an unplanned pregnancy, and a long journey later, I am finally in a place where I can start feeling at peace.  I have a job that I’m happy with, a great kid, and the best family ever.  And I can finally let go, relax, and spend time doing things for myself as opposed to being consumed by my academic and career goals.  Life really is too short to not spend time living.”


tanya

Rev. Tanya Boucicaut | PhD Student at George Mason University | Adjunct Instructor and Research Affiliate, Virginia Union University | Founder and CEO, Perfect Love Community Theatre

“Dear Sister of Any Age:

First of all, you need to know that you matter.

The most meaningful advice I could ever give you in school is to celebrate small victories, advocate for yourself, and embrace the struggles. I share this analogy with my students all the time; one that I’ve heard many times, school is a marathon not a dash.

Celebrate your first test, your first paper of the semester. You deserve it! School is not easy or convenient for most of us, but that doesn’t mean isn’t worth it. School, at its best, in my opinion, is to help grow into our best selves. As you we celebrate, we also recognize that we are celebrating moments of growth. So please, even if it is just, having a meal (I’m foodie) or posting a status on social media, do it! Celebrate!”


anise

Anise Burkholder | University of Richmond Graduate | Active Duty Service Member, United States Navy

“The best advice I could give a young woman struggling in school is to keep your eye on the prize and realize this struggle is only preparing you for your purpose! It might seem hard right now but there’s something this stage in your life is teaching you. Don’t give up because you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t compare your walk to someone else’s. Just focus on yourself, your future and your dreams.”


roseann

Rose Ann E. Gutierrez, M.A. Candidate, Seattle University | Research Associate, Center for Community Engagement | Project Manager for Community College and STEM Research | Resident Director, Cornish College of the Arts | Co-Editor-in-Chief of MAGIS: A Student Development Journal 

“Know who you are inside and out because when you have that sense of integrity and are honest with yourself, you can’t be false to anybody else. When school becomes challenging, remind yourself of your motivations whether those be intrinsic and/or extrinsic. I keep photos of my parents on my desk to remind me of why–why I continue to persist and remain resilient in the face of adversities. I am the first one in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree and on the pathway of attaining a master’s. I witnessed my parent’s arduous efforts, as they worked multiple jobs only receiving three to four hours of sleep for years to provide for my needs and wants. I have the educational privilege to not only give back to my parents, but also give forward to my community and others. We, women, need to leverage our education as a tool and see ourselves as social agents to truly impact society. Moreover, find strong mentors who are women, who share the same identities as you. My mentors have been pillars of support, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t guided and advised by some of the strongest and best.”

 


tiara

Just Another College Student Working Hard to Become Who I’ve Dreamed of 

 

“Hi Beautiful! Yes you! You know what your dreams are. You know what goals you’ve set. Now accomplish them. Pray to whoever you believe in, keep the faith, and WORK. Work hard to be that successful woman you’ve dreamed of becoming. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Don’t give up. You got this. “

 

 

 

 


 

 

unnamed

Kiara Lee, M.Ed | Founder, #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE | Editor, theblackertheberry.org |PhD Student, Virginia Commonwealth University 

“I think the most useful pearl of wisdom I could offer girls and women in the midst of their #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE is to never be afraid to think outside of the box. There is no one way to get from point A to point B, to earn a degree or even to achieve happiness and satisfaction in your life. If plan A doesn’t work, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of the less popular plan B, or C, or D or E. It’s your path and your path only. Own it, with all of its quirks, uniqueness, spins, turns and detours. At the end of it all, you WILL arrive at your destination, with gratitude and with grace.

Advertisements

Don’t Give Up

risingwoman2

BY FANTASIA

At the age of 16 I had to take on such huge responsibilities. Becoming the matriarch of my family at such a young age was so hard on me. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, did most of the shopping, and made sure my younger siblings were maintaining good grades in school. All while attending school myself. There were many days I contemplated dropping out because I was exhausted. Mentally and physically. My grades started dropping drastically and my attendance was even worse, but I paid that no mind. I always thought to myself if my own family could care less about my wellbeing and my grades, why should I? It wasn’t until I had a long talk with my pre-calculus teacher, Mr. Brennan, that I became fully aware of my unrealized ability.

On the first day of my senior year I remember walking in this freezing cold room filled with dull faces and quickly noticing that I was the only African American in the occupied space.. It got so quiet when I strolled in. You could seriously hear a rat pee on cotton. We started doing work right away and all of a sudden he yelled “Ms. Alston, what’s the answer?” I wasn’t paying attention so I had no idea.  I didn’t care about passing at all. I was just in attendance so my dad wouldn’t end up in court on my behalf.  I made up some random number and then everyone burst out in laughter. I even heard this guy say “what a dummy.” I was so embarrassed and Mr. Brennan could tell. He pulled me to the side after class that day and said “Don’t be embarrassed, we’ve all gotten a question or two wrong before, but from looking at your records and talking to your previous geometry teacher, I know for a fact you knew that answer. I know you’re smart, I see your potential, and I know you won’t disappoint me or yourself from this point forward.” I thought long and hard about what he said, and he was right.  Ever since that day I began taking school a lot more seriously. My days were still tough because I continued playing the “parent” role, but I made time to do whatever was necessary to graduate.  It felt good knowing that someone cared. He even bragged about my intelligence to his other students, and he always made sure I knew that I could  be great at anything I put my mind to. My GPA rose tremendously and I ended up having the highest average in that class. Just about everyone was asking me, the “dummy,” for help.  It felt amazing to prove so many people, even myself, wrong.

If you’re struggling with school and think it’s impossible to pass I just want you to know nothing worthwhile comes easy. You will face challenges whether you’re raising a child, working nonstop, or even just piling yourself up with too much work. There will be moments you’ll doubt your ability to succeed, but don’t give up. Don’t let your doubts defeat you. There might be days you’ll feel as if you have no one to confide in. No one who will even begin to understand what you’re going through, but at the end of the day all you need is yourself.  Believe in yourself. You can do it; just wait it out and try your best, and I promise it will get better.

(photo: uptownmagazine.com)


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.

You Don’t Have to Like School

school hallway blur

BY JENNIFER

My mother always told me that I had to do well in school. She never showed me how, but it was drilled in my head for as long as I could write that I was supposed to be ‘smart’ and do well in school to uplift my family and my race.

Honestly, I never even liked school. I always felt like someone else in the classroom, save for when I was sharing or writing an essay, creating art performing a play. I felt stifled being forced to learn many difficult things that did not benefit my mood or my future. To top it all off, I was the ‘contaminated’ kid. Talk or befriend me and you were automatically a target in elementary school. I was a social outcast and although middle and high school wasn’t as bad as elementary school, I never regained my appreciation for school. I skipped a lot, and being in the academic environment gave me headaches. So, why am I even here?

In my junior year of high school I was convinced I was going to illustrate and create comic book characters. I had a low GPA at that time and I was going to spend all of my time drawing so I could be good enough to get out of school and never return. One day, my peers and I were having a conversation about college, perhaps brought about by our teacher and I listened to what they we’re saying. Everyone wanted money. No one really had a drive to learn; it was always a decision made for them before they could even speak. I didn’t want to go. The sedentary lifestyle wasn’t for me. I wanted to do and make… and that’s when I really learned what school was about. My mother, although pushing me to make a name for myself in school, never really explained how to get in to college or what exactly what was. She never explained to me the importance of a good work ethic in high school; she only said that it was something I had to maintain. I think my mother gave up on me a long time ago. I couldn’t blame her. But I did want to prove her wrong.  And I wanted to go to school- not to prove my mother wrong but simply because I found out that you had a choice to learn skills that you want to learn. I did not know it was possible before to learn so much in school. I thought college was only for the doctors, businessmen and women, lawyers and scientists of the world. It never dawned on me that I would be learning skills I wanted to learn and choosing a path that best fit me.

Even after my ‘groundbreaking’ discovery school did not get much easier for me, but I worked

 hard. In my last two years of high school I had about a 3.8 average compared to my first two years leveling out to about 2.5. It felt good to prove everyone wrong, and I did. Then, I still had hopes of being an artist, but I’ve changed I will continue to and the great part is my education can change with me. Even know, I’m thinking of changing to a theater major and I know if I hadn’t continued my education and tried so hard I wouldn’t of had a chance to figure out what I want and what best suits me. Education is, to me, important not because I want to make anyone proud of me anymore, but because I’m learning about the things that make me happy and will mold me into a person that can give back to the world. Sometimes school isn’t for everyone but if there’s a better way to learn and grow among a community of lost intellectuals just like me, let me know. I still don’t appreciate carrying around books all the time and bad school food or spending hours reading boring texts, but I know I’m going to find my place here soon.

(photo source: nces.ed.gov)


JenniferJennifer Lee is a freshman at VCU currently studying Africana Studies and English. She grew up all around Virginia and enjoys trees, sunshine, driving, and good books. She hopes to become a writer, actress and an activist. She considers herself an average student but says she has an amazing brain and she hopes to empower those that are as lost as she is.

When School Hurts More than it Helps

segregated classroom edit

BY KIARA

(from theBlackertheBerry.org)

Go to school. Get your education. Be better and live better because of it.

But what happens when school is imprisoning instead of empowering?

What happens when your teachers tell you of all the things you can’t do instead of what you can do? What happens when good grades become bad and bad grades become good, all in the name of peer pressure, manhood and being “hard?” And how complicated it becomes when grades are no longer black and white – when they are associated with race, when “acting black” and “acting white” and “acting” other ethnicities blurs positive and negative images, attitudes and ideals – full of gray area. Or when you’re too hungry to concentrate…to make the grades to get out the hood that’s keeping you hungry. Or when the school keeps testing you because you can’t pass the tests – but for your failure, they have no answer. Or when in general, school seems like the strangest, most distant foreign land, because nothing about it resembles who you are or where you’re from.

What happens when these things and more not only exist, but are also exacerbated under the school’s roof? What do you do?

You fight back.

If knowledge is power, you have to be willing to fight for it.

Kids don’t know the fight as well as we adults know it, as many of us have been there before, so essentially, the fight for our kids’ education is in our hands.

We can’t take everything for gospel, simply because a teacher, a principal or another official says it. My parents were told that I may be deaf and/or autistic at a very young age because I started to walk, talk and develop in general at a later age than most children. But then, all of that was debunked. But then I started school. I was tapped for the gifted program in school. Then, I got honor roll, and much later national honor society and other honors and today, I’m an author with an advanced degree from one of the best schools in the nation and God willing – it’s only the beginning. So many people I know have eerily similar stories, and they’ve gone on to accomplish a whole lot.

All kids are capable of greatness. We can’t let naysayers dressed up with fancy titles tell them otherwise.

We have to be willing to sacrifice for education, for if we don’t, we sacrifice our children. If he or she is struggling where you’re at and you’re convinced he or she would fare better in another area, do what you have to do within reason to make that move. Before I was born, my folks were young and struggling, and opted to go without furniture for a year to send my older sisters to a private school in Long Island because it offered them a safer environment and better opportunities. An uncomfortable year it may have been, but the advantages of that sacrifice will last a lifetime. If we don’t buy into education, they surely won’t. Buy into it, no matter how much it costs. Temporary discomfort beats the permanent setback of the generations that follow us.

 Praise them in school. Many scholars reference the transition from third grade to fourth grade as problematic for kids, particularly African-American boys, as the nurturing from the teacher (the doting, the “babying”) drops significantly during that transition and as a result, grades drop . But technically, it’s not the teacher’s job to nurture our children – it’s up to us. The praise matters. We have to recognize their efforts and reward their accomplishments. We have to be active and interested in their studies. We have to be their backbone and their biggest cheerleader, especially during the younger years. The smallest strides need recognition just like honor roll and graduation. Don’t act like you don’t remember how good you felt as a little boy or a little girl when an adult noticed your good work.

When school hurts more than it helps, the story isn’t over. If we play our cards right, it’s simply a bump in the road. If we play our cards right and put up a good defense, we’ll win the fight.


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.

Pressure

BY FANTASIA

You can attend  this party with us
After the game
But you’d rather study
Because you’re so “lame”
We can make sure you’re up
For school in the morning
Come turn up with us
Don’t be so “boring”
It’ll be okay
If you miss one day of school
Don’t ditch us for books
That’s so “not cool”
What if we take you home early?
I’ll be sure you make it back
A few hours of fun won’t hurt
Come on, don’t be so “whack”
Ugh I guess your answer is no
This is so absurd
We’ll leave you alone with your schoolwork
Continue being a “nerd”

……no no don’t leave
Just let me get dressed
It’s time to celebrate with my girls
I’m not worried about that test

We all know peer pressure can be tough to deal with, especially when you are a teenager or in your college years. The desire to fit in and feel like you are part of a crowd  is completely normal, and most people feel this way their entire lives. The substantial  thing about peer pressure is that it can occasionally  be positive, but other times it can be a bad influence in our lives. Contesting to the pressure of your peers can be challenging but it’s important  that you know what your own personal values are and where you stand about certain things. It’s okay to be assertive and say no.

(photo: pain.com)

 


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.

When the Boys don’t Like your Books

teen couple arguing

BY KIARA

“See, that’s your problem. You got your nose too far in them books.”

Two sentences I vowed to never forget.

I heard these words in the beginning of my freshman year of high school. Who said these words, you ask? This older boy, frustrated and angry because I didn’t want to talk to him.

I was working on a group project with a classmate over the phone. Next thing I knew, this guy from school was on the line with us. I really didn’t appreciate it because I was focused on getting our work done. Little did I know that this boy, who was good friends with my group project partner, was using our work time as an opportunity to try to spit some game at me.

“Where do you live?”

“What do you like to do for fun?”

“Are you a virgin?”

That was it.

Before he could ask any more questions, I went off. “Look, we have an assignment to get done. Maybe you need to hang up your phone and do something else because you’re really getting in the way right now,” I said.

And that’s when his anger set in and his true feelings about school and about me seeped out.

“Well you lame anyway. Always worried about school huh. Okay that’s why you don’t have no man,” he yelled.

My heart dropped. Not because I was offended, but because I saw the very type of guy my parents had always warned me about in living form.

“See, that’s your problem. You got your nose too far in them books.”

I always had been told that any boy that doesn’t respect your education, your goals and your dreams means you NO good. The knucklehead trying to interrupt my work would have rather me not finish my project and risk getting a bad grade — all because he wanted to get in my pants.

Ladies, your nose being in the books is NEVER a problem.  Be strong and firm in your beliefs for yourself and your future. If any boy or any man doesn’t value your wants and your desires, drop him as soon as you can.

When the boys don’t like your books, don’t like the boys.

(photo:rawstory.com)


meblacklipstickKIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.