By Morgan A. Grain | Photos by Diane Allford
This week The Children’s Aid Society Dunlevy Milbank Center for the Boys & Girls Club in Harlem hosted the third annual GIRLTALK #takeover event created by Angela Simmons and Kerri Berson Levine.
Spending most of the day socializing with over 200 girls between the ages of 8 and 16 who attended the event, Simmons confirmed that out of all her entrepreneurial ventures this project makes her the happiest.
“I just want them to be empowered. Watching them, I mean I know when I was that age and I remember the struggle of being that age and with self-confidence and not knowing how your body is changing. So it just lights a fire in me to do more for them.”
Although the event is still in its pilot stages, Berson Levine says her and Simmons are taking this time to regroup and decide how they want the program to evolve in the future.
“There are so many options. This is the third pilot event and we can either create a non-profit organization of our own or become a program at another non-profit. We are going through those talks now.”
Participants of the one-day program were split into groups, each one assigned a counselor, and migrated between different stations. Barnabas Health, the largest not-for-profit integrated health care delivery system in New Jersey, provided healthy cooking demonstrations and wellness and sex education presentations, while Pretty Girls Sweat provided fitness sessions.
“We want to teach the girls to find something they enjoy doing and don’t look at it as fitness, but look at it as an activity they enjoy doing,” said Aeshia Devore Branch, founder of the Pretty Girls Sweat movement. “That’s how they’ll become consistent. We want to tear away that stigma of girls sweating.”
Swag bags filled with products from sponsors, including hair products from Carol’s Daughter, were given to each child. They were also treated to manicures with Essie polish, another event sponsor, free Hubert’s Lemonade, and were pampered with makeovers and chic hairdos.
“I’m excited most about the beauty and fitness and to get to learn more about the program,” said 11-year-old Shania White who admitted this wasn’t her first time getting to wear make-up.
Tween camp counselor Maria Brown enjoys providing her after-school and summer kids with opportunities to experience programs like GIRLTALK #takeover, and says the Harlem Boys & Girls club has a strong bond with the children in the community.
“I wish I was a kid again, because I would be here everyday. We do a lot of project base learning, book clubs, community walks, summer activities, and we also provide an emotional and nurturing environment.” Brown says the center’s program has collaborative support from the parents and pick up where sometimes parents can’t provide.
“We foster relationships with a lot of respect,” explained Brown after one of her kids interrupted her conversation, but quickly apologized. “I keep it real with them. Parents might call with an issue they are having at home, but can’t address and we do it. And the kids take constructive criticism well, no arguing and they work to fix it.”
Special guest and recent Breakthrough Athlete ESPY award winner Mo’ne Davis arrived to a swarm of excited girls during lunch. At the age of 14, Davis is a peer to most of the girls in the program and thinks “it’s pretty cool” to be an inspiration to them at such a young age.
“I know that I’ve inspired a lot of people and hopefully more girls will get into sports,” said Davis. “Women’s sports don’t get enough recognition, so hopefully this can boost it a little and more girls join the sports world and follow their dreams.”