Celebrating the Chicago Day of the Girl
by Zeki Salah, Mutual Aid Collaborative Facilitator
On October 11, the Girls Like Me Project, Inc. hosted the 11th annual Chicago Day of the Girl at the South Shore Cultural Center. The event coincides with the International Day of the Girl, which is an international observance day established by the United Nation on October 11, 2012 to increase awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide and to support more opportunities for them. The Chicago Day of the Girl focuses on recognizing and providing opportunities for Black girls ages 13 to 18 years old in the City of Chicago.
This year, the theme of the Chicago Day of the Girl was “I Belong” and the programming was aimed towards reclaiming spaces for Black girls that often feel inaccessible. La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, a 2020 Chicago Peace Fellow and the Executive Director of the Girls Like Me Project spoke to the importance of reinforcing the girls’ right to spaces throughout the city: “Many girls feel like they only belong in certain spaces and that they are confined to their neighborhoods. So we wanted to build a sense of belonging: they belong to this city and that this city belongs to them.” The Chicago Day of the Girl worked to address the way the city is segregated by race, class, and income by showcasing how different organizations and resources can be utilized to celebrate and center the voices of Black girls. The South Shore Cultural Center also made for a significant venue because it gave the girls an opportunity to be in an establishment that is seen as exclusive.
Chicago Public Schools across the city participated in the Chicago Day of the Girl, with 253 girls attending in total. The University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn, Gary Comer Charter School, and Nicholson STEM Academy were some of the schools that were connected to the Chicago Day of the Girl through partnerships with the Girls Like Me Project, Inc. The event was held from 10am – 3pm, allowing the girls to leave the classroom and receive educational enrichment outside of their schools.
As an educational enrichment opportunity outside of the classroom, the Chicago Day of the Girl was able to address issues that receive limited attention in schools, allowing programming to be gender responsive and internationally oriented. The day’s activities aimed to make the girls in attendance feel like they belong and are included in a global empowerment conversation. The Chicago Day of the Girl originally grew out of the Girls Like Me Project’s Global Connections program, which aimed to show girls in Chicago what girlhood looks like in other spaces around the world. This has influenced programming to have an international reach, that aims to not only bring the voices and perspectives of Black girls into international conversations, but also to provide resources that help them travel internationally.
Girls who attended the Chicago Day of the Girl were provided with connections to the global community and opportunities for international travel by local international organizations. WorldChicago, an internationally-oriented nonprofit focused on citizen diplomacy, presented their Youth Diplomat program to the girls in attendance. This program admits students to engage in cross-cultural conversations with international peers and attend lectures and workshops with global and Chicago area academics, government officials, and community leaders. Tiffany Smith, a travel writer from Bronzeville, also shared her experience traveling outside of the country and the barriers to travel she faced as a Black girl. The Global Strategists Association addressed some of the challenges girls might face by sharing information about passports. The Girls Like Me Project will also sponsor passports for three girls who attended the Day of the Girl, as well as African ancestry tests. Collectively the organizations involved provided tools for Black girls to engage with girlhood internationally while also showing that their voices are needed in an international space.
Organizations across the city of Chicago also collaborated to show their commitment towards supporting, celebrating, and amplifying the voices of Black girls. Damon Reed, a local Chicago artist, came and showcased murals that girls involved in the Girls Like Me Project painted with his support. The murals depict missing Black girls whose stories have not received significant media coverage. Dr. Ruby Mendenhall of UIC Champaign-Urbana also created an exhibit which was featured at the Day of the Girl by working with the mothers and daughters of the Girls Like Me Project. Their exhibit featured portraits of what brings them joy and healing. These projects showed the girls in attendance the importance of their experiences and how their stories can be told in a powerful and influential way.
The Chicago Day of the Girl provided Black girls from Chicago with a sense of belonging within both local and global communities and emphasized their capacity to enact change. The girls who attended were given tools for advocacy by the participating organization and a platform for self-expression. Local talent was also showcased, with dance performances from the Girls Like Me Project, music, a teen talk show, and a performance from Dee Dee Davis of the Bernie Mac Show. Reflecting on the day’s events La’Keisha Gray-Sewell said, “this day was all about Chicago girls and uplifting them and providing them with a platform to celebrate themselves.”