I've tried to write this post a million times but it's been difficult to find the right words. Yesterday, however, I received a photo that gave me all the encouragement I needed to finally find the words I've been looking for. 

2016 has probably been my most challenging year to date. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because there have been some truly wonderful moments as well. But getting a new job, moving to a new city, and "adulting" added a whole new element of challenge to my life that I hadn't experienced before. To be honest, I let all of that get to me at first. I chose to wallow in sadness and longing for a while. I thought about my girls in Houston all the time and I cried pretty much every day for a solid 3 months. I forgot about what was important to me and I lost myself while trying to just stay above water. The stress of trying to figure out a way to educate hormonal 12-year-olds had taken over my life and my passions were buried so deep that I hardly talked about them anymore. The identity I had built in Houston was not at all who I was in DC. loved the person I had become in Houston. I discovered my dream, I followed through on it, I had wonderful people around me who supported my dream, and things were moving in the right direction. Moving to DC shook everything up. I knew this would happen but I guess I didn't realize how painful it would be

They tried to bury us. 
I was so buried in stress at work that even RISE wasn't fun for me anymore. It felt like a chore that I was only doing out of obligation, and not because I actually enjoyed it. Because no one here knows about it, I found myself having to defend why it was important, and that just didn't feel right. I kept comparing my original group of girls to my new group of girls and I was disappointed that it wasn't the same. I started to let that insecure voice creep back in about whether or not I could ever actually make this dream happen. And the sad part is that I actually listened to that voice and started to believe it could be true. I let the newness of everything bury me. I let the stress bury me. I let the opinions of others bury me. I let my insecurities bury me. 

They didn't know we were seeds. 
Things are getting more tolerable at work and I'm feeling more comfortable in my new city. I'm starting to feel more like myself again and with that, my dreams are feeling alive again. Every time I get to talk to one of my girls in Houston or see pictures of them on Facebook, I feel encouraged because I know I created something great. Although my girls are the most amazing human beings on the planet, it's not a coincidence that everything worked out the way that it did. RISE like a girl is a super special program that has something incredible to offer. I can't just keep this special gift to myself - it has to be shared. So, basically what I'm saying is that I can't let RISE be buried. I have to push through and be the person I always inspired my girls to be. I can't let the inopportune timing and lack of excitement from others stop me from pursuing something that is so innately me. I need to feel the fire again that I used to feel every time I talked about it. I need to believe in this more than I've ever believed in anything before. In 2017, I'm committing to using the challenges I faced in 2016 as incentive to grow. RISE like a girl is a seed waiting to grow into something beautiful. I'm not giving up and I'm not letting it go. I have something special to share with the world and it's up to me to make it happen. 

RISE girls rocking their shirts to see the movie Hidden Figures
during their winter break! 
As always, thank you for supporting us all throughout the year. Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2017! 


A Letter to my Girls in Houston

Dear girls, 

As I'm sure you know, a lot is going on in our country right now. We all just faced a difficult blow that most of us didn't see coming. I woke up on Tuesday morning with anticipation to see Hillary become the first female president of the United States. Dressed in my "I'm With Her" tshirt and a "Hillary" pin on my backpack, I came home from work that day and immediately turned on the TV to watch the results of a presidential race in which I thought I already knew the ending. Not once did I even entertain the possibility of it concluding any other way. I sat in front of the TV until 2am in utter shock and confusion. With hands over my face and tears in my eyes, disappointment washed over me as the reality set in that my country isn't what I thought it was. My mind raced as I thought of how all the social programs that protect the beautiful diversity of our country could most likely be taken away. I thought about all the ways my life could possibly change and how much I wish we could go back in time to change the results. But really, this isn't about me. It's about you.

You see girls, my first thought was you. Even though I'm not with you in Houston anymore, you're on my mind every single day. I thought about the day I told you Hillary was running for president. I thought about the day many of you performed "Still I Rise" for the entire school with conviction and purpose. I thought about the way you spoke about convincing others to believe that women are people too. I thought about your endless passions for making the world a better place. I thought about the day we sat in a circle and I listened to your fears about the possibility of a Trump presidency. 
That last one hurts the most. It hurts because my job as an adult, as a teacher, and as a mentor is to protect you. His victory on Tuesday night makes me feel like we failed you, like we let you down

On Wednesday, I cried. I cried at 2am when I realized the race was over, I cried during the morning assembly at school, and I cried in front of my first period class. I struggled to contain my emotions because this is real for me. It felt like someone close to me had died. At first I felt silly crying over this, but then I realized what I was truly crying about. I wasn't crying because he won. I was crying because it's become clear to me that this world is a lot less kind than I thought. I cried because you girls shouldn't have to live the next 4 years of your life under a president that doesn't support people like you. You are way too deserving, too kind, and too intelligent for this. I am so sorry that our country doesn't believe in the dream of young people of color just like you. I'm sorry that some of your most formative years ahead of you will be spent justifying your worth. 

In all of our meetings over the past two years, I tried to share with you some of the harsh realities of being a girl in this world in the most appropriate way possible. But at the end of it, we always concluded with how we were stronger, we were better, we would rise above all of it. I always told you that regardless of your cultural background, regardless of your gender, and regardless of your economic status, you can be anything you want to be. Hillary earning the presidency would have perfectly confirmed everything I ever told you. Her victory would have set the tone for your future. 

I am heartbroken that you girls don't get see that reality come to fruition. I am ashamed that many people in our country, the people that are supposed to represent you, support a man that diminishes your integrity. I am angry that we live in a world full of people that are mistakenly under the impression that your life doesn't matter. 

Well girls, I need to tell you that they are wrong. Everything I ever said to you is truer than ever. It's hard to grow up in a world that wasn't designed for people like you, people like us, but we must prove them wrong. I need you to know that you are worthy of everything this life has to offer. You are worthy of love, you are worthy of opportunity, you are worthy of power. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Own your power by making your education your top priority and sharing your passion, purpose, and even your vulnerabilities with the people around you. The world needs your voice because what YOU have to say is important. 

Now, more than ever before, we need to band together. Although what just happened is not what we hoped for, we can use it to bring us closer together. Lean on each other when you're afraid, when you're unsure, and when your confidence is rattled. Lean on each other to rise above hate and find ways to spread love. Lean on each other to surprise the people who doubt you. Spread your beautiful, gracious hearts with everyone you meet. We have to show the world that love will always win. 

"You may shoot me with your words, 
You may cut me with your eyes, 
You may kill me with your hatefulness, 
But still, like air, I'll rise." 
-Maya Angelou 

Girls, I love you. I'm not sure what the next four years will bring and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried. But, I need you to know that I'm here for you. I'm going to keep working to make sure that you grow up in a world that looks like you, embraces you, includes you, and honors you. We will rise above this. Hold your feminist values close to your heart, always believe in yourself, and never give up on your dreams. It may be difficult, but it will be worth it. 

All my love, 
Ms. Martin 


Sense of Purpose & New Beginnings

I've been thinking a lot about purpose. How do I know what my ultimate purpose is? What do I do if other things are getting in the way of fulfilling my purpose? How do I know if I'm on the right track or if I'm going in the correct direction? Does pursuing my purpose equate to happiness? Is it okay to feel lost even when you know what you're doing is for the best? 

If you had asked me a year ago what my passion and purpose was, I would have told you my answer with complete confidence and without a second of hesitation. Now, however, I find myself struggling with the idea because my life lately seems to be in a place of transition. I've never felt this way before. For most of my adult life thus far I have always been that person that knew exactly what she wanted to do and most things have accordingly fallen into place. The passion I had within me always gave me focus and clarity. But living in a new city and being thrown into the deep end of a brand new job has cast a fog over the clarity I used to have. Everything is unclear because every plan seems to have a question mark at the end. 

Working at a job that is nothing like I thought it would be is a harsh reality that I've been facing for the last few months. The stress of it all has distracted me from acknowledging and giving attention to the things I used to love. RISE like a girl used to be something that I thought about 24/7. It was something that consumed me mentally and spiritually each & every day. It defined me as a woman, as a teacher, and as a leader. It was absolutely everything to me. Unfortunately, though, I'm almost ashamed to say that RISE has taken a back seat. But in the last few weeks, I've been forcing myself to remember what this club truly means to me - how it makes me feel and the change it can inspire in others. I am slowly but surely regaining myself again as a receive phone calls and letters from my girls in Houston that consistently remind me why I'm here. Because regardless of how I am feeling right now, that doesn't take away from the fact that RISE like a girl is SO incredibly necessary. It doesn't take away from the fact that at the end of the day, this is my true passion. It doesn't take away from the fact that I have a group of 6th graders that need empowerment more than ever. 

have to give these girls what they deserve. I have to give them the girl empowerment message that would have drastically changed my life if only I had received it sooner. They deserve to hear this message just as much as my girls in Houston did. So, I have to dig deeper and find the spark that ignited me 2 years ago when this all began. 

Here's to year 3 of RISE like a girl. Thank you all once again for supporting us along the way. :) 


Black Lives Matter

I feel the need to write this because I am deeply saddened by what is going on in our country right now. Seeing Alton Sterling held down and killed without reason made me angry. The fact that this is becoming a trend is something I never want to get used to. But what really got to me was seeing the reaction of his 15-year-old son as his mother, Alton's wife, gave a press conference. I couldn't help but think about my girls and the rest of my previous students in that moment. My heart breaks for them because I feel like we're teaching them lies. We tell our students that they can be anything they want to be. We tell them that no matter where they come from & no matter what they look like, the sky is the limit. We tell them that all they have to do is work hard. But the innocent deaths of Alton Sterling and Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin have made it clear that it's not that simple. Being a person of color in America is not easy. We are judged without proof and our bodies are not are own. We are made to feel like we'll never be good enough because our blackness acts as a stunting red flag that restrains us no matter how hard we try. I am frustrated that my intelligent, deserving, and beautiful students have to grow up in a world that doesn't want the best for them. I am disheartened that there are so many ugly-hearted people in this world that will never know just how wonderful my students truly are. I am heartbroken that just because of their skin color, they will have to fight ten times harder than their white peers even when they've worked just as hard. I want the absolute best for my girls & my students and I am hurt that this world seems to want to do everything in its power to take that away from them.

Black lives matter. People of color matter. Life is a gift that should never be taken away. Skin color, economic background, religion, or ethnicity is never a reason for an innocent life to be taken. All of this stems from power & privilege. I recognize my privilege. My white mother, my career, my middle-class upbringing, and my college education assign a privilege that I am so lucky to receive. I didn't ask for it and the majority of my life has simply fallen into place without too much of a fight. I'm fully aware that I have a great privilege by which I can see the world through a different lens than others. However, people have never failed to point out my blackness, point out my difference, & point out my otherness. Having brown skin alone is enough to force us to dig deeper than we should. Being white in America is a completely different reality. No one is saying that all white lives are easy, but skin color is never a factor in their disadvantage. I cannot relate to the life of Alton Sterling or others like him - it's simply not my experience. But I can't deny the truth that his black life mattered and I cannot understand anyone who denies that fact. When black bodies continue to be taken, this country must remember that black lives matter just as much as everyone else's. We MUST support, love, nurture, and encourage black lives. They must be seen and they must be heard. We cannot sit back and watch this racism in action. Their life is of value and what they have to say is important.

As a teacher and leader I will continue to empower my students to rise above. Regardless of what the world  is telling them, it is not their truth. They define their worth, they define their character, they define their destiny. My job is to give them the pen so that they can write their own story without letting someone else write it for them. We will rise.


Dear Girls

School has been over for about a week and a half now. I'm aware that the start of summer break is exciting to most people and while I am happy that it's summertime, I would be lying if I said I wasn't heartbroken as well. Since my very first day as a teacher three years ago, I have poured every ounce of my heart into my work & my students. In the beginning it was hard to stop thinking about them. I spent all of my extra money on just-because gifts, I missed them terribly on weekends & holiday breaks, and I told them everything about my life. They truly felt like my best friends. I know that sounds silly, but it's true. Although I wasn't quite as obsessed with my subsequent classes, I most definitely developed a love for them similar to that of a family's love. I love all 100 of my past students like I imagine a mother loves her children. The past three years have given my life more value and purpose than I ever knew possible. My students have taught me that my reason for being on this earth is to share my love to people like them. So, it's not surprising that the start of summer is always difficult for me. Where do I find my purpose when I don't have a group of little ones counting on me every day? But the most heartbreaking thing of all is saying goodbye to my girls. The girls & their families have been there for me since the inception of RISE like a girl. They believed in me, supported me, and encouraged me to work ten times harder each and every day. Those 19 girls are my everything. To be honest, I'm scared about the future of RISE because I'm unsure if I'll ever have a group of girls that are as wonderfully passionate as my first group. I can't imagine how they could ever be replicated. I wish that I could be there for them as they grow up, help them through the hard times, and celebrate their successes. I am deeply saddened by the reality that it will never be the same. I sincerely hope they keep in touch with me but even if they don't, I will never forget the lasting imprint they have made on my heart. 

To cope with what I've been feeling lately, I have written a letter to the girls to show my gratitude. 

Dear girls, 

Thank you for making these last two years the best years of my life. You are some of my favorite people on the planet. You make me feel so loved and cared for every single day and I hope I have given you that same feeling in return. As you know, I am only 25 years old so I'm still learning & growing all the time. You girls have taught me more than I taught you. The light that each of you radiate from within is inspiring. I aspire to be more and more like you all every day. 

I started RISE for several reasons. Firstly, I have felt a calling for helping girls since I was 18 years old. Secondly, I don't want any girl to feel as insecure and weak as I felt growing up. Lastly, I wanted to provide a feminist based education like I received in college but on a level that young girls can understand too. From the very beginning, you girls have soaked it all up. You've not only listened, but you've actually been able to apply what you've learned in your own lives. All of you go above & beyond in everything you do - I'd like to think I had a little something to do with that! But in all seriousness, I couldn't be prouder of you all. My heart melts whenever I see you interacting with friends & teachers and hearing about how you met your academic goals. I am honored to be able to watch you grow. Thank you for blessing me with your presence week after week and pouring every ounce of your love onto me. It's because of YOU that I have become the person I am today. You make me a better person and you are my reason for working hard every day. 

I want you to know that no matter how old you are and no matter what you're doing, I would stop the world to help you. I love you all unconditionally like the little sisters I never had. You will forever be my family. I sincerely hope that wherever our live take us, you'll remember me and keep in touch. But most importantly, I hope you always remember what I taught you. I hope you always remember that you are enough. I hope you remember that no matter what someone says about you, only you know the truth. I hope you never forget how strong you truly are even when someone (especially boys) let you down. And lastly, I hope that you never fail to use your voice loud & proud when someone is trying to steal your power. Remind yourself of what's important and love yourself first.

I am so proud of you and I will continue to love & support you forever. I am always in your corner. 

All my love, 
Ms. Martin 


A Beautiful Farewell

Well, that most certainly was the fastest school year of my life! Where has the year gone?! It feels like just yesterday I was blogging about our Summer Retreat and showing y'all the new logo. But somehow, we've already arrived at the end. This past year of RISE like a girl has been nothing short of incredible and I have only positive things to say about it. To be honest, this post is difficult to write because I have some pretty sensitive news to share. I have made the decision to leave Houston and relocate to Washington, DC this summer. Unfortunately, that means saying goodbye to my school, the girls, their amazing families, and the current condition of RISE like a girl. I feel lucky that I've been blessed with so many wonderful people during my time in Houston that makes saying goodbye so incredibly hard. If you had asked me to take a look at the life that I have made for myself when I first moved here 3 years ago, I would have never believed you. I created something from my heart and pursued it all the way through. I never knew I had it in me. I've taught over 100 students and I've tried my hardest to form authentic relationships with all of them. I got to share my passion with 19 deserving young girls and transformed them into empowered, determined young women. The impact everyone has made on me was unexpected but wonderful. I am forever grateful. 

Knowing that I was leaving, I wanted to plan one last "hoorah" for the girls and I. On Friday, June 3 we had the first ever RISE like a girl Banquet. All 19 girls, along with their families, came out celebrate the conclusion of our two years together. Everyone got dressed up in order to make it extra special. Overall, it was a beautiful evening for us to enjoy our time together one last time. I am thankful that all nineteen girls were able to come and that we were able to spend such a special night together. The Banquet gave us the opportunity to reflect of everything we had learned together and celebrate how much we have grown along the way. 

I prepared a video for the girls to serve as not only a scrapbook of their 2 years but also as a commercial for RISE like a girl. As you know, RISE doesn't end here. We must share the message with others so that ultimately, all girls can have access to girl empowerment. 

The girls also received a gift from me! Each girl got a gold bracelet with word "RISE" on it to commemorate our club and all of the special memories we shared. I even have one too! My hope is that is serves as a friendship bracelet between us that no matter where we are, RISE like a girl will always bring us together.

My heart breaks at the thought of not seeing the beautiful, shining faces of my girls again. I sincerely hope that we'll be able to keep in touch and see each other again someday, but you just never know what life has in store. I love each and every one of my girls as if they were my own family. Although I started RISE to leave a mark on their life, they have made an even bigger mark on mine. My girls have taught me three things: 

1. Love deeper. 
These girls love like no other. Without judgement, without background, they just love. They love despite fear of getting hurt. They love even when others don't. They love because their heart is full of joy. They love without letting the big bad world around them bring them down. They shared their unconditional love with me and now it's time for me to share that same love with others. 

2. Girl empowerment is my purpose. 

Since day 1, my girls have soaked up every single thing I've ever told them. They listen, they absorb it, and they use it in the real world. Their analysis & discussion of the topics I address proves that what I'm teaching is meaningful. Their parents have told me that I have changed the trajectory of their daughters' lives. I feel most alive when I'm teaching girls to believe in themselves and own their power. The impact RISE has created has proven to me that doing what I'm doing is my ultimate purpose. Empowering young girls to rise above societal expectations is what I was put on this earth to do. 

3. Success is simple. 
I tell the girls (and my students too) that they can accomplish anything they put their mind to. "If you can dream it, you can achieve it" is a a quote I've said many times. But as adults, how often do we get stuck in the excuses? We devise every reason in the book as to why it's not the right time or the right place to make it happen. My girls have taught me that reaching your dreams is as simple as actually doing it. If they want something, they go after it right away. I don't need to wait until everything is perfectly aligned to how I imagined it in my head. It's always the perfect time to achieve my dreams. 

These girls will forever hold a huge piece of my heart. I love them like I've never loved anyone before. Although I will miss them greatly, there is no doubt in my mind that they will make me proud. 

So, what happens to RISE like a girl now? 

It's hard to give a confirmed answer to that but what I can say is this: This is only the beginning for us. We have places to go and girls to empower. I am confident that RISE like a girl has the potential to take over the world and share girl empowerment with everyone. I want all girls to have access to girl empowerment. All girls need to know that they are worthy of power, choices, and love. I had a great start but I'm ready to grow! I'm not sure exactly how or when but I know that I will keep pushing until I get there. For now, I have 5 confirmed new Chapter Leaders at 3 different schools next year. That is super excited news! And of course, I plan on starting a chapter at my new school sometime in the coming year. The future for RISE like a girl has only just begun. Follow along as we continue this beautiful journey! 

THANK YOU to everyone who has been a true supporter of my girls and I from the very beginning! We love you and appreciate you! New blog posts will start back up again in the Fall. Until then, follow our Facebook and Instagram. :) See you soon! 


Hashtag Blessed

Hi hi! Unfortunately, another school year is rapidly coming to a close. Even though I haven't posted, we have still been meeting weekly. In the past month, we watched part of a documentary about a young girl in Africa and discussed the realities of her life. The following week was a question and answer session where the girls could anonymously ask me any question about being a girl/their body and I answered all of their questions. Lately I've been busy preparing for our very first RISE like a girl banquet this Friday. I invited all of the girls and their parents to my apartment clubhouse to celebrate all of the beautiful memories we have made together over the past 2 years. Half of my girls are graduating from elementary school and moving on to middle school so it's really important to me that we cherish our last moments together. 

While we're on the topic of special moments, let's take a walk down memory lane...

The photo on top was taken during our very first meeting. It feels like a million years ago. There's even a couple girls in that photo that didn't continue after that meeting. I was excited about the opportunity to teach what I learned in college to this bright-eyed group of 2nd and 3rd graders. The girls barely knew each other and I had never had that particular group all in one room before.  I had almost no expectations going into it because I honestly didn't know if they were even going to like it. My only goal was to create a space of growth and discussion in which growing up could be a little bit easier.  

The bottom photo tells a different story. This photo shows nineteen empowered young women that are redefining girl world every single day. Their sisterhood is obvious, their bond is unbreakable, and their future is in their hands. Over the last 2 years, they have lead insightful discussions about racial inequality, the glass ceiling, and social privilege. My relationship with them has grown into something much more than I ever imagined. They are not only my (former) students, but they are my family. I used to think that RISE was about me teaching them, but in reality, their presence in my life has been my greatest lesson. 

These girls have my heart. Sometimes when I look around and listen to them speak, I can't help but think about how blessed I am. 
I created this. I did! How cool!  
Every minute that I spend creating lessons, writing blogs, posting on social media, and meeting with the girls proves that I am living my dream. I really am. RISE has become something way more than I thought possible back when that first picture was taken. I never thought that I'd be having students and parents begging me to get an opportunity to be in RISE like a girl. I never could have dreamt of the complete transformation I've witnessed as my girls have grown into the most beautiful people I've ever met. And lastly, I never would have predicted the impact they have made on me. My life is forever changed because of the way my girls & their families have welcomed me, validated me, and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I am incredibly blessed. 

And thank YOU for loving and supporting us. Whether it's from reading my blogs, to liking my Facebook posts, to buying a shirt, your dedication is truly appreciated. Blessings on blessings on blessings! 

Check back this weekend for a special surprise! 


You Cannot Define Me

"Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined." 
- Toni Morrison  

How would you define yourself? You might say something like: friendly, compassionate, intelligent, determined - you know, all the buzz-words we like to use about ourselves. But, who's definition is this? It's yours! Would your mom have the same definition? What about your close friend? Your enemy? Maybe not. You see, the definition of YOU depends on who is writing the definition. It depends on their perspective. If they like you, their definition will most likely be similar to yours. If it's someone you've burned a bridge with, I bet their definition of you would be vastly different. Definitions are created by the person doing the defining. They are not static, they are not absolute. These "labels" that people assign to us belong to them, not us. Someone's definition of you says more about them than it does about you. Only YOU are in control of YOU. We cannot accept them for truth unless we give them the power to be true. The only definition we can accept as truth is the one that we write ourselves. You are entirely up to you. 

A common word that most of us get wrong all the time is beauty. We allow magazines, Instagram posts, and reality television to define it for us. We accept Hollywood's beauty standards for truth and try to squeeze ourselves into their discriminating definition. But when we look in the mirror and don't see the beauty that we see on the celebrities, it's hard to imagine where we belong. Many of us find ourselves thinking: Well, I don't look like her and if that's what beauty is then I definitely don't have it or I'm anything but that. It's easy to feel like an "other" when we can't see ourselves in someone else's limited definition. We must rewrite the definition so that it includes someone as beautiful as you! Only you can decide what is and is not beautiful. 

At RISE like a girl this week, the girls and I decided to take some common definitions into our own hands. We cannot accept the way someone else defines it because we know it only applies to us if we write it. It's all about redefining what is valuable and making sure that we're included in the definition. I chose 5 words for girls to redefine in an inclusive, new way. Below, I compare the common dictionary definition to the definitions that the girls came up with. 

Dictionary definition - (adj.) pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically; of a very high standard

Our definition - (adj.) being yourself; the qualities that someone has on the inside

Dictionary definition - (adj.) having or showing a quick-witted intelligence 

Our definition - (adj.) knowing a lot of things but not showing off; showing what you know in your own way

Dictionary definition - (noun) a female child 

Our definition - (noun) someone who has many options of what they want to be and believes in equality 

Dictionary definition - (adj.) having the power to move heavy weights or perform physically demanding tasks 

Our definition - (adj.) bring able to mentally overcome anything; being positive when someone brings them down

RISE like a girl (hehe I had to do it!)
Dictionary definition - (noun) it doesn't exist...yet! 

Our definition - (noun) an organization that helps girls rise above society's expectations of a female; a support system for girls that one day will become exceptional women

Never let someone else define your identity. There is no one else in this world that knows YOU better YOU! Embrace your individuality, make your own rules, and live the life that you've always imagined. 
You are entirely up to you.

Sending you all my love!


Disney Movies EXPOSED!

Disney movies. 
We've all seen them. I'm sure if I asked you right now what your favorite Disney movie is, you'd be able to tell me right away. You'd also probably be able to tell me where you were and who you were with the first time you saw it. For me, Pocahontas was always one of my personal faves. My childhood bedroom was adorned with Pocahontas bedding, posters, and even the matching wallpaper. The obsession was real. Anyway, I think we can all agree on the fact that Disney movies create fond memories within us that we carry with us forever. Whether we're 5 or 65, nothing can make us feel more like a kid again than a good Disney movie. 

Most of the traditional Disney movies star a man and a woman who meet, face some kind of struggle, fall deeply in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Those stories make us feel good, especially as kids, because they help us picture our own futures with the perfect fairy tale ending. I mean, who doesn't like a good horse and carriage into the sunset with a handsome guy, am I right?! But, you may not have thought of the hidden meaning behind the fairy tale plot that we all know and love. What hidden message is Disney sending to their young viewers? 

This week, I challenged the girls to take a second look at their favorite Disney movies by making a character analysis through a gendered lens. Disney movies are stacked with gender stereotypes. You may not have noticed them before, but when you take the time to look a little more closely, they basically smack you in the face every time. Here's the lineup!:

1. Cinderella
Cinderella is jam-packed with gender stereotypes. As I'm sure you know, Cinderella is the isolated and neglected stepdaughter to an evil stepmother that makes her do all of the household dirty work. The stepmother's daughters are allowed to enjoy all of life's privileges while Cinderella is stuck in the house all the time. The only thing that outs Cinderella out of her misery is the proposal from the Prince. Before him, her life was terrible. With him, she gets to live happily ever after. Marrying a rich man to save her life was the ultimate goal. 

2. Mulan 
Mulan is a bit of a change in pace from Cinderella. Set in China, Mulan feels pressure to join the Chinese army to protect her family. She disguises herself as a man and follows all of the gender "rules" so that she doesn't get found out by her peers. After being honored for her sacrifice, Mulan returns to being the girl she always was and even has the opportunity to pursue the love interest she met in the army. Mulan sets a positive example for young girls in showing that girls can do anything boys can do if they out their minds to it. However, it exposes, and even highlights, the gender binary. Mulan's transformation makes it seem as though men are one way and girls are another - there is not gray area, you must choose one. That gender ideal is restrictive and limiting. We all know that there are more than two ways to express gender and it deserves to be highlighted. 

3. Frozen 
Frozen sets a positive example for women and girls because the end goal is different than ever before. Elsa and Anna are sisters living in a magical place called Arendelle. Anna, the younger sister, meets a handsome prince named Hans who sweeps her off her feet and proposes to her. After hearing the news, Elsa erupts with emotion and freezes all of Arendelle. Anna suffers from being frozen to death being struck by Elsa's magic. The only thing the ends up saving her is the true love of her sister. Unlike Cinderella, Anna doesn't need saving from the Prince (he never wanted to be with her anyway). The act of true love doesn't come from a man but rather, it comes from her very own blood - her beloved sister. Men come and go, but family is forever. 

After watching clips from all three movies, the girls and I created this list: 

I then asked the girls to discuss the impact Disney movies have on young girls and young boys. These movies give us hope in new beginnings, magical adventures, and enchanting happy endings. What these movies also do, however, is set a standard for girls, boys, relationships, and families that limit viewers' definition of humanity. There is no right or wrong way to express your gender or live your life - the beauty is in the power to choose it all on our own. 

Disney movies are wonderful. Keep watching them! Just be mindful of how gender is being portrayed. Never accept the gender roles as the rule. Empowered girls choose their own identity and write their own beautifully, unique story


How to be a Feminist in 5 Easy Steps!

This week, the girls and I revisited the topic of the F Word. The girls learned about the word during a lesson I did about a year ago (you can find that blog post here).  Back then, I told them my journey to becoming a feminist based on my own life experiences that led me to believe that gender equity is important. 

But now, the beautiful thing about RISE like a girl is that the girls now have their own story to tell. Each of them can identify the defining moments in their lives that characterize their unique perspective. From being called names by their peers, to doing something that's "just for boys", to standing up for what they believe in, each girl has a story. Their stories of victory and defeat define their feminist identity. Their experiences inspire them to not only be advocates for themselves, but advocates for everyone around them. There is nothing more beautiful than watching a girl speak her truth and hold her head high, knowing that she is fully control of the rest of her life. That's what feminism is all about. 

If you didn't already know, there's actually another chapter of RISE like a girl at my school. My best friend, Maia, leads a group of 20 second graders and follows the curriculum I wrote. So basically, those girls are doing all of the lesson that my girls did last year. Her girls are supposed to be learning about feminism this week but I was having a hard time finding something that was appropriate and meaningful for a child to understand. Videos and literature for kids on the topic of feminism just doesn't exist...or at least it's hard to find. So, instead of trying to find it, I made it myself! I was inspired by this video here that was made for adults and the girls and I made our own version!

The video asks 4 simple questions: 

1. What does feminism mean to you?
2. Feminism is not...
3. The world needs feminism because...
4. Advice to someone who doesn't believe in feminism 

Watch the video below or watch it here :)

In honor of the video, I created a list!  


1. Seek understanding in someone else's story 
There is power in a story. When we take the time to understand what someone else has overcome, we start to assign value to them in a way we haven't before. We begin to see them in a new light and we respect them for they are everything they are going to be. We humanize them, love them, and accept them because they deserve to be heard. 

2. Lead with love 
Think about how different the world would be if there was a little more love. We often enter relationships with our guards up, defensive to people we don't know as a way of protecting ourselves from harm. It's understandable because there's a lot of hate and competition out there. However, when we enter relationships with love instead, it can make a huge impact. It sends a message to others that we cherish them, what they have to say is important, and their needs & desires really do matter. Leading with love not only makes them feel good, but it makes you feel good as well! 

3. Encourage change 
Change can be difficult to accept because it requires us to step outside of our comfort zone. It's easy to stay where we are and never leave because well, we're good at it! And who doesn't love being good at something? However, if we constantly live in the past and continue to settle for the same old thing, we'll fail to be anything but average. When we encourage change, it forces us to open our eyes, defy the limits, and challenge what we ever thought was possible. Change opens our hearts and mind to new beginnings. 

4. Seek solidarity 
It's natural for us to focus on the differences that separate us from our peers. Her hair is shorter than mine, his family doesn't speak English like I do, my house is bigger than hers, so on and so forth. When we do that, though, it tears us apart from someone that may be exactly the kind of person we need in our lives. That person may have something to offer you that fills a void you've always wanted filled. Solidarity means unity or a common interest amongst a group. Although at first two groups may independently seem so different, there is beauty in the similarity. The similarities, although they may be small at first, are what binds us together. Seeking solidarity fosters love, acceptance, and tolerance despite differences. 

5. Face your ignorance 
Sometimes the hardest things to accept are the things we know nothing about. We base our understanding of people and things based on an idea we've made up in our heads without actually learning about it on our own. We accept the stereotype as the ultimate truth and we fail to see anything else but that. In order to correct our mindset, we need to come to terms with what we don't know and seek understanding. Whether it's by trying out a new activity or having a personal conversation with someone you've never spoken to before, we can challenge our ignorance by facing it head-on. By approaching new things and people with a welcoming heart, we can create a much more peaceful world. 

So, are you a feminist? 
How will YOU be an advocate for women? 
Leave a comment down below! 

Sending you all lots of love & gratitude! If you enjoyed the video, please share it with people you know! :)


Shirts for Sale!!

Hi everyone! 

As you all know, the girls and I received beautiful RISE like a girl t-shirts a couple months ago. We are absolutely in love with the shirts! Many of YOU were loving the shirts as well and expressed interest in buying one too! I am pumped that so many of you want to support us by rocking your very own RISE like a girl shirt. 


RISE like a girl t-shirts are now available for purchase! 

As you can see, they are a beautiful purple color with our logo on the front and our favorite quote on the back. 

Little girls with dreams become women with vision. 

"HOW DO I GET ONE?!" you ask??

For only $15, you can make a big difference for our organization. Click the SUPPORT US tab above and follow the directions for PayPal. The order will be sent to me and I will send you a personal email confirmation to let you know I received it. 

Your support will not only provide more opportunities for the 19 beautiful & deserving girls in my club this year but it will also make a statement in saying that girl empowerment is important

From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU in advance for your endless love and support. I am so excited to share this part RISE like a girl with all of you! 


Setting Boundaries

After last week's conversation, I've been thinking a lot lately about the social constructs that perpetuate discrimination in our society. We all learn from a very young age the rules of gender, race, and sexuality. We assign labels to everything so that we can organize it in our mind as a simple, concise package. The binary of male & female, black & white, and gay & straight create restrictive expectations that make us feel like we have to be one way or the other. It's difficult to find an identity that's somewhere in between. Many of us fail to explore the gray area in between because we're not sure if it's okay to be something other than "normal". We fear not being masculine enough, or black enough, or straight enough for the approval of our peers. We're constantly monitoring the expression of our identity because we don't love ourselves enough to know that we're perfectly okay exactly how we are. 

A book I read recently talked about the idea of integrity. I usually talk to my students about integrity as a way of getting them to the right thing when no one is watching. But, the author defined it as so much more than that - 

"Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; 
choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; 
and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them."

Integrity is about making choices for our best interest. It's about choosing to challenge our abilities, choosing the road less traveled, and choosing to let our actions speak louder than our words. So many of us talk a lot about what we want our lives to become and what we deserve to have, but are we exemplifying those desires with our choices? Are we making the choices necessary to get what we deserve out of this beautiful life? No, not always. We tend to speak of ourselves in the best possible light, but if we put a magnifying glass on our lives, are we truly practicing what we preach? Integrity is difficult because it forces us to examine what we've been doing and seek the uncomfortable in order to change it. 

While integrity is difficult, it is also necessary.  Integrity forces us to set boundaries for ourselves and others. It helps us determine what's okay and what's not okay. I may be speaking for myself here, but I spent many years allowing people to treat me for less than I'm worth. I allowed them to befriend me only when they needed me, I allowed them to muffle my voice, and I allowed them to talk to me disrespectfully. I never defended myself either. I allowed them to get away with it in order to protect their feelings, not mine. 

But here's the issue: 
People learn how to treat us based on how they see us treating ourselves. 

Those people didn't treat me like that because they're the worst people on the planet. They treated me that way because I said it's OKAY. I was leading a life where I didn't value my feelings or my voice, and other didn't value it either. I never set my boundaries. I never defined what's OKAY for me and what's most definitely NOT OKAY. If I don't put value on myself, how can I expect others to value it? We must set boundaries for our lives. 

Boundaries are a sign of self respect and self love. When you take the time to determine your boundaries, you are saying that you love and respect yourself enough to know what you are worth. The girls and I set boundaries for ourselves this week by deciding what's okay and what's not okay. We discussed how boundaries are like a fence we build around us to keep the things that make us happy in and the thing that don't make us happy out

My boundaries: 

As I continue to grow in my self-empowerment, I am learning that there are certain things I just cannot allow anymore. I only want influences in my life that will inspire me and support me to grow. I am setting boundaries because I love and respect myself enough to know that what I deserve. When I set high expectation for myself and my life, I will only allow others to treat me the same way. 

The girls set boundaries for themselves too! My 3rd and 4th graders deal with a lot of friendship drama on a daily basis. They are navigating through the challenges of how to be a friend and what they need a friend to be. Setting boundaries allows the girls to make their own choices in respects to their self-worth. The power of making choices is truly what RISE like a girl is all about! 

So, what are your boundaries? Have you been treating yourself the way that YOU want to be treated? Love yourself enough to know that you deserve better than what you're dealing with right now. Sit down and make a list of what's okay and what's not okay for you. We all deserve to be loved, respected, and happy. Who or what do you need to eliminate from your life so that you can be truly happy? YOU are so worth it! 


Prejudice, People of Color, & Microaggressions

As you probably know, February is Black History Month. I always feel so conflicted as a teacher around this time of year because I feel obligated to tell a story that fails to give the entire truth. Sure, MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks were courageous, influential people that made a tremendous impact on bring black voices to the forefront. However, the story we tell our children is one that makes it seems as though it happened in the past and now it's over. We make it seem as though the problem has been solved, the dialogue is no longer relevant, and justice has been served. However, you and I both know how untrue that is. The more that I watch the news, the more fearful I become that our next generation is growing up in a world that demonstrates hate and injustice. It seems so ridiculous to me that even after all this time some people in our country still cannot prioritize character over color or culture. I sincerely hope that one day I live in a country where we see souls instead of bodies. 

I wanted to acknowledge Black History Month with the girls this month but I had to shake it up a bit. Instead of going back into the history books, I brought forth the here & now by discussing what it means to be a person of color in America today. The issues people of color are facing in our country are real and the girls need to know. Now, you may be thinking - What does race have to do with feminism? Well, everything. Both ideologies symbolize otherness - something that separates them from the "normal".  We see it in pop culture, our institutions, and even in our language. Women and people of color have a similar fight. My girls, and myself too, identify with both of those things. It's important to me that my girls know what they're up against so that they can grow into the strong, self-affirmed young women they desire to be. 

The unique and beautiful thing about the demographic at my school is that it is rich in otherness. Most of the students, my girls included, are the product of families coming to America for better opportunities for themselves and their family. There is so much depth and beauty to their story that is something I never experienced where I'm from. I love (and almost envy) the fact that their lives are so wrapped up in culture and tradition. Knowing my girls and their families has softened my heart and given me a wider perspective of just how intricate and amazing our world can be. But because we live in such a diverse city, the girls aren't as aware of "whiteness" as I was growing up. To me, in order to understand what it means to be a person of color, you have to understand what it means to be white as well. The girls and I discussed the history of slavery in America, segregation & the civil rights movement, and how racism plays out in both obvious and subtle manners. 

Racism is embedded in our culture in more ways than we realize. I think sometimes we don't acknowledge it because it exists as subtle clues that we just see as normal. Racism isn't always as radical as calling someone the N-word or not hiring someone at a workplace because of the color of their skin. Racism exists as subtly as maintaining a prejudice about a particular group of people. You may never say anything about it, you may never act on your feelings, but the false stereotype exists within our minds. Prejudice doesn't end with race - it spans across all minority groups within gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Prejudice is an opinion about a particular group that is not based on fact. Having an opinion is OKAY. Passing judgement on someone that is different than you is human nature. Many times, having prejudice isn't even our fault because the ideas have been taught to us by our families and communities in which we live. However, what is not okay is continuing to be ignorant to our prejudice without being open to seeking a new perspective. Not knowing our prejudice makes us more likely to say hateful things to people that live a different life than we do. When we're aware of our prejudice, we are much more likely to choose our words wisely and expand our horizons to new people and new experiences. 

This lesson I created for the girls is probably one of my favorites because it's one of those things I wish someone would have told me when I was their age. I needed this lesson so badly as a young girl. Growing up mixed race in a primarily white town was challenging for me. My youngest memory of being aware of my racial difference is when I was 6 years old in first grade. I knew I was different because my friends told me I was. They would ask questions about the texture of my hair or why it was always styled in big braids with balls on the end. Their questions were innocent and didn't mean to hurt me, but their comments sent a hidden message that made me feel like my difference was undesirable. In middle school it developed into things like "you act white" or "you talk white" which again, were merely observations to them but internalized in my mind as You're not black enough. In college, a white male friend of mine said, "You're pretty for a black girl, but I could never date you" which I translated in my head to Black girls normally aren't pretty and you're not good enough. Ugh! It saddens me to rehash those emotions. Those words crippled me and my sense of identity for a very long time. Although none of those people said anything overtly mean to me, their words had a racial undertone that tapped into my insecurities. 

Their words are all examples of microaggression. Microaggression is unintended discrimination based on a stereotype. It's not on purpose and the person that's saying it usually has no idea that they're offending anyone. It's very different than purposeful discrimination because hateful words usually produce an angry response because it's obviously uncalled for and ridiculous. Microaggressions are more hurtful because it validates at pre-exisiting insecurities which can lead to anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem. 

Like I was explaining before, all microaggressions have a hidden meaning. I gave the girls a list of common microagressions and they brainstormed what they really mean. 

I wish someone would have told me about microaggressions when I was younger because it would have given me a better understanding of what was happening. If I was aware of the system of prejudice then I would have known that what they were saying wasn't truth, but an opinion. I wouldn't have allowed their words to penetrate my heart and affect my self esteem. 

Be aware of your privilege, your prejudice, and do whatever you can open your heart to all people. 

"I cannot and will not judge by what by eyes can see. For the skin on a man shall not reveal his true identity."