New Study Reveals Sources of Resilience and Strength for Black Girls in New York City Black Girls Face Hardships and Challenges

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A new and unique report, Black Girls in New York City: Untold Strength and Resilience, was released by the Black Women for Black Girls Giving Circle (BWBG), a funding initiative of The Twenty-First Century Foundation, and the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR). A key finding in the report is that the impact of poverty is especially acute in the lives of Black girls. Approximately three-quarters of the girls in the study live in low-income communities and households. Importantly, the report also explores the positive influences in Black girls' lives. It finds that girls who highly valued spirituality also tended to have an excellent relationship with their primary caretaker. Likewise, those who possessed a strong sense of racial identity were more likely than other girls to be happy on typical day, to receive better grades, to want a college education and believe in their ability to reach their goals.

A new and unique report, Black Girls in New York City: Untold Strength and Resilience, was released by the Black Women for Black Girls Giving Circle (BWBG), a funding initiative of The Twenty-First Century Foundation, and the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR). The report, commissioned by BWBG from IWPR pairs analysis of original data collected through written surveys and focus groups with a review of existing literature to provide an in-depth examination into the lives of Black girls living within the city of New York.

"Through our work with Black girls as service providers, funders and technical assistance providers, it became clear to the founders of BWBG that there may be unique social factors impacting our girls," said Stephanie Palmer, Executive Director, New York City Mission Society. "So we pooled our personal funds and joined forces with other like-minded women and organizations to conduct a study focusing on Black girls in New York City."

The report finds that the impact of poverty is especially acute in the lives of Black girls. Approximately three-quarters of the girls in the study live in low-income communities and households.

"Like all Black children, Black girls are at increased risk of living a life of poverty. But poverty plays out in the lives of Black girls in very distinct ways," remarked report author, Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, affiliate scholar of IWPR and Director of the Research, Public Policy and Information Center for African American Women at the National Council of Negro Women.    

"Our surveys and conversations with adolescent Black girls in New York City show that many of the girls are at an increased risk of violence because of the economic situation of their families and economic conditions of their communities," emphasized Dr. Jones-DeWeever. "For far too many of the girls in our study, poverty truncates their childhood experience."

Most survey respondents indicated that they worry about their personal safety. Among those who feel unsafe at home, most attribute their uneasiness to drug activity in their community as well as the prevalence of violent crime, fights, and gang activity. Black girls most often indicated that they felt unsafe due to frequent fights at school.

"Some of the girls in our study have taken on responsibilities beyond their years," added Dr. Barbara Gault, Vice President and Director of Research at IWPR. "Many of the girls we surveyed and spoke with work to contribute to their family financially and take care of younger siblings in order to assist their over-worked parents."

The study also examines issues of self-esteem for Black girls, a group often considered immune to the impacts of mainstream culture on body image and self-confidence. While most of the Black girls in this study seemed largely satisfied with themselves, one-fifth indicated, that if given the opportunity, they would change their bodies in some way. A few expressed keen sensitivity to issues of skin tone. Some were teased harshly for being "too Black." Others even expressed a desire for skin bleaching; and in at least one instance, that ultimate desire was not just to become lighter, but instead, to become white.

"Far too many of the girls in our study carry heavy burdens and hardships," said Erica Williams, Study Director at the IWPR. "The remarkable thing is that in the face of it all, these girls continue dreaming and working toward their goals. They are doing everything they can to fulfill their dreams and we need to do our part to ensure they get there."

Erica Hunt, President of The Twenty-First Century Foundation, a foundation supporting Black community change that houses the Black Women for Black Girls Giving Circle, reiterated this message. "This report is a call to action for families, community and religious leaders, service providers, advocates, and policymakers, everyone," said Hunt. "We have to come together and work together to make sure that Black girls do better than just survive, we want them to thrive."    

Importantly, the report also explores the positive influences in Black girls' lives. It finds that girls who highly valued spirituality also tended to have an excellent relationship with their primary caretaker. Likewise, those who possessed a strong sense of racial identity were more likely than other girls to be happy on typical day, to receive better grades, to want a college education and believe in their ability to reach their goals, and when involved in intimate relationships, to engage in self-protective behavior by insisting upon condom usage.

"This study also shows where Black girls in our city find their strength and resilience and where they rejuvenate their spirits," said Kanyere Eaton, Executive Director of the Sister Fund, a private women's foundation that works at the nexus of faith and social justice, and a founding member of the Black Women for Black Girls Giving Circle. "We need to hone in on these resources and scale them up to make sure that Black girls in our city succeed."

The report concludes with a number of recommendations for policy and practice by a wide range of factors:

Implement a series of debriefing sessions on the status of Black girls with key community leaders.

Parents, principals, and teachers need to develop and implement approaches to address the needs of Black girls in educational settings.

Schools, community groups, and service providers serving Black girls should incorporate information and discussions about violence, safety, and sexual health into their programs and curriculum.

Reach out to adolescent Black girls about their reproductive health.

Develop affinity groups for Black girls to promote a strong sense of racial identity throughout their developmental years.

Push for the implementation of programming that supports the development of healthy parent-child relationships.

Develop and expand one-on-one mentorship programs.

Create faith-based and Black girl organizational alliances.

Emphasize the need for greater policy action focusing on poverty reduction.

Open access to higher education for young Black women.

Push for greater workplace flexibility, access to sick leave, and other forms of paid leave so that families will have the ability to spend time with their children when they need them the most.

To view the report, visit http://www.blackwomenforblackgirls.org or http://www.iwpr.org.

Black Women For Black Girls Giving Circle
The mission of the giving circle is to amass knowledge and financial resources that will support organizations committed to the empowerment of black girls in New York City.
http://www.blackwomenforblackgirls.org.

Twenty-First Century Foundation (21CF)
The mission of Twenty-First Century Foundation (21CF) is to facilitate strategic giving for black community change. Specifically, 21CF works with donors to invest in institutions and leaders that solve problems within black communities nationally. http://www.21cf.org

The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR)
The Institute for Women's Policy Research conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women, promote public dialogue, and strengthen families, communities, and societies. IWPR focuses on issues of poverty and welfare, employment and earnings, work and family issues, health and safety, and women's civic and political participation. http://www.iwpr.org

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