Earlier this week, London Beckwith stumbled upon an event at Busboys & Poets Anacostia that she said compelled her to think deeply about the past few years of her life and what other District youth encounter while coming of age.
For a few hours on Monday, London listened to speakers of various generations explore positive self-image, healthy living and sound decision-making, among other topics. As the oldest among more than a dozen participants, London said she fully embraced the program, titled the “Southeast D.C. Girls Empowerment Workshop.”
More importantly, London told The Informer that she empathized with her younger peers who’ve yet to understand the gravity of the socioemotional issues they’re experiencing and how their environment has triggered them.
“It’s hard for some people to practice self-love and self-care because their families don’t uplift them,” said London, a 17-year-old high school senior with aspirations of becoming a cosmetologist and esthetician.
“There are a lot of girls who don’t have self-respect [so] this [event] helps some young ladies to want to have it. They might have seen how [badly] their moms and grandmas have been treated and think it’s OK.”
London counted among 15 young women between the ages of 13 and 18 who attended the Southeast D.C. Girls Empowerment Workshop Aug. 14-18 in the Marion Barry Room of Busboys & Poets in Anacostia.
Faenita Dilworth, a coach and trainer who lives in Anacostia, coordinated the program with the assistance of Ezekiel Kenebrew, a digital marketing and business management consultant. For several facets of the program, Dilworth used a book and curriculum developed by Janice Ferebee, a D.C. resident and women and girls’ empowerment expert.
With the globally recognized Sankofa bird overlooking them, the participants of the Southeast D.C. Girls Empowerment Workshop spent their first day reciting positive affirmations and developing a girl code that dictated how they would engage each other.
They also completed a DISC personality assessment and learned about what Dilworth described as standards of excellence, including mental and physical fitness, media literacy, healthy relationships and communication, and personal styling and grooming.
Toward the end of the week, the participants visited Howard University, Georgetown University and George Washington University.
Presenters included community elder Sarah Holley, wellness coach Jackie Brown, fashion designer Saba Tshibaka of Rendered, Inc. and Kenebrew. Busboys & Poets and Anacostia Business Improvement District allowed the use of the space for the project. Participants also received a philodendron plant from Grounded, a plant shop and cafe that will soon open on Good Hope Road in Southeast.
Since May, Dilworth and Kenebrew conducted a guerilla marketing campaign, canvassing neighborhoods in Southeast and engaging schools, churches, recreation centers and community organizations to establish contact with students and their families.
With a virtual element of the Southeast D.C. Girls Empowerment Workshop to soon follow, Dilworth said that she remains adamant that the 15 participants, and others who are interested in the workshop, explore their girlhood much longer than what society has allowed Black female youths.
“I deliberately called it a girls empowerment workshop,” Dilworth said. “We found that there were needs beyond what we could offer in a week-long workshop. It’s about self-awareness so these girls can make good decisions. We want to give them the tools needed.”
Studies in recent years have found that Black girls face adultification bias, in which they are perceived as more adult-like and less innocent than their white counterparts. According to a 2019 Georgetown Law study, this phenomenon often leads adults to treat Black girls in developmentally appropriate ways and coerce them into being more passive.
Racism, sexism and poverty have also been found to be contributing factors.
That’s why Kenebrew said much of his work with the Southeast D.C. Girls Empowerment Workshop involves pushing participants to imagine a life beyond their current conditions. He has recounted doing that on several occasions, often with positive results.
“Tragedies are so close in proximity, that young people lose hope,” Kenebrew told The Informer. “My workshop encourages them to plant the seed of being the change they want to see so they can understand the process of being a diamond going through refinement. They should allow that pressure to transmute them to their fullest potential.”