Women’s Leadership Project: Gender Justice and Humanist Education
23 Nov 2015
The Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) is a mentoring and service learning advocacy program designed to educate and train young middle and high school age women in South Los Angeles to take ownership of their school-communities. Since 2006, the WLP has been based at South L.A. high schools such as Gardena High School, Washington Prep High School, and Duke Ellington Continuation School. This school year, the WLP will begin a new pilot at King Drew Medical Magnet in South L.A. Using a humanist curriculum with a social justice lens, the goal of the program is to empower young women of color to develop their own voices, increase their self-esteem, and foster healthy relationships. They also work to promote critical consciousness about and activism around race, gender, and LGBTQ equality and prepare the women for college and careers. WLP guides young women through school-community advocacy projects of their own choosing, toward helping them develop and sharpen their critical thinking, writing, collaboration and leadership skills. WLP’s four-year college acceptance rate for graduating seniors is above that of the general population of its home schools. WLP students have included foster care, homeless and undocumented youth. Recent WLP first generation graduates have gone on to UCLA, Syracuse University, and several Cal State Universities. WLP alumni return to work with and mentor our high school student participants.
The WLP trains student participants to do peer outreach on HIV/AIDS education, school-to-prison pipelining, sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention, reproductive justice, and women’s social history. In December 2015, students from two campuses will collaborate on World AIDS Day and sexual violence prevention outreach. African American youth have some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the nation and are more vulnerable to sexual and intimate partner violence.
The Women’s Leadership Project has expanded to include a Young Women of Color class at Gardena High School and a year-long “Women’s Day” seminar at King-Drew Medical Magnet. WLP conducted a Young Women of Color leadership forum featuring speakers from local community-based organizations. Students participated in a media literacy and media justice workshop which focused on educating students about harmful gender and cultural stereotypes in mainstream media. Students worked collaboratively in groups to develop media messages and images that challenged dehumanizing and hypersexual depictions of women of color. The workshop is part of an ongoing campaign to provide youth of color with avenues to challenge corporate control of media messaging. In addition, students developed a panel on college campus activism and career paths. This session featured African American and Latina community activist/professionals speaking on their experiences and challenges as first generation, queer, undocumented and working class women of color. The forum was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente South Bay, Healthy Start and the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.
African American and Latino youth have the least access to college preparation curricula and resources, while having the highest rates of school push-out due to over-policing in schools, violence, racially disproportionate discipline, and bullying/harassment of LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth.
Foundation Beyond Belief’s generous award of $2000 will allow this work to continue and thrive.