Teen Girls of Color Make Their Voices Heard at Stronger Together Youth Summit

Youth at the Stronger Together Summit participate in an Oreo challenge at the Ladies of Virtue booth. The summit was organized by Ladies of Virtue, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia and mentoring organizations focused on girls of color.

Photo Above: Jamila Trimuel, founder of Ladies of Virtue, speaks to the participants at the Stronger Together Youth Summit.

Photo Above: Cindy Ngo and Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia exchange business cards during an icebreaker activity at the Stronger Together Youth Summit.

By Princess-India Alexander

The future looks like teen girls of color finding and making their voices heard. It looks like adults listening to the next generation. And it looks like comradery in the name of feminist progression.  Such is what Ladies of Virtue founder Jamila Trimuel and a group of teen leaders proved at the recent Stronger Together Youth Summit.

The fall summit for girls featured workshops on dating and relationships, college and career prep, financial literacy and proper usage of social media. It was chaired by Ladies of Virtue, an African-American mentoring and leadership program for girls ages 9 to 18, and Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia. Ladies of Virtue and the Chicago City Clerk organized the summit with the help of other mentoring organizations that focus on girls of color, including Youth Guidance’s Working on Womanhood program, Build, the Chinese Mutual Aid Association’s Young Women Warriors program, Project Style and Stand Out.

“First and foremost, my purpose is making sure the girls in my life achieve their purpose,” Trimuel says. “Teenage girls of color who find their voice at this age become women who know who they are and what they stand for. Our goal is to teach them leadership skills early on so that they can make a difference in their communities.”

On May 8, 2018, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia held an On The Table luncheon to empower young ladies of color to speak about the issues that affect them most. The teen girls in attendance refused to let their connection fade and insisted that the conversation continue. So, Valencia and Trimuel  committing themselves to the teens’ vision by organizing a summit that was funded by a $5,000 Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust.

The Stronger Together Youth Summit, held October 27, 2018, at the Charles Hayes Investment Center, 4859 S. Wabash Ave., was a day dedicated to creating space in which 75 teen girls of color from across Chicagoland could connect, empower, and learn from each other. At the same time, they were mentored by women of color across varied fields. Journalists Cortney Hall and Lourdes Duarte from WGN-TV also attended the summit to give encouraging words to the girls.

The Trust awarded $150,500 to 37 community projects that will support tangible activities benefiting neighborhoods and public good. These ideas were sparked through the Trust’s fifth annual On the Table, a citywide event during which Chicago-area residents came together on May 8, 2018,  in mealtime conversations to engage in meaningful dialogue, develop new relationships and inspire action to make a difference in their communities.

Photo Above: Committee members introduce themselves at the Stronger Together Youth Summit. Featured from left to right are: Keturah Funches of Ladies of Virtue; Monique Harvey of Youth Guidance’s Working on Womanhood program; Janet Pham of the Chinese Mutual Aid Association’s Young Women Warriors program; Melanie Jones of Ladies of Virtue; and Nga Dang of Young Women Warriors.

Photo Above: Youth present art boards at the Stronger Together Youth Summit.

I’ve always been passionate about young people and giving back my time to help,” says Valencia. “But,  now more than ever, I think we have to invest in our young girls. If we want the future to change and if we want more women CEOs, if we want more women of color running for office, and if we want more women of color at the table leading, we have to invest in them now.

The summit’s entire day of programming came from the five teen girls who attended Valencia’s luncheon. They formed a summit youth committee that generated the themes, program direction and workshop topics while the adults formed their own committee solely for the purpose of supporting the teens’ vision and voices.

“I think about all the great ideas that young people have that, a lot of times, aren’t heard because adults speak over them,” says Olivia Santiago,a community social worker from BUILD. “A lot of times, adults are running things and it’s their ideas being pushed forward. At the summit, it’s the youth voice that is heard.”

Hasanah Oji, 17, of Chicago’s  Northwest Side said she enjoyed the dating and relationships session.

“It opened my eyes a little bit,” says Hasanah. “It taught me that there are a lot of things that can be thrown at you from the outside, but what’s on the inside is what matters the most. I’ll remember the vibes here. It feels comfortable and free to be yourself without people judging you.”

At the end of the summit, the girls gathered into groups and created vision boards representing each other’s individuality and shared connections. As the teen leaders look to the future, they hope that the summit represented a beginning rather than an end.

“We decided to gather everyone because this is a really important event for young women to come together, talk about their problems and solve them,” said Nga Dang, a 15-year-old member of the summit’s teen committee. “By the time we get out of this building, we’ll have the confidence to become who we truly are. I feel like we should be together all the time like a family standing side by side helping each other.”

Photo Above: Organizers and sponsors pose for a photo at the Stronger Together Youth Summit.

Photos by: Allison Ziemba

View Ladies of Virtue’s Acting Up award video application: