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Female leaders focus on inspiration, dreams

DENISHA McKNIGHT | 12/6/2017, 2:54 a.m.
African American girls are six times more likely to receive harsh punishment through suspension, law enforcement referrals and school-related arrests ...
Female Leadership Forum panelists from left: Feleceia Benton, Dr. Betty Stewart, Dr. Maya Barfeld, Randi Lemmons, Tiffany Walker and Jennifer Onwumere. Denisha McKnight

The Dallas Examiner

– Part 3 –

African American girls are six times more likely to receive harsh punishment through suspension, law enforcement referrals and school-related arrests than White girls for the same behaviors/crimes, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

This disparity leads to many Black female students being held back and having lower test scores, which results in lower graduation rates than White female students.

These systemic challenges in the school system – along with personal trials faced by young Black girls – make for a stressful educational experience as a whole that isn’t often discussed. To counter this problem, six successful African American women held a panel discussion at Desoto High School’s Female Leadership Forum to inspire Black girls who may be facing these obstacles.

Each panelist told stories of personal high school and business triumphs over adversities and answered questions from an audience of primarily Southern Dallas Black female students using examples of how they overcame hurdles as well as how they obtained success post-secondary school.

“Whatever your dream is, dream bigger,” said Lifetime TV field producer Randi Lemons. “When your dream starts to scare you because it’s that far from your reach, that’s your dream. If your dream doesn’t scare you, keep dreaming.”

The ladies urged the youthful audience to gain a clear understanding of the importance of education.

“The more you know, the more you can maneuver,” said Feleceia Benton, founder of the Zoe Communications Agency. “Knowledge is a powerful tool.”

Eventually, as the panelists continued the open discussion, they disclosed their high school challenges in relation to the high school challenges of today.

“Because of what I went through in high school, you can’t break me no matter what,” said PinkLucy Clothing creator Tiffany Walker as she recalled her high school years as a young girl whose confidence often rubbed her peers the wrong way.

African American girls struggle with personal battles inside and outside campus grounds such as low self-esteem, familial issues and even high reports of sexual harassment, with little guidance or support.

“You’re always going to have challenges and those are not going to just stop in high school,” Lemons expressed. “Instead of focusing on the challenges, focus on how to get through them.”

In spite of these conflicts, Black girls who have overcome them have experienced prosperity. Black women are considered the most educated segment and fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. by the Department of Education.

Studies also show that Black girls are the most likely to consider themselves leaders among other racial and ethnic groups, according to a National Women’s Law Center and NAACP joint report.

The panel speakers conveyed that all women could achieve success once they first define what it means to them.

“Some people may think that success is having money, but there’s a lot of people who have that kind of money that don’t feel successful because they’re comparing themselves to people with even more money,” said Jennifer Onwumere, Jen-gerbread Marketing founder. “Success has to be self-defined. You can’t let society be the definer.”

When success is defined, the young women have to remain motivated with a persistent want to prevail, no matter the circumstances that stand in their way.

“Faith is so important,” Onwumere said. “Life has a lot of variables. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. So, knowing that you have God as a resource and on your side even in those times when you don’t know what is going to happen next is a great thing.”

Before closing the discussion, the female panelists encouraged audience members to spread their influence out to others and become a positive force in their community.

“Everything I do, I do it in the spirit of excellence because I want my children to see that I do this and excel and stand out from the rest, and I want to show that I am a positive contributor to my community,” said veterinarian Dr. Maya Barfeld.