SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Through an internship with Forest Wortham, director of Wittenberg’s multicultural student programs and the Womyn’s Center, Ebony Speakes, a former Springfield resident, is attempting to change the outlook for poverty stricken African American females, one girl at a time.
A graduate student at Wright State University, Speakes wanted to complete an internship that would serve more than her own interests. So she collaborated with Wortham to design the “DIVAS Speak Mentoring Group.”
“A lot of young people are good, but make bad life decisions,” Wortham said. “From a Wittenberg standpoint, we are in a position to reach out and help members of the community make good life decisions.”
Designed for girls ages 11 to 17, DIVAS was created for African American girls from lower socioeconomic areas in the Springfield community. It involves an intensive application process that requires each applicant to attend an interview, as well as have a parent write a letter of recommendation. According to Speakes, this helped her gauge who really wanted to be a member of the program as opposed to those who were persuaded by their parents to join.
Speakes said her own childhood experiences growing up in Springfield created the interest to implement such a program.
“I felt driven to give back,” Speakes said. “I was a member of Upward Bound and that created an appetite and hunger, and I want to expose these girls to many different opportunities.”
Started in September 2006, DIVAS currently has four members, with three more in the interview process. The ultimate goal is to provide the mentoring experience for a total of 10 girls over a 10-month period.
Though described narrowly as a mentoring program, the program has a larger scope. Members are also exposed to cultural activities and homework assistance as part of the program. All activities are designed to help the girls achieve a positive self-image and to show them that there are limitless possibilities once equipped with the tools and knowledge to realize potential.
“Lower self-esteem is connected to people that don’t have certain social or economic resources,” Speakes said. “This can affect their academic standards and abilities.”
The majority of the girls in the program haven’t been outside of Springfield, which was something Speakes wanted to change. They have been exposed to cultural activities, including a step show, an art gallery, the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Circle City Classic football game in Indianapolis, Ind.
“Just by exposing them to a glimpse of this, it shows them that there is a world of possibilities that they’ve yet to realize,” Speakes said.
Speakes has also organized “Girls Night Out,” a group seminar where participants go to a Barnes and Noble store to peruse hip-hop centered magazines and discuss the portrayal of African American women through these images. By creating an open dialogue on the issues of body image, she hopes to educate the young women and help them realize that they can become more than sexualized images.
While the DIVAS program will only run 10 months, Speakes’ desire to better the community could lead to a more long-term engagement.
“It’s my passion. It’s my call,” she said. “I feel you leave a legacy by influencing others.”
By: Erica Strauss ‘08
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