BLACK LIVES MATTER: STATEMENT OF SOLIDARITY
Racism is real.
Countless statistics support the disadvantage of being Black in our society's systems.
It's time to acknowledge vs perpetuate centuries of oppression..
Change starts with all of us.
We welcome the journey, messy as it is, to a world without ignorance.
A world with Black girls and women at the helm.
And yes, supporting sisters alongside.
To every Black girl, every Black family, every Black leader in our program...our support for you is unwavering and absolute.
We ARE...strongHER togetHER.
January 2021 - Spotlight on StrongHER TogetHER Board Member, Dan Gilson
When you think about an organization that brings young women together from diverse backgrounds and teaches them the power in advocating for one another in the quest for gender equity, having men step into support this mission sends a powerful message.
Meet Dan Gilson.
Dan has been with StrongHER TogetHER since its inception in June 2017 as a board member and treasurer. He works for Durham Academy as the Director of Extended Day, which is where he met ST’s co-founder, Stacey Donoghue. “I had the good fortune of working directly with Stacey’s children several years ago. Because of this, she and I started talking at school pickup most days and became friends.” Dan went on to say that Stacey shared an idea with him for a non-profit called StrongHER TogetHER and offered him a seat on the board. “I was immediately honored and intrigued. Stacey is the kind of person whose mind is full of brilliant ideas and she has the personality, drive, and connections to make these ideas come true. Because of her charisma, it was easy to say, ‘Sure, show me how I can help!’"
Dan is a husband, the father of three daughters, a foster parent and educator. He sees the difference ST is making in Durham and beyond. He describes it as “an honor” and “awe inspiring” to work alongside Stacey and the group of adults, young women, and girls that she has gathered to support this mission of bringing everyone together, “no matter how different we are.”
Says Stacey of Dan, “Dan has been an ardent supporter and a consistent leader of our program since StrongHER TogetHER’s earliest days. As a father of three daughters, Dan has always recognized the importance of urging them past stereotypical relationship challenges and instead embracing this notion of collective power in the fight for equity. Like many men who are associated with our program, he believes we will see our best world if girls and women can soar. In his role as a board member, we have been able to count on Dan no matter how high the weeds, no matter how deep the muck. He is a part of our family we value more than words can say. We are so grateful for his steadfast commitment to StrongHER TogetHER, to the community and above all, to this family of powerful, smart, amazing ladies."
*StrongHer TogetHer is a non-profit based in Durham, NC that connects a network of diverse young women, teaching them to advocate for one another in the quest for gender equity. Today the organization is in over 20 area elementary and middle schools. Girls in this program represent a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and socioeconomics. Through mentoring, service learning and just plain fun, the girls are realizing they are more the same than different. Through introductions to activism and anti-racism discussions, the girls are finding their voices in support of one another and in support of the world. Proud of our partnerships with schools, universities, non-profits and families alike, this community team is showing girls how to become strong women how to collectively advocate for their own equity and most of all, how to change the world for the better. Together.
April 2019 - Sink or Swim
TRUTH: When you see another girl in what is bound to be an embarrassing moment, what do you do?
Once when I was in school, I had to pass a swim test. I was not an amazing swimmer, but I didn’t want anyone to know. I figured I could at least get across the pool. I could not. As I exited the pool, a wet mess with a class of kids surrounding me, my bathing suit strap slipped and for an endless moment, I stood there exposed. I will never forget how I felt, how I wanted to run and never see those kids again.
Today I wonder how the moment might’ve been different if another girl had run over, maybe said something kind, ushered me to another spot...heck, just STOOD with me.
StrongHER TogetHER girls...don’t be another girl who watches someone struggle through their low moment. Go stand beside her. And show that girl you’ve got her. Let THAT be the memory she carries. ❤️ Let THAT be the leader you are.
August 2017 - Two Violinists and the Thursday Conundrum
But what about Thursday? Nothing fun'll happen on Thursday, right? We were one day into our first StrongHER TogetHER summer camp and already two of our girls were considering the ramifications of missing a day. They were both violinists extraordinaire. Ten years old with five years of orchestra under their belts and a Kidznotes concert at 1pm. On Thursday. All week I tried to reassure them. No worries. We probably won't go to Disney that day. But kidding aside, I knew this was weighing heavy on their fifth-grade minds. In fact, it was weighing heavy on mine, too.
But our camp week was chock full of heavy stuff, come to think of it. Heavy boxes of donated lunches from beyond generous Durham. Heavy group chats about anything from middle school to social media to individual passions. Heavy, shameless, ridiculously fun marketing efforts by thirteen girls who were appalled I had only managed to garner four followers for our Instagram account...(social media lame-o here). And oh yes, heavy, heavy eyelids from late night preparations and early morning bus rides to pick up the girls.
This perfect, amazing week was light years beyond anything I had imagined for this, our pilot group. After all, here we were...with girls from six different schools and umpteen different backgrounds. How much group bonding could you realistically hope for after just a week? Some traded numbers on the last day? a half-hearted wave goodbye? But when we asked the girls on the final day how they felt about StrongHER TogetHER, what they understood it to be about...imagine our astonishment when we got answers like StrongHER TogeTHER:
Gives us a chance to be friends
Shows us how to stick together
Makes us stronger as a team
THUMP (that's me, collapsing). Because whoa! They GOT it! In fact, they more than GOT it...they OWNED it. Remember that Instagram thing? Less than two days after realizing my mom and three (half) cousins were our only followers, these girls managed to video, street-beg and contest their way to 51 followers! Why? Because they thought it was important for their program to have some respectable numbers, some "street-cred" for their peers to see. I gotta tell you...that one thing alone made us see the potential power of these newly-connected fifth graders.
But it was Thursday that blew us away. The moment eleven girls in auditorium seats waved at a couple of unsuspecting violinists on their way up to the stage. The proud grins, the congratulatory hugs afterwards. And oh yes, the I-CAN'T-BELIEVE-YOU-CAME gratitude. Something shaky in me found firm ground that afternoon, friends. Because for the first time, we had brought the mission of StrongHER TogetHER to life. We had experienced what it felt like to support and be supported by other girls. And as simple as the gesture was...it was empowering.
When I take a look at our 2017 Summer Camp photos in years to come, I will always smile at the group picture with two girls holding violins. The faces I've bottled up for keeps. It was a Thursday, yes. But maybe more than that, it was a birthday. Because for me, it was the day StrongHER TogetHER came to life.
February 2017 - YANKIN' UP THE DOORMAT
I don’t like you, but happy birthday anyway, wrote one little girl to another. The birthday girl’s mom had shared the story with me months ago, but the words lay in my mind like a sandy doormat waiting for someone to snatch it up and shake the daylights out of it. What was up with us girls? I wondered. Why were we so good at clawing one other––with a SMILE?
And now here we were, Veshana and I, sitting in a corner diner on a cold November morning where more mean words had been hurled. Only this time, spray painted on a parking lot wall for the world to see. A hate crime. In our own backyard. We were sick inside and we had come to the diner to show our support, to see how we could help, to say how very sorry we were that things like this still happened. A thick mist settled over us as we slid into our seats and tried to sort out humanity and its many blemishes. They were rising to the surface in waves now. And we weren’t ready for it.
But the diner owner, Ms. P., had no use for distress. The wall had been painted over and the ugly words were a thing of the past. It was done. We watched her buzz around, her eyes taking in every little thing, her smile real and warm, hands busy, busy, busy. She was everything. A waitress, a hostess, a cook, a cashier. And oh yes, a sister. Over the next few visits, Veshana and I would learn much about this force of a woman. How her sister was her dearest friend. How for twenty-five years, they talked every day from different corners of the world. The sister running the diner, making plans to grow the business. Ms. P. working as a missionary. How one fated day, the sister died and Ms. P. came back home, thinking and praying and hoping she would know what to do without her best friend. Until finally…she did––by golly, she would love her sister the same as she always had. For the next eight years, Ms. P. took over where her sister left off. She ran the diner. She learned the business. And more than anything, she made her sister’s dreams come true.
The words on the wall were hateful alright. They had held a message laced with power. The power to discourage, the power to oppress, the power to diminish. But oh, how powerless Ms. P. had made those words. For many mornings, we watched her welcome friends and neighbors and newcomers. Wrap her arms around each of them with a smile that said You’re the EXACT person I wanted to see! We saw her steely faith in humanity, the way her friends lifted her even higher, the way she was determined to find good in the bad. She was beyond upstanding and strong, this woman, and we were smitten with her.
I don’t like you, but happy birthday anyway. The words still lay on that sandy doormat in my head, waiting. But mornings with Ms. P. had kicked it up a little, given it a wrinkle. It was hard not to trip over it now, those mean words hurled from one little girl to another. Would my friend’s daughter be like Ms. P.? Would she let those hateful words make her stronger? Lean on the arms of little girls who would lift her up?
When Veshana and I knew StrongHER TogetHER was our thing, our answer to this new, bold world we found ourselves in, it was a much-needed good day. Like a hot meal and a shower after a long slog through the mud. We had figured it out, this mission of ours. And now that we finally knew what we were supposed to do, we found peace of mind and dove right into...losing our minds!
Months have passed since that first morning in the diner and we have learned much. But we both know it’s not a fraction of the learning that lies ahead. Still. We are staying the course. Because girls deserve it. They deserve to learn the power of TOGETHER vs APART. And like anyone with a vision, we daydream about making real change, about joining forces with like-minded women and showing girls far and wide a different way. Wouldn’t THAT be amazing? But for now, we are barely past the starting line. We are two and we are growing and we are blanketing our amazingly receptive city with this notion of forging girls’ relationships and lifting them as high as we possibly can. Will it work? Will it make any difference? Only time and energy and blood, sweat and tears will tell. But for now, for today, Veshana and I are shaking that sandy doormat and its mean words as hard as we can. And in our minds, the words are like little sandy specks fading further and further out of sight.
Stay tuned here to join us on the journey and most of all…wish us luck!