The intersection between self care and my GirlUp Leadership Summit experience

by Nya, Riley’s Way Bronx Council Co-Chair, The Horace Mann School

Given the current circumstances of the raging pandemic, I was debating if my virtual summit experience would be impactful. As soon as I saw Michelle Obama’s face pop up on the zoom call, I immediately knew that the GirlUp Leadership Summit would be an incredibly fulfilling experience! In fact, the virtual-nature of the summit allowed me to meet girls from all over the world; about 30,000 leaders spanning from New York to South Africa came together to listen and learn from one another. In the smaller sessions, I was able to see beautiful faces from nearly every continent. This virtual summit demonstrated that us humans are more connected than we think we are.

During a panel discussion, the author Christine Platt discussed the importance of representation in literature. Ms. Platt is a children’s book author, and the majority of her books are nonfiction with protagonists of color, specifically black protagonists. I really enjoyed listening to her discuss her work because as a young black girl, my love of reading stemmed from seeing myself in the pages. Coincidentally, I am currently working as an intern for Riley’s Way and am helping to expand the Riley’s Way virtual Buddy Reading Program for the fall. Creating a list of books focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion is one of the core missions of the program for the fall, and we (the programming team) are very excited to explore some of Ms. Platt’s work!

Many powerful girl-leaders often forget about their own health and safety. We are so driven and focused on fighting for the rights of others, that we forget to take care of ourselves in the process. In another session, I was humbled by the experience of listening to powerful women discuss their coping mechanisms and “safety nets.” Some safety nets that were mentioned were: having a close group of trustworthy friends, having a therapist (if needed), taking cold showers, and taking a break from your work. I learned that having a life outside of your activism is imperative to preserving good health. Finding daily outlets of joy is a great way to relax and recharge.  Recently, I have enjoyed starting my mornings off with a dance party,  going on walks around sunset, and reading right before I go to bed.

Food for thought: What brings you joy?

One important attribute that powerful leaders possess is self confidence. In one of the workshops, I was brought back to my elementary school basics. What do I mean by this? Well, I was taught my ABCs. However, this time my “ABCs” meant “(a)lways (b)e (c)onfident.” Even if you do not feel confident in the moment, research has shown that there is a correlation between posture and neurological signaling. In other words,  adjusting something physical like your posture can trigger neurological signaling, causing you to feel more confident!

The gifted author and publicist, Meredith Fineman, discussed the importance of knowing how to brag about yourself. The word “bragging” is often stigmatized, however, bragging is an important skill because your accomplishments are worth talking about! Ms. Fineman defined bragging as: stating true facts cohesively, strategically, and repeatedly about your work. We often forget that no one truly knows what we have done until we tell them.

As I begin to help plan the Riley’s Way virtual Retreat, my experience with the GirlUp platform was inspiring! I am going to work with the Riley’s Way team on the virtual Retreat, and having the ability to self navigate and explore the summit’s online platform was exciting! From the simulations to the amazing graphic designs, I am definitely thinking of elements of the virtual GirlUp experience that I can bring to the Riley’s Way Retreat. In fact, I am going to reach out to Girl Up to see if I can speak with their technology/graphics designer!

If I could describe the summit in a sentence or less, I would describe it as a form of self care. I was able to sit down with my notebook and listen to powerful women like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Priyanka Chopra discuss their pasts, passions, and dreams for the future. Through these webinars and discussions, I was able to reflect on my own past, my passions, and some of my dreams for the future. In middle school, I would seldom speak out or truly participate in activities that brought me joy; I now blame my lack of confidence and self assurance for this struggle. However, as a young African American woman, I dream of a future of acceptance, empathy, kindness, and deeper connection. Many of the adjectives I just used to describe my future are central to the Riley’s Way mission. In terms of my passions, social justice reform is at the top of the list! Through my work with Riley’s Way, I have been able to turn my passions into reality. My thoughts and ideas have metamorphosed into programs focused on younger children in underserved communities. The GirlUp experience reminded me that so many beautiful and intelligent girls from all over the world have the same dreams and passions as I do! We may not have all been able to physically see each other in person, but an energy of unification, empowerment, and kindness radiated through my computer screen.