The following reflection was written by Najiva Timothee, who is an educator with the Girls Dig Deeper Initiative in Macon, Georgia. Timothee was part of the Pulitzer Center's 1619 Project Afterschool Partnership program during the 2022-23 school year, which culminated in partners facilitating activities that engaged students in learning about the legacy of enslavement and the contributions of Black Americans in their programs.
Girls Dig Deeper Initiative is a girls mentoring and youth development program. We provide mentorship to middle and high school girls ages 13-17. Some of the girls are rising seniors next year and are deciding the direction of their lives—whether to go to college or pick up a trade. As they navigate adolescence into adulthood, they are being exposed to toxic content on social media, and may lack positive role models and environments that are conducive to their growth. They are exposed to national and global issues of racial injustice, from police brutality and the stories of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to protests against racial inequality to book bans currently happening all across the U.S. The girls are aware of all that is happening and they have thoughts and questions. We understand all these events are affecting our girls in different ways—mentally, emotionally, and socially.
Girls Dig Deeper gives girls a safe space to discuss their thoughts and feelings and provides a growth environment for them to learn and develop as leaders, to take responsibility for their lives. I believe as a mentor and community leader that The 1619 Project was necessary for the girls to gain an understanding of why the times of slavery are still affecting the lives of Black and brown people today, and why they have to be true to who they are (identity) and lead their lives well through positive actions despite all that is against them.
Girls Dig Deeper has a leadership development program, The Winners’ Mindset. The program helps youth girls to RISE UP and WIN regardless of the challenges and circumstances they face. I wanted to incorporate the teachings of The 1619 Project into this program because the long legacy of slavery is still a challenge affecting the lives of Black people today.
The session I facilitated was called “ I AM….BLACK HISTORY.” It included a brief introduction to The 1619 Project, independent reflection questions, group discussion, and a creative activity. The independent reflection questions are:
- What does Black history mean to me?
- What does legacy mean?
- What is considered to be a legacy of slavery in our communities or in the U.S.?
We also used the 1619 activity that guides students in reading an excerpt of "The Idea of America" by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a passage from the Declaration of Independence, and discussing how this document applies to their lives today.
The group discussion questions are a deep dive into self exploration for the girls to know who they are and who they are not. Finally, students used their responses to the discussion questions and their reflections on "The Idea of America" to write a letter to their future selves, write a poem, create and a “I AM” vision board, or craft another artistic expression.
Each student expressed what Black history means to them personally. In the self-reflection space and throughout the activities, students understood how important positive identity development is and how it helps them to embrace who they are, encourages them to learn more about themselves, and motivates them to confront the challenges they may face and learn to deal with them in a positive way.
The students gained understanding and were able to make connections between the legacy of slavery and issues impacting their lives today such as policing, racism, poverty, and voter suppression. While they saw these negative impacts, they understood that they have to continue to fight for their freedoms through positive actions such as getting an education, building skills to be effective and successful in their careers, knowing their worth and value, loving and taking care of themselves, and self advocacy.
When I joined the 1619 Project Afterschool Partnership program, my stated goal was to help youth girls in my organization build awareness and gain an understanding of how history has a significant impact on society and systems today. The girls learned that the impact of slavery is still present in systems such education, healthcare, government, and the workforce. As a facilitator, The 1619 Project teachings and conference helped me to see that freedom is still not free and I have to continue to work hard and fight to be the best version of myself and understand what that means for me as an individual, to continue to value my life and the lives of others, take advantage of opportunities that unfold in front of me and to continue to stay motivated in youth and education advocacy through my organization.