Melissa Harris-Perry: Susan L. Taylor is still with me. She's editor-in-chief emerita of Essence Magazine and Founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement. I'm also bringing in here Dr. Monique Morris, CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, a philanthropic organization dedicated to cultivating investments to support girls of color in the United States. Now, I want to speak with both of you about the importance of mentoring at the individual level for young Black girls, and also at the community level so that they can have the foundation they need to succeed.
Dr. Morris, let's start with you. Tell me the way that Grantmakers for Girls of Color is investing in girls rather than extracting from them.
Dr. Monique Morris: At Grantmakers for Girls of Color, we are essentially a community of educators, organizing foundations and donors, and people we consider co-investors to mobilize investments in and about girls of color. We support organizations that are led by and centering Black girls and other girls of color through direct grant-making, but also through capacity building. Since we launched the Love is Healing Fund last May, Grantmakers for Girls of Color has moved about $5 million to more than 180 organizations in 36 states, D.C, Guam and Puerto Rico, with the intention of supporting girls and girl-led movements in all 50 states by the end of the year.
Our intention is really to shift not just the way that we move money in support of movements and organizations that are led by and in service to girls of color, but also to really think about how we shift narrative and policy and understanding to create a community that can be responsive to the specific needs of the young folks in our community.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about community, Ms. Taylor, I want to come back to you because, born in the early '70s, I remember distinctly my father giving me an Essence subscription when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old. Some of it went over my head, but the one thing that I caught for sure was that this was a community, this was a space. I'm wondering, as you have moved certainly through the world of publishing, but now into this space around CARES, how you've understood the needs related to Black girls and other girls of color, actually being able to build community, have some autonomy to create that space.
Susan L. Taylor: The girls, as Monique Morris often points out, are really ready to do that. What we have to do is ready us adults. We have to ready the community in their understanding that Black girls deserve to be heard, they deserve to be listened to. They share with us that adults are very didactic. They point the finger, they criticize, and they don't listen. We have been doing work with young ones who've attempted suicide, and they said, "If only you would hear us. When you see that we look sad, ask us what's going on inside." I would say that what we do, we're creating community and we're working with able Black women.
We're working with women who are not struggling, as I was as a single mother, even working at Essence, to keep food on the table and a roof over our family's head. We're trying to help Black women who have resources and who can make time that, they must make time for our young ones who really are struggling along the margins and need us, need our hands at their backs so that they know that there are people who care about them and will help them to move forward. That's the work that we're doing with the mentors we've recruited all throughout the country, hundreds of thousands of them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Morris, when I think about what Ms. Taylor said there about hands on the girls' backs, you're the author of the extraordinary book, Pushout. So often when Black girls find a hand at their back, it's not to push them forward, it's to push them out. Help us understand why this is an issue for our institutions, even among our elders in our own communities. What are some of the barriers that we have to really listening to Black girls?
Dr. Monique Morris: It was interesting earlier when you all were talking about retraining our eyes to recognize the beauty of Black femininity. I was thinking instantly about how important it is that we also retrain our consciousness to see Black girls and other girls and women of color through a lens of appreciation. That is really what the Pushout, I would say, series or a project is. It's about recognizing our Black girls as sacred and coming into a community together to respond in the way that demonstrates that we see that sacredness in them in all the ways, even when they're experiencing moments of disruption.
Even when they are too loud for our taste or appear to be combative, our ability to see Black girls as something, someone sacred invites us to approach them differently. It invites us to have a care so that our hands are pulling them in closer, especially when they're in moments of dysregulation rather than pushing them away. I love that the CARES Network is called Care because one of the critical points that has been elevated in Pushout, in Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues, or in any other conversation that I have with young people, particularly Black girls, is that they want to know that the adults around them care.
Once they know the adults around them care, that's when they're receptive to learn from us. That's when they're receptive to building relationships with us. That's when they're receptive to understanding what it is that we have to communicate with them, such that they can grow and be well and thriving in their what we call liberated futures. This notion of care is critical, and how we use our arms and our hands is essential.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I love what's beginning to build here, what I'm starting to understand in terms of these connections. Ms. Taylor, I am thinking about this, typically when we hear mentoring, and particularly if you're talking about mentoring from women of some level of means and capacity, that can sometimes translate into a "fix the girls" version of respectability politics. "Come ladies, and let me teach you how to sit with your hands crossed, and your ankles crossed, and how to be proper girls and ladies so that you can achieve," but that's not how you're seeing what's going on in CARES. Right?
Susan L. Taylor: Not even a little bit. In fact, the women you are describing, those barriers, the barriers of class, are really breaking down because of all the tumult in our country. I think women who have seen themselves as apart from the struggling community are now realizing that their children, and very often they themselves, are as vulnerable as the folks whose lives we've seen taken via video. Our training is specific to consciousness shifting. This is what we do. It begins with our heritage, understanding who we are, what we come from, and what we've been taught.
We've been taught to hate ourselves, our hair, our lips, our hips, our color, everything about that comes from our motherland. That is the training, up until the Black Power movement. That's really when the shift took place. You saw a Black enterprise in Essence Magazine, in so many advertising agencies, a new consciousness emerged. It's one, I think, in fact, that has waned a bit. Colorism, I think it's as prominent as it's ever been.
This is another training, and this is what we're bringing to our young men and to parents. We have to teach girls to love the color and everything about their bodies, but we also have a lot of training to do with our boys.
We have training to do with our boys that helps them just to widen the lens. Black girls, many of them are feeling so rejected. Then the pressure that it puts on girls of a lighter hue, who say that Black-skinned, dark-skinned girls treat them so meanly. This has to do with who's most desirable. I think breaking down that psychology, those systems, and explaining to young people how it emerged, what it really harks back to, a self-hatred, a hatred of everything that is African. With that understanding, the consciousness begins to shift.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Monique, we hear Ms. Taylor talking about systems, systems of oppression that are inculcated in so many aspects of our lives. I know the mission statement of Grantmakers for Girls of Color is to resource and support transformative organizing that dismantles these systems. Can you give us a concrete example of maybe one of your grantees and the ways that they are actually doing this transformative organizing work?
Dr. Monique Morris: I had a conversation years ago with some young people, and I was talking to a group of Black girls, and I said to them, "You have to remember who you are," and one of them said, "What if we never knew?" That broke me in a lot of different ways and also, I think, invited me into a deeper conversation about how we get girls to see who they are and to engage in this process of discovery that can allow them to dismantle the multiple ways that oppression manifests in their lives through the systems and structures, culturally, individually, but also in the ways that they have internalized themselves.
Earlier this year, we announced, through the Black Girl Freedom Fund that there were six new grantees that had been selected by Black girls and femmes to receive our first round of grants from this fund. It was a beautiful process to engage in and to recognize the power of Black girls and femmes coming together to articulate what's important to them, and how they should move resources from this organization into community in a way that is meaningful. We see that they supported organizations like Get Smart Before You Get Sexy, which is for inviting girls into a space of understanding what their value is before they spend so much time on the aesthetic.
The Hive community circles, much of the transformative work and the recognition, or what I have often called the grand remembering project that we're in right now, with respect to countering anti-Blackness and all the ways that that informs the multiple harms that manifest in our communities is deeply rooted in our ability as organizations, certainly within philanthropy, but also in the direct service organizations that are building power with our girls and femmes and other young folks through inviting them into and exposing them to new lenses for viewing themselves and placing themselves at the center unapologetically, which is hard to do in this society.
It's been a real joy to be able to resource organizations in this way and to challenge philanthropy to do the same.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can I ask you, Ms. Taylor, over the course of maybe the past year or two, in some of the forced quiet space, what are the lessons that you were hearing and what are you acting on right now?
Susan L. Taylor: This time has really taught me to surrender. To surrender to the things that I really can't change, and to ask deeply, "What have you come to teach me? What have you come to teach me?" To listen, to listen to that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Susan L. Taylor, CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, and Dr. Monique Morris, CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color. Thank you both for joining us today and for coming to teach us so much.
Dr. Monique Morris: Thank you so much.
Susan L. Taylor: Thank you.
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