It takes a a village to raise a brown girl

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So many girls of color live in fear of their own beauty and potential because of the labels and limitations society imposes upon them. From social media posts of cat fights gone viral to “Love & Hip Hop’s” glorification of silicon injections to attract men and success, brown girls are encouraged–even expected– to be any and everyone except for who they are.

Baltimore's own R &B artist Brave Williams and Bravo Television's Cyrene Tankard were just two of the many speakers at the Brown Girls Village event.

(Photo: Renita Clark)

Baltimore’s own R &B artist Brave Williams and Bravo Television’s Cyrene Tankard were just two of the many speakers at the Brown Girls Village event.

Sharon Page, founder of the Brown Girl Village (BGV) movement, understands how self-hatred gone unchecked can defer dreams and dim hope for the future. She also understands that a little exposure can change the way a girls sees herself and the world.

“I was a little brown girl, but my mother exposed me to things like theater, ballet, traveling and the opera when I was younger, and that exposure just opened my eyes to all the possibilities of who I could be and where I could go,” said Page, a Turner Station native. “But, I realized that a lot of inner city girls are not awarded the same experiences as I had when I grew up because they lack the economic resources to take advantage of opportunities that may help them find their purpose in life.”

Given all that has transpired in Charm City this past year, Page, and BGV co-founders Shelonda Stokes, and Michelle Huff believe that the village approach to raising children still works and has put the old adage to action with the development of the Brown Girls Village Retreat, an initiative that aims to empower young women of color to serve, innovate and lead.

Over 100 young women from all corners of the “Charmed City” converged upon the Inner Harbor’s Four Seasons Hotel on Saturday, May 21, 2016 for a day of empowerment, education, and girl talk with a host of seasoned black women who have met with success because of their courage to walk courageously in their browness with no apologies.

“I think African American women are just so incredibly fly. I like that we can be who we want to be at any time,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake shared with attendees during a segment entitled “Used To Be You.”

“We can dress down and be fly. We can dress up and be fly. I just feel like as an African American woman we are the ultimate and the most fabulous chameleons. And I think it’s silly when [females] want to tear each other down when we can learn so much from one another. Instead of looking for ways to bring others down, we should look for ways to build ourselves up.”

Youth advocate and community organizer Erika Alston, founder of the Safe Kids Zone, was also among presenters at the conference. Her message to young women touched on practicing empathy toward one another by breaking down the definition of a “hater” as a wounded individual who has yet to realize their own potential.

Young women were given a taste of charm school with a lesson in fine dining etiquette over a three course meal by Joi Thomas, director of media relations at The New Psalmist Baptist Church and host of WEAA’s Gospel Grace.

“One thing I want you to always remember: If you were invited to a nice restaurant where the tables are set like this, don’t be intimidated. You are there because you deserve to be there,” said Thomas.

Over the course of the retreat, presenters imparted wisdom on topics from financial literacy and social networking etiquette to natural hair care and entrepreneurship, including Senator Catherine Pugh; singer, songwriter and actress China McCain of Tyler Perry’s House of Pain and Disney Channel’s “ Ant Farm;” and singer and R&B Diva Brave Williams.

“The most important part of your body are your eyes,” said Brave, a Baltimore native. “They hold your vision. You can be whatever you want to be if you protect your vision.”

Moving forward, The Brown Girl Village Retreat is slated to be an annual event in Baltimore and other major cities. It will be a part of the Baltimore African American Festival’s “Road to the Festival,” July 2-3. There will also be a BrownGirl Village event during the festival weekend.

“Our hope is that this experience will also inspire and empower our brown girls to continue to dream, no matter what their current situation,” said Page. “Brown Girl Village will help our young women to realize that anything is possible with hard work, dedication and determination and open their eyes to new possibilities.”