gwen's girls

September is Black Girls Equity Month in Allegheny County, and Gwen’s Girls is ready to celebrate — and educate. Throughout the next 30 days, the nonprofit organization will recognize young Black women who are making a difference in the community with stories and photos on social media through the See the Best in Me campaign. You can join the movement, which promotes the development of self-esteem, critical thinking and advocacy skills, by posting your own inspirational pictures and stories with the hashtag #seethebestinme, checking out the blog, donating money or volunteering. “We want girls to learn about themselves and grow and get exposed to different activities in their communities, schools and families,” says Kathi Elliott, CEO of Gwen’s Girls. In 2002, her mother, the late Gwendolyn J. Elliott, started the organization to empower local females ages 8 to 18 through holistic, gender-specific programs and services. During her 26 years with the Pittsburgh Police Department, Commander Gwendolyn J. Elliott witnessed the inequities faced by Black women and girls in the justice system. In 2016, Gwen’s Girls held its first equity summit, and the Black Girls Equity Alliance (BGEA) was formed in response to the report, “Snapshot: Inequities Affecting Black Girls in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.” The report, commissioned by the FISA Foundation in partnership with the Heinz Endowments, found that Black girls in Allegheny County are 50 percent more likely than white girls to experience teen dating violence, more than twice as likely to be raped and over four times as likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon. Last year, both the city and county designated September as Black Girls Equity Month. “The Black Girls Equity Alliance was formed because we believe in Black girls’ strength, resiliency and leadership skills when nurtured,” Elliott says. “It is important to uplift and include them, their voices and brilliance in this work of reforming systems and undo the legacy of racism and sexism to create a community where Black girls, and thus all young people, can feel safe, supported, and realize their potential.” A virtual press conference will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 14 to discuss a new report, “Understanding and Addressing Institutionalized Inequity: Disrupting Pathways to Juvenile Justice for Black Youth in Allegheny County.” A town hall meeting on the subject is slated for 3 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 17. On Sept. 22, Gwen’s Girls will host an online Netflix watch party of “Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story.” Cyntoia Brown Long is the author of “Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System,” which details her experiences as a sex trafficking victim. At age 16, fearing for her safety, she shot and killed a man who paid her for sex. She was sentenced to life in prison, a punishment that was commuted to 15 years. An awards ceremony for the See the Best in Me campaign will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 23 and will feature an online auction, giveaways, entertainment and more. It will be followed by a weekend equity summit with national and local speakers focusing on forms of gender-based violence. Registration is required. If you know a young lady with resilience, intelligence and a beautiful spirit, encourage her to fill out an online form to be a part of the See the Best in Me social media campaign.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.