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GirlsBELIEVE Conference Offers Staight Talk to Teens

by Laquasha C. Bivens
The workshops covered controversial and straightforward topics like the consequences of unprotected sex and drug use. “We are real with them. To youth, you cannot sugarcoat things,” said one of the event's organizers.
"All About the Bling," "Treasuring Your Treasure," and "Daddy Girl Syndrome" were the names of just a few workshop sessions held at the third annual GirlsBELIEVE Conference held Saturday, June 24 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Towson University.

GirlsBELIEVE , a self-development and womanhood training program, was co-founded by Dawnita Brown, entrepreneur, Meshelle Foreman Shields, a professional comedienne featured on BET’s “Comic View,” and Dr. Makeba Thomas, assistant professor of social work at Bowie State University.

The three co-founders came together and conceived GirlsBELIEVE in 2000 after attending the Urban Leadership Institute’s Youth Explosion and deciding that similar programs were needed for young girls.

“We saw the need for a conference that met the particular needs of the girls,” Thomas said.

The conference, for girls from ages 13-17, came complete with various workshops, a dance presentation, and a music-filled luncheon with a dance contest. The registration cost for the day’s event was $5, which included the cost of meals and a CD.

The workshops covered controversial and straightforward topics like the consequences of unprotected sex and drug use. “We are real with them. To youth, you cannot sugarcoat things,” Brown said.

The workshops were also for the young girls only. No parents allowed. The idea was to let the girls speak more candidly on the issues without worrying about their parents' disapproval.

The workshops were led by various professional women with the goal of encouraging the girls to develop more positive career goals.

“When they understand that they have other choices, they make better choices,” Thomas said.

Some of the girls were eager participants to the conference. “I heard [about it] on the radio and it caught my attention,” said a 16-year-old participant from Baltimore.

Other girls needed an extra nudging to attend. “My mother asked me did I want to come,” said a 14-year-old participant from Baltimore County. “I did want to see what it's about.”

Area organizations also took part in the conference, bringing girls who participate in their own programs. “They need to hear some positive [things] and be around positive people,” said Mechelle Dukes, recreational coordinator assistant for the Arrow Project, a Christian-based non-profit organization that promotes growth in children, families, and communities nationwide.

GirlsBELIEVE was expecting to attract between approximately 300-350 girls to this year’s conference. However, only about 175 girls registered, according to Dr. Thomas.

Even though the turn-out was smaller than expected, the success of the day was not measured by the numbers.

“Getting the girls to smile and laugh during the day, that measures our success,” said Mothyna James, member of the GirlsBELIEVE Conference executive planning committee.

BELIEVE is an acronym for the program’s basic principles—Balance, Excellence, Leadership, Integrity, Education, Vocation, and Empowerment. The co-founders attempt to demonstrate these principles in each of their sponsored events.

“Everything the girls need, they can get through GirlsBELIEVE,” Thomas said.

In addition to its annual conference, GirlsBELIEVE has also held movie series featuring films that deal with issues important to young girls.

GirlsBELIEVE is looking to kick-start a year-long training program beginning this fall. The organizers are also hoping to get grant funding for the program so that participants can join at no cost.
For more information about GirlsBELIEVE, call 410-977-3074 or visit their website at girlsbelieve.org.

Laquasha C. Bivens is a freelance writer who is studying journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.


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This story was published on June 28, 2006.