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Posts Tagged ‘grrrls’

As ALAG continues to expand, we’ve been asked to explain some of our “operating procedures” for new folks who may want to bring ALAG to their community.

 

One of my self-imposed rules since the beginning of Act Like a GRRRL (ALAG) has been

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GRRRLS and Vali at ALAG 2015

that I try not to talk to parents.

 

(And, let me express my deep gratitude all the ALAG parents/guardians of the last 13 years for their understanding.)

 

It’s not that I don’t like parents. If you’re a new ALAG parent reading this, let me say I KNOW you’re undoubtedly cool if you’re sending your daughter to ALAG. I am sure you’re “my people.” 

 

It’s just that I’m trying to stay as transparent as I can with the GRRRLS. Every year, the first norm the GRRRLS create for their work together is “what’s said in the circle stays in the circle.” I want to avoid even the slightest appearance that I might have occasion to slip and repeat something to a parent that a GRRRL said in confidence in that circle.*

 

Another norm that always makes its way onto the GRRRLS’ list is “no parents in the space.” It’s important that Act Like a GRRRL belong to your daughter. It’s something she doesn’t need to share with you.

 

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GRRRL Tribe:Co-leaders Kamilah, Vali, Dylan

This is her space. We are her people. She is finding her tribe. This is a time when her search for independence and identity may be at an all-time high. ALAG is giving her the space to develop those things in a supportive, intentional community. But, it stops being about growing independence and self-agency when parents join in.

 

 

I recently read that the great question of adolescence is “Who Am I?” and the great fear of adolescence is “Am I Normal?” The best answers to those questions come through independent self-discovery. It’s essentially what we are doing 24/7 at ALAG. Being told who you are is nice, but it’s not as powerful as recognizing it for yourself.

 

ALAG is a positive risk-taking activity. Performing your own material is terrifying. When that material is deeply personal autobiographical narrative, the stakes go up exponentially. To be publicly known for who you are and what you stand for builds character, charisma and confidence.

 

It’s work that demands parents take a step back. It’s the first of many steps you’ll make

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Kamilah introducing the GRRRLS

to let your daughter assume her own space in the world. She can expand because you give her the room to do so or because she steals the space by distancing herself emotionally, physically and mentally. (It’s important to also cultivate a space where families celebrate togetherness.)

 

 

In my experience watching GRRRLS and parents navigate these years, the strongest familial relationships are where parents willingly step back and let their daughters take this time and space to grow, even when parents don’t like what they see/hear initially.

 

My mother, who was the greatest mother ever, did not always agree with the things my brothers and I believed. But, she always respected us. She was famous for saying, “that’s what happens when you raise your children to think. They don’t always think what you want them to.” She always kept an open mind and even allowed her thinking to be persuaded by our best arguments.

 

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Mom presenting her Nobel Prizes

My mother referred to her children as her “Nobel Prizes,” explaining that she never got around to saving the world herself because she was too busy raising my brothers and me. “But, that’s okay because they’re going to do it for me.”

 

 

 

 

Your daughters are our Nobel Prizes. I have no doubt that they are going to save the world, one corner at a time. They are building amazing skills by learning to articulate their values, negotiate differences, take up space and give it to others as they serve as witness to each other. They give me confidence that the future is indeed brighter than the past. And, you are an award-winning parent for having the foresight to let your daughter have her own #RRRevolution. 

*Obviously, I have a reporting responsibility if I think a GRRRL is being hurt or may be a threat to herself or others.

 

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Dylan’s first summer at ALAG

By the time I joined Act Like a GRRRL at 13 years old, I was a first class bully: I was convinced that friendship was a complicated series of manipulations and competition and backstabbing. Throughout my childhood, I had learned from painful embarrassment and keen observation that weakness shown was future ammunition to be used against you. I had been surrounded by toxic groups of girls that were just plain mean, cutting each other down and passing mean notes behind each others backs. I had learned fairly quickly that my early-sprouting breasts and growing baby fat were prime targets for grade school ridicule but a childhood of reading had given me a sharp wit. I could make people laugh; I found it was harder to be cut down when you were the one doing the cutting. It was fun to throw a zing and know I was safe from anyone else’s cruel words in the giggles of my friends. It was nice to have a weaker, common enemy to focus on. Sometimes it makes me really sad to remember mean things I’ve said or done in the past, considering the people I was mean to then are likely the adults I’m friends with now. Sometimes I want to grab myself by the shoulders at 9 or 13 or even 17, give myself a shake and tell myself that it’s OK to stand up to the popular girls at school, it’s okay to be interested in books and writing stories and listening to the Ramones. It’s okay to be kind and vulnerable and defenseless.

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Co-leaders Dylan and Kamilah with Vali, June 2013

Act Like a GRRRL was a fresh start. The year after my first summer I began the surprising habit of squashing gossip in its tracks. Physically removing myself from places where I would be tempted to gossip, stopping myself mid-sentence and apologizing for whatever mean thing had began to come out of my mouth. I began writing. I had always been writing; my entire life, but Act Like a Grrrl was the first time my writing had been encouraged beyond just a hobby I scribbled away at when I was alone in my room. For the first time I was a Writer with a capital W. I was so invigorated with my writing that I began a personal journal and I haven’t quit since. The more I believed myself to be a writer, the more I wrote, the more I wrote, the better writer I became. Out of all the beautiful gifts ALAG has given me, the confidence to pursue my writing is the most important. I am currently working toward my BA in Creative Writing and hope to continue my education with an MFA in the future. Act Like a Grrrl was a gift to me. I spent four years as a participant and have worked as a co-leader for the past three, and it has been a true joy to pass that gift onto other girls. I love to see the transformation from the small, shy girls that enter the program at the beginning of the month to the bold, gorgeous young women that take their final bow at the end. There aren’t many places in our society that make space for girls or their stories. We need more people to say, “Wait! Everybody listen, this girls got something to say! This is important.” Before I had someone do that for me, I thought I had nothing to say. The less power I thought I had, the less I believed in myself. It was so simple yet so deeply complicated. I feel honored to help girls recognize their potential through Act Like a GRRRL, it is a program that I hold very close to my heart.

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In honor of International Women’s Day, we are contacting some of our favorite GRRRL Mentors, Leaders and Friends and asking them to answer these 10 Questions based on the “Proust Questionnaire” found at the back of each month’s Vanity Fair  and at the close of each episode of Inside the Actors Studio. (aka “The Pivot Questionnaire”).

The idea is to go with the first thing that comes to mind . . . not to spend too much time on it.
We’d love it if you played along as well!
IN HER OWN WORDS
 
Kim Green, GRRRL Mentor and Friend, writer, adventurer and awesome human
  • What is your favorite word?    NEFARIOUS
  • What is your least favorite word?  WHEN PEOPLE SAY “WHORE” I GET CRAZY MAD
  • What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? STORIES ABOUT WOMEN MAKING THE WORLD BETTER
  • What turns you off?  PEOPLE WHO GET RICH BY MAKING THE WORLD WORSE
  • What is your go to self care strategy?  YOGA, WINE, AND LAUGHTER
  • What idea most changed your life?  YOU DON’T NEED THE WORLD’S ATTENTION TO BE SUCCESSFUL. YOU NEED TO LOVE YOUR WORK AND FIND IT MEANINGFUL.
  • Who is one of your grrrl heroes? Why?  I CAN’T CHOOSE ONLY ONE. WHENEVER I SPEND TIME WITH THE ALAG GRRRLS, I FEEL RENEWED AND JOYFUL.
  • Reveal one thing about yourself that people would never know from looking at you.  I CONSTANTLY STRUGGLE WITH LOW CONFIDENCE.
  • I am both ___ and ___ .  FEARFUL / BRAVE
  • A GRRRRL is _____.  COMPASSIONATE TOWARD HERSELF AND OTHERS.

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For those of you who’ve asked “why Bolivia?” here’s the answer.

I have dreamed for many years about expanding Act Like a GRRRL internationally. I was curious to know if program would have the same power in another culture that it has in Nashville. When we performed for the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day in Costa Rica in 2011, we learned that the ALAG performance translated well. An international audience of women fully embraced the grrrls’ message of hope and empowerment.

My next question was whether the whole program would work in another context. Could we go to another country and create a safe space for young women to speak the truth about their lives? Could we take our model of writing prompts, dance and song to help them come to voice and perform their truths publicly to inspire and heal their community? I wondered about these things.

Then, last fall, an Australian TV producer named Alison Peters sent a generous donation to Act Like a GRRRL. Years ago while her husband was in residency at Vanderbilt, she studied with us at Actors Bridge and was in the first play I ever directed. She had a beautiful baby girl at that time who has grown into a spunky young woman who would be perfect for ALAG. But since they now live in Sydney, Alison was sending funds to provide a scholarship for a Nashville girl to attend ALAG in daughter’s honor.

As a post script to her email regarding the scholarship, Alison wrote:”let me know if you ever want to bring ALAG to Australia.” That’s all it took. I wrote back immediately, and Alison and I began a full gallop towards the vision of “ALAG-Sydney.” I think we are both the kind of women who only have two speeds: racing and sleeping. And, we were ON!

Still high from the overwhelming response we received in Costa Rica, I thought Australia made perfect sense as the next step. There would be cultural differences, but we would have a shared language which would allow me to test the program concept without the added layer of language translatation. Australia’s summer is opposite Nashville’s … so, I could do the work without conflicting with our summer program here.

But, our talks soon hit a snag. Alison was hearing concerns from people about ALAG’s lack of track record in the international arena. And, just who is this Vali Forrister? As we tried to maneuver around these hurdles, Alison asked if I had any church contacts in Australia who could vouch for me or the program and potentially house our workshops.

It happened that I had just been invited to give a workshop to a group of Methodists students at Oklahoma State University. I had met the OSU Wesley Foundation Chaplain, Rev. Michael Bartley, on a beach in Belize in 1999. I had been on a trip with my mom and step-dad to revisit the church where we had done mission work when I was a teenager. July of 1999 marked the 10th anniversary of the summer I was raped. The trip was part of my journey to heal myself. Belize was the last place I remembered feeling “powerful” and clear about who I was and what I was meant to do in the world. I thought I could reclaim my power by returning there.

On July 4, I was sitting on the beach with a young man named Junior who had been my constant companion back in those mission days. He had grown to become Corozal’s most notorious drug dealer. Junior had seen me roll into town, and I found him camped outside my hotel room a few hours later. We spent the next few days hanging out. I still saw the eyes and smile of that little boy I had known 10 years before, but I realized his issues had grown far beyond my skill set. I had no idea how to help him. Then, I heard a voice say: “do you mind if I join you?” Michael Bartley had just arrived with a group of Methodist students who were going to be working in Corozal for a few weeks. The three of us talked for hours. His arrival was no accident. He had the perfect training and expertise to offer Junior the support he needed.

When Michael found out I was from Nashville, he asked if I knew Mark Forrester, the Methodist Chaplain at Vanderbilt. Not only do I know Mark, he’s one of my dearest friends, one of my pastors, and I claim him as a “cousin.” My theater company was at that time in residence at St. Augustine’s Chapel where Mark ministers alongside Rev. Becca Stevens. Mark was on Michael’s dissertation committee. The world just got a lot smaller.

Michael and I stayed in touch over the next several years. We’d meet for a meal anytime he passed through Nashville. He followed my work as I came to public voice about being raped, and as my activism lead me to produce and direct the Vagina Monologues. He had watched the development of Act Like a GRRRL over the years.

Last fall, Michael asked me to come to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to do a workshop on faith and the arts with his students
. We were in the midst of our planning at the same time that Alison and I were dreaming about ALAG-Sydney. So, I sent him an email outlining our dilemma and asking if he had any good Methodist contacts in Australia. The phone rang 5 minutes later. “I don’t really have any Australian contacts. But, what do you think about Bolivia?”

Bolivia?!

Michael explained that he did a lot of ongoing work with the Methodist Church in Bolivia and that he had been looking for a meaningful opportunity for young people there. He gave me a quick history lesson on the politics of Bolivia and the new opportunities for women that had come with Evo Morales’ presidency. Evo is the country’s first indigenous president. Michael detailed the new laws that had come into effect giving women equal rights in all aspects of Bolivian life. At the moment, the rights were mostly on paper. Michael said it was a good time to invest in young women and help them develop the skills to articulate their values and enter public discourse.

The next thing I knew, I was on my way to La Paz with Michael and Janina Graves, his co-worker who would be our translator. We met with a group church leaders and missionaries and the leadership of FeFeMe (the organization of Methodist Women in Bolivia). I explained the idea of ALAG and showed them a brief video clip from our performance in Costa Rica. The women of FeFeMe asked how soon we could start (and if I could do the same work with adult women like them).

Bolivia was nowhere near my radar. But, that is where the door was flung open. FeFeMe promised to recruit young women from each region of the country. I envisioned a camp version of the program where we could do in 1 week what we do over the course of a month in Nashville. The Methodist Church offered us the use of their retreat center outside Cochabamba (about 6 hours from La Paz). The performance would be back in La Paz in the Hotel Juan Wesley, also owned by the Methodist Church, which has a large meeting room with a procenium stage.

I decided to approach the opportunity as a “cross-cultural exchange” and returned to Bolivia in July with 4 veteran Nashville grrrls plus Gabrielle Saliba (our choreographer) and Rachel Lang (our videographer and technical director) and Dylan McCann (a grrrl turned co-leader). We were joined by college students from OSU and DePaul University with Janina Graves as our translator and logistics superstar.

FeFeMe had chosen 7 Bolivian young women between the ages of 15 and 17 to participate. We lived and worked together for 5 days, telling our stories and teaching each other our dances and songs (Janina and missionary Diane Wimberley had the Herculean task of translating for us) at Tiu Rancho in Cochabamba. We traveled to La Paz on the 6th day. On the 7th, we staged, rehearsed and performed our creation for an audience of women who wept and laughed along with us.

You can read all about the adventure here.

Everyone is asking “what’s next?” I have no idea. But, I can tell you that what I learned from Bolivia is to wait for the open door. I feel sure there will be more trips to Bolivia and that other countries will follow. My task is to stay willing and watch for the openings.

And, who knows… maybe Bolivia will lead to Australia.

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Begin with GRATITUDE.

I am rarely at a loss for words. Yet, as I’ve tried to find ways to articulate what happened in Bolivia during the first two weeks of July, I’ve found myself stumped into silence. Any praise would fall short. Any metaphor seems dim.

I can tell you that it exceeded all my expectations. I expected it to be hard. It was harder. I expected it to be meaningful. It redefined meaning. I expected it to push us all to our limit. We each discovered new frontiers far beyond where we thought our limits (and our breaking points) would be. Bolivia is the land of extremes. Our adventure there was no exception.

I can tell you that Act Like a GRRRL succeeded despite language and cultural barriers. In Bolivia, like everywhere else I have taken the program, I found that when I announce “this can be the sisterhood you’ve always longed for” women know instinctively what that means. As we sat down to create the agreements by which we would live and work for our 5 days together, this circle of young women asked for the same things I’ve witnessed other circles claim: a safe place to tell their deepest truths without fear of judgement, gossip or hurtful comments; a place to share their feelings and be witnessed; a place to cry and have others cry with them. No one asked to be fixed or bettered or shown a new way. They all just wanted the room to be exactly who they were without fear.

Each evening, the grrrls shared stories based on writing prompts from me. Over the course of our time together, almost everyone told a story she had never before spoken aloud. The details of the stories differed greatly, but at heart, the places the Bolivian and U.S. grrrls found meaning were the same: cherishing time with family; enduring the heartbreak of losing one you love; wishing for a “do-over” in how to treat your siblings; trying to halt injustice with love.

I had been hoping for an easy first step into the international arena. Instead, I got Bolivia, a place where even breathing isn’t easy (La Paz sits at almost 14,000 feet). My Spanish is lousy. I feared the concepts of ALAG might be too abstract for my (lack of) language skills. I was warned about the heavy machismo culture and the ways in which a woman’s value in Bolivia is so contingent on men that women find no worth apart from the man with whom they currently live (father, boyfriend, husband). I’m just stubborn enough to walk through the open door despite the challenges (and with the help of awesome translators). I figured if we could succeed here, we would know that ALAG has the legs to go anywhere. If it didn’t work, I’d have one more dream to cross off the list.

I’m pleased to report that the dream manifested beautifully. I really shouldn’t be surprised. Women have come together in sacred circles to share sorrows, joys and wisdom since the beginning of time. When we are gently nudged back to that place, DNA takes over. This way of being is in our bones.

My job — whether in the U.S. or Bolivia, whether working with adolescent girls, incarcerated women, college students or senior citizens — is to expose the “competition myth” (the one that says we as women need to fight each other for the limited amount of beauty, intelligence and attention we’ve been told exist in the world) and do the nudging that gets women and girls back to community. The competition myth keeps us separate and alone. We were built for connection. When we are willing to drop the facade in lieu of being truly known and loved as we are, everyone comes more fully alive.

I’ve heard a lot of things called “life changing” lately. Ford’s latest commercial swears buying one of their cars is a life-changer. There is a coffee shop in Green Hills that claims to be the place “where coffee changes lives.”

I don’t know about cars or coffee, but this group of teenage girls from two very different countries created something that took my breath away. Women from the campo traveled hours to La Paz to witness these grrrls find their voice and speak the truth about their lives. I listened as women wept with pride at the courage of their daughters. I watched as an Amayra woman in traditional dress pointed to the stage and said “Now I know I can speak up. It isn’t too late for me.” Tears streamed down my face as a local leader asked us not to stop here, but to return again for the young women of Bolivia and the grown women as well. “We need this too. Come back for us.”

Research shows that when women and girls feel empowered, nations prosper. That’s why the U.S. State Department has identified the empowerment of women and girls as a major foreign policy initiative under Secretary of State Clinton. When women are empowered, they work to improve the lives of others.

Ana Maria. Jenna. Sandra. Hannah. Sonya. Jhessica. Augusta. Miriam. Ana Gabrielle. Gilda. Chelsey. These young women represent the future. Their honesty, courage, empathy and wisdom make the world a better place. They have changed my life forever.

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My heart overflows with gratitude to everyone who made Bolivia possible:

– Rev. Michael Bartley and Janina Graves from the Wesley Foundation at Oklahoma State University for believing in me;

– FeFeMe (the organization of Bolivian Methodist Women), especially Bettye, Lydia and Rosalia for giving me the opportunity and for selecting the 7 Bolivian grrrls who attended;

– the Methodist Church in Bolivia (IEMB) for their faith in the process;

– Methodist General Board of Global Ministries missionaries Diane Wimberly and Skip Hodges for hosting us and taking such good care of us in Bolivia;

– my Act Like a GRRRL colleagues Rachel Lang, Dylan McCann and Gabrielle Saliba for helping create the magic;

– Janina Graves and Diane Wimberly for round-the-clock translating brilliance;

– Augusta Freeman, Chelsey Grundy, Hannah Silverman and Jenna Stotts for being on the front line of change, embracing the challenge of collaboration and leading the way by living what they believe;

– Nikki Hughes and Kayla Ragan for diving into the revolution even though they had no idea what they were in for;

– the GRRRL parents for trusting me to take their daughters halfway around the world;

– the amazing group of friends and family who funded the trip;

-all the dedicated visionaries who blessed us, prayed for us and kept the candles lit at home.

The dream came true because of all of you.

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