By Dr. Shanessa Fenner
Dawn Rowe is someone you would want in your corner and by your side. The compassionate founder of Girl Vow, Inc. recently caught up with Bronze Magazine to discuss her compelling life story, nonprofit organization, and 24/7 mission of advocating for disadvantaged Black girls.
Please share your story.
I am the executive director and founder of Girl Vow, Inc. but of course I did not start off that way. I am an attempted suicide survivor and former high school dropout. Growing up I had two friends that I hung out with and one is dead and the other is doing life in prison for murder. My life was centered around confusion, hurt, and pain. There was also a lot of anger and sadness. I grew up in a single parent household, and my mom struggled with a lot of things that we did not understand until now. All of those things shifted over to us. My oldest sister dealt with mental health issues and naturally it impacted me and how I saw myself. I did not see myself having any opportunity at the time or any type of real relationships that could help propel me forward in my life.
Tell us about Girl Vow, Inc.
Girl Vow, Inc. is a gender focused mentoring program for girls and LGBTQ girls that have been impacted by foster care in the Juvenile Justice System. I liken my work to 911 for girls. For example, if a young lady has an emergency we may get a call. I had a young lady who was dealing with suicidal ideation, so we went to the psychiatric ward and to her mother’s house. We were working with the foster care system to make sure she was receiving the services that she needed and also did a follow up. Our work is really intensive and not like your regular cookie cutter mentoring program because we work with young people that are hard to reach. They are dealing with some real hard core issues that you would think young people should not have to be faced with. Some of our young people have been involved in sex trafficking and we have even pulled girls out of crack houses. We do have a lot of success stories too. We have young women that are in college, single mothers making better decisions than they previously were, and females who were formerly incarcerated on Riker’s Island that have turned their lives around. So there are a lot of great things that are happening in the organization.
I see that you work with LGBTQ females. What kinds of things are they experiencing that is a major concern?
They deserve to have just as much support as anyone else. They have experienced some real traumatic things in their households. I had a young girl whose mother poured bleach all over her because she wanted to get rid of the “gay” in her. I have young people that have had some horrific experiences and I think that we have to take accountability for how we see people and how we treat people because they classify themselves as being different. We have to learn how to embrace people for who they are. Part of my work is being able to make sure they have representation and know someone is there for them to provide protection.
Tell us about the New York City Foster Care System.
The foster care system here is called the Administration for Children’s Services and they partner with nonprofit organizations. The nonprofits will provide services for the children that are in foster care. When I started doing the work of Girl Vow, Inc. in 2015, I partnered with the Administration for Children’s Services and part of my responsibility was going into the facility where the young people were and providing services like workshops, advocacy work, crisis intervention, and showing up for young people in court. The Administration for Children’s Services also oversees the Juvenile Justice Division in New York City, so we also work with juvenile group homes as well.
Share some of the life skills training that you provide for the girls.
The life skills training is so important because when you have young people growing up and they don’t have a parent or a relationship with a connected adult, they struggle a lot. They struggle with making decisions, understanding how life works, and understanding institutional life. So part of our work is to be able to build young people in such a way that they understand things like resume building, stocks, and how to deal with their menstrual cycle. There are so many instances that we work with young people by providing them with language on how to communicate, how to handle life, how to be resilient, and how to be able to receive constructive criticism in a way that it develops their interpersonal skills. They learn how to be able to take this into the real world and create a life for themselves. Some of the other workshops are parenting, decision making, creative thinking, communication, self-awareness, suicide, how to deal with law enforcement, understanding the trauma between mothers and daughters, and many more.
What is your ultimate goal for Girl Vow?
Eventually we want to be a national program. I want to see young girls of color in a position where they are able to make decisions and have access to opportunity, and it is not something they have to fight for. I want them to be educated and strong enough to know that they can make it despite the odds, institutional racism, and structural violence they have experienced. I want young people to take the work and connect it back to other young people so that they can go out into the community and do the same to help someone else. Last year, one of my girls went missing for about a year and we could not find her. We called the police station and they were not responding. One of the things we did was start a National Task Force for missing and murdered girls of color. We don’t get any type of alerts for these girls. We don’t get an Amber Alert, news alert, flyers, or warnings.
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