“We’re building a coalition of girls who can say, ‘I know what the problems are in my community or school, and I can come up with solutions.’”Tawanna Jones, executive director of We.REIGN
“Black girl voices and Black women voices are often excluded from political agendas, decision-making tables, policy making in schools,” says Tawanna Jones, executive director of We.REIGN, a Gender Justice Organizing Fund and Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing grantee. “We introduce Black girls to the idea of politics and policy and how to advocate for yourself. We’re building a coalition of girls who can say, ‘I know what the problems are in my community or school, and I can come up with solutions.’”
Jones founded We.REIGN (Rooting, Empowering, Inspiring a Girls Nation) in 2016 to create a safe, nurturing space where Black girls can “unapologetically become,” she says. “We use political and civic education to help Black girls figure out who they are and where they want to fit into the world. We create a space where Black girls can figure out that identity development piece in a supportive network of other Black girls, older Black women, and high school girls.” We.REIGN’s signature We Speak workshops help girls develop skills to be change agents in their own lives and in their communities.
This year, through a Gender Justice Organizing Fund grant, We.REIGN offered a six-month Gender Justice Internship for 12 high school girls. The internship kicked off with workshops about how gender injustice and systemic racism play out in school, work, families, and communities. Working in community pods, girls chose three gender justice issues—education funding, black maternal and infant mortality, and sexual violence. They interviewed peers and wrote policy papers outlining their demands to address the issues and shared their findings in Zoom town halls.
“The grant allowed us to pay girls a stipend, so they didn’t have to choose between working a low-wage job or participating in the program,” Jones says.
For We.REIGN, advocacy, activism, and organizing are key to girls’ futures. Jones says: “Understanding issues and being able to organize around them is critical and central to the life of Black Americans.”