"Our job is to teach our girls and to identify what their gifts are, and teach them to identify that for themselves, and use it and celebrate it each and every day that they come here, to show them that we do want to hear what they have to say."

These are the words, and the mission, of a woman named Isis Sapp-Grant. She is the Director of a group called the Youth Empowerment Mission and the Blossom Program for Girls, in New York City. I was thinking about our famously "empowered" Girls Gone Wild when I heard her interviewed on the radio and did a little research. Ms. Sapp-Grant was talking about how she'd changed her life, going from hard-core girl's gang member to college graduate and founder of this important community outreach mission.

She attended the highly-respected Fisk University, graduated from Stony Brook University, and ultimately earned a masters degree in social work from NYU. The turnaround in her life was effected with the help of two teachers and a police officer from the gangs unit, and Ms. Sapp-Grant was determined to give the same help and leadership to other girls at risk. You can read her story, in her own words, here.

I don't believe a young woman, or anyone for that matter, is empowered by a complete lack of restraint. The Blossom Program gives real choices to girls who suffer a true lack of power, victims of rape and violence at the hands of male gang members as young as 15 who act as their pimps. And the gangs are too often the girls' escape from worse situations at home.

Paradoxically, that choice and empowerment comes by way of the difficult lessons of self-restraint. The group defines its four critical goals in saving these kids' lives:

  • A sense of competence: being able do to something well
  • A sense of usefulness: having something to contribute
  • A sense of belonging: being in a community and having relationships with caring adults
  • A sense of power: having control over one's future

Funny how it doesn't say anything about appearing topless in a Joe Francis video.

--written by Liz Neville

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