In the era of #MeToo, Trump, increased sex trafficking of youth, and #BringBackOurGirls, this social justice group is not your average after-school program or summer camp. Since 2016, Social Justice Café for Girls (SJC4G) has mentored over 200 girls. In 2016 alone, over 50 percent of the girls resided in some of Atlanta’s most economically challenged corridors and experienced various forms of trauma, from sex trafficking to community violence. Since 2018, the program has served an additional 25 girls and went global, having organized two social impact trips — with 48 travelers — to Guatemala. Central to the organization’s mission is supporting girls from all walks of life, who represent a wide range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
Founded by Dr. Sharnell Myles, Psy.D., LPC in 2016, the Atlanta-based SJC4G is a non-profit offering safe spaces for girls of color to discuss social issues and develop into globally-minded Social Justice Girls. This summer, they expanded their reach with their trip to Guatemala and the impact was huge. The trip included social justice conversations, culture immersion, Spanish lessons, and exchange with indigenous Guatemalan girls. For this year’s social impact trip, the girls engaged with a youth organization called Niños del Lago.
On this year’s trip, I served as a peer leader to their amazing girls ranging in ages 7 to 17. This was the kind of trip I needed when I was their age, and anyone who’s interested in creating access for young women of color should take notes. Here are three reasons SJC4G is leading the way in cultural competence, diversity, and empowerment:
1. They are learning the importance of allyship from an early age. An ally is someone who supports or empowers another person or group, and PoC (people of color) empowering other PoC is a force to be reckoned with. While this current political era is focused on building walls and pushing false narratives that antagonize “The Other”, SJC4G encourages girls to become well-informed citizens. Solutions to social issues don’t occur through armchair activism via Twitter about what you saw on the news — it requires real work and real partnerships, which these girls as young as 7 are learning to master.
2. They are learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. For most of the trip, the girls had no WiFi, took cold showers, and had zero access to Ubers (we walked everywhere). They climbed a 9,393-foot mountain, and got their hands dirty planting trees in the wilderness. For some of them, it was their first time out of the U.S., or even their first time on an airplane. They’re already winning at life by conquering the things they’re scared of.
3. They are learning to ask important questions — about themselves, others, world issues, politics, and cultures outside of their own. The girls are also developing the ability to get real work done — whether it’s planting trees in Guatemala to feed future generations, facilitating a human trafficking simulation at The National Center for Human and Civil Rights, or expressing their needs at the Georgia State Capitol.
Have you ever seen those teenage activists like Malala Yousafzai or the child entrepreneurs on Shark Tank? They’re basically my mentees, making me question why I was such a lazy 12-year-old. They force me to step up my game.
To learn more, join, or donate, follow them on Instagram and Facebook: @SocialJusticeCafe4Girls.