“She goes to school, feels uncertain about who she is, tryin’ to hide behind the curtain so she lashes out, out of fear of bein’ known, inside and out.”
These raw lines open the music video “Jagged,” written, directed and starred in by elementary school students. Although the female artists behind the film are only 6-12 years old, it's a powerful reminder of the struggles young girls face: low-self esteem, identity confusion, stress. But the film offers hope. The protagonist eventually embraces who she is, inside and out, with the help of her other “queens.”
“Jagged” was created as part of Rocketship’s QueenHype program, an empowerment club that acts as a safe space for girls to confront their insecurities and establish a strong sense of self-love and purpose. Confidence is built through deep self-reflection, mindfulness, and yoga, as well weekly workshops where girls have meaningful dialogues and come up with measurable solutions. After completing the program, our young Queens demonstrate mastery through a community project reflecting the learnings of each workshop. Advice blogs follow self-esteem workshops; fashion shows pair with self-confidence seminars; choreographed dance routines come after positive body-image discussions.
QueenHype is transformative for participants. Through the program, students improve not only their personal lives, but their academic success, putting them on the path to tackle college and their careers with courage—and we're just getting started.
The call to empower
I learned the value of education early on. My mother was a workaholic, providing for a family of seven. Life at home could be difficult, so school and extracurriculars became my outlet. But although I was involved in many organizations at school, I was still harassed—for being athletic, for being African American, even just for being a girl. There were times I felt insecure about my physical appearance and capabilities.
The bias didn’t end when I graduated. In 2008, I was turned away from a major broadcasting network internship because I was told my hair was “too ethnic”. That’s when I knew there needed to be a place for women that promoted self-esteem and positive body image.
It all clicked when I started working at Rocketship. I quickly noticed many of my female students lacked the confidence of their male peers. So I worked with school leadership and founded QueenHype as an after school program. It was the club I always wanted to join, providing the family many young girls needed and a way for facing discrimination and stereotypes head on.
Starting with a bang
The first meeting was tough. Many girls admitted to having difficult family lives and extremely low self-esteem. Through tears, some expressed they hated their hair, skin color, weight, height or the fact they spoke Spanish. But while QueenHype can’t erase the sources of that pain, it was the first step in breaking the cycle.
We started holding meetings in the Roosevelt Community Center in downtown San Jose, where our rambunctious little girls never flew under the radar. They quickly began participating in weekend events and getting involved in the community. During an open mic night hosted by the San Jose Digital Arts department, the girls took home top prizes for their performances. The department knew they had to collaborate with our girls on their next project.
This lead to the creation of our "Jagged" video as part of the Youth Film Festival. The girls were to come up with a way to create awareness for mental illness. We held a session to brainstorm ideas and the girls impressed everyone with their focus and creativity. Each of them jumped at the chance to be involved and incorporate their ideas. Through the program, students’ leadership and individuality shined.
Once the project concluded, the girls’ sense of accomplishment was through the roof. Their commitment and hard work after school paid off. The premier was a red carpet event and every girl shined brighter than Hollywood stars. Families and friends beamed with pride and joy. Queen Hype and their film, "Jagged," were undeniably the crowd favorite. This film was a testament to the mastery and completion of our self-awareness workshop. In discovering themselves, our Queens realized that raising awareness about suffering with mental illness in an underrepresented community can be alleviated with community-based empowerment.
Queens on the rise
As proud as we are of our accomplishments, we are also hungry for more ways to showcase our talents and get even more involved in the community. That’s why our girls took strides of power as they inspired local educators and girls at the Women’s March with words of encouragement. This spring, we will be continuing to support local women and children shelters with clothing, books and toiletries during our #Hypedtohelp campaign.
We also have plans to expand not only into more schools, but into our city juvenile justice system. This spring, we will be holding a professional development session for educators interested in bringing the program to their school and are excited that many of our Rocketship partner schools will have campus leads bringing the program to their sites. The success of the program at Rocketship Discovery Prep has allowed us to pilot a group at Rocketship Brilliant Minds, with more campuses to come.
In QueenHype, we tell our girls to demand, “yes” when they are told “no.” We encourage them to take their seat at the table with their crowns high, unashamed and fearless. Our hope is to motivate our girls to replace the desire to fit into society’s mold of beauty and success for women with a desire to redefine those terms.