When Shenequa Pierre created GEMS (Girls Empowered and Motivated to Succeed), she wanted to give girls an opportunity to push past preconceived notions of what they should be doing and let them explore different opportunities at an early age. After a little over a year at Bronx Prep Middle and High School, the group has surpassed both Ms. Pierre’s and the girls’ expectations.
“Who I was last year and who I am now are two different people,” Laila, 10th grade scholar at BPHS said. “To see progression not only with myself, but with the other members has just been something beautiful.”
The GEMS group consists of girls in both middle and high school at Bronx Prep. Although Ms. Pierre led the group initially, she gave the girls more control by creating an e-board which allowed the girls to develop as leaders. Laila and her fellow BPHS scholar, Sarah, were uneasy about taking on the responsibility of leading the group. But now, they take immense pride in not only their roles as president and vice president, but as role models.
“To say that I’m a role model for somebody else and that somebody can rely on me, I take pride in that,” Sarah said.
The younger GEMS have also followed in Sarah and Laila’s footsteps and see themselves as setting examples for their younger peers.
“It’s important to be a role model because I get to show other girls how to be themselves and grow up to be successful women,” said Shendely, 8th grade BPMS scholar.
The group also regularly volunteers their time to help in their community. The group organizes food drives every two months, and also collects clothing and toiletries. The girls emphasized that their community work is not only part of their active citizenship, but it also helps them understand the struggles that others go through.
To show the girls the different opportunities that exist for them, Ms. Pierre takes the group on trips, brings in guest speakers, and she also speaks to the girls candidly about many topics. The girls credit Ms. Pierre’s honesty and straightforwardness with helping their growth in the group.
“She would come into meetings, stand in front and she’d be the one to share her own experiences,” Sarah said. “It showed vulnerability and she was ok with that. She showed that she put her trust in us and in return she expected that back from us.”
Even though Sarah and Laila developed as leaders while in the group, for others like scholars Alexki and Shendely, it was Ms. Pierre’s decision to ask them to join the group that grew their confidence.
“She came out of her way to ask me to join,” Alexki said. “It made me feel appreciated. It showed somebody cared for me to become a better person.”
BPMS 8th grade scholar Shendely said Ms. Pierre’s trust in the group is what led her to open up to the girls.
“She stood in front of us and said we are a group of sisters and we need to be honest with each other,” Shendely said. “As the year went on, they became my sisters and I’m no longer scared to express myself in front of them.”
For Ms. Pierre, being able to see the girls grow and have them seek her out for new opportunities both in-and-out of school is what makes all the time and effort worth it.
“It reminds me why I do this work,” Ms. Pierre said. “The idea is not to keep all of this information inside me, but to be able to share it, so that one day these girls will be the leaders that take on the initiative of creating more leaders in our world.”
As the group continues to grow in members, they also continue to grow more ambitious in how they can help better the world and people around them.
“This is about empowering the people in this area,” Laila said. “To let them know that you may be from one of the poorest districts, but you can be rich in your spirit, rich in your soul, and make it somewhere in this life.”