Girlz Rock: the Movement
By Jada Lucas
Ashley, a former student at Lakeside Middle School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, had never had a birthday party. A group of girls along with Denita Washington decided to throw her one. This birthday party was the beginning of Lakeside Ladies which would later be known as Girlz Rock. Girlz Rock is a non-profit organization that was started in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and it is devoted to empowering young women.
At first, it started as an after-school program called Lakeside Ladies based in a local high school in Fort Wayne. In 1995, Denita Washington, Executive Director of Girlz Rock, took a position as the In School Suspension (ISS) and wellness director at Lakeside High School. She explained how the name of ISS changed to wellness in order to create a place where students could began to feel better. Washington said, “ISS should be a place of healing.” Washington detailed how Lakeside Ladies started within ISS. She described seeing what she referred to as “brokenness” in a lot of the young women there. This “brokenness” referred to the personal obstacles these girls had to face. This “brokenness” affected how they saw themselves.
Washington was also motivated by her own struggles as a young woman such as her experience as a young mother and her experience of being in a toxic relationship. She attributes this to, “the pain of not knowing myself as a young girl.” So, she created Lakeside Ladies in order to empower young women. Despite the absence of funding, Washington set out to make Lakeside Ladies possible. Once Washington left Lakeside High School, she started similar programs at other schools in Fort Wayne such as Harding High School and New Haven High School. However, she noticed that after she left the schools, the programs were no longer running. It was then that she decided to make a unified movement called Girlz Rock.
The first event she held attracted 125 girls. The educational sessions touched on empowerment, dating, and healthy friendships. The events held by Girlz Rock are made up of breakout sessions, bonding sessions, and guest speakers who touch on a variety of subjects. After the success of the program citywide, Washington wanted to touch other communities as well. She said, “This (lack of empowerment in young women) is not just an urban issue. It is worldwide.” Last year, she received an offer to take the movement to Brazil. Washington says she was afraid at first, however the event held in Brazil attracted 150 girls and mothers. She said, “I went from scared, to fearless.”
Washington attributes both her success and fearlessness to God. He is a huge part of everything she does. Even when she has doubts, she looks to him. Even in times where she underestimated herself, he has been a constant reminder that he has more in store for her. She said, “When you take that jump you think minimum, but he (God) thinks maximum.” The young women of the Girlz Rock program haven't been the only people who have been positively impacted. The mothers of the young women have been impacted as well. Washington said that some of the biggest success stories of personal growth came from the mothers who have been healed indirectly. One segment of the Girlz Rock Program is the mom and mentor sessions. These sessions are designed to identify personal insecurities that have been passed on from the mother to the daughter. Washington stresses the importance of learning from these insecurities. She said, “We teach greatness, learning to live differently from mom, aunt, etc.” Also she said, “Once the moms are healed, it trickles down to the daughter then it touches the family, community, and the world.”
Another component of the program has to do with helping the girls make relationships with successful women in the community. She expressed how important it is for young women to feel love from these women and to feel that they are attainable connections. She said she wants them to be able to say, “I know her, she’s in my circle.” Throughout the years different girls have been in the program, and it has continued to impact since it first started.
In the future, Washington plans to continue evolving Girlz Rock, and she hopes to write a series of motivational books as well. Throughout the evolution of this program, she has been impacted just as much as those that she has helped make a difference for. She said, “I'm evolving with the parents and students.” In this evolution, there has been a huge lesson in leadership that Washington said she has learned. It is the definition of true leadership. She explained how being a leader doesn't always mean you have to be in front. She said, “Real leadership grows from the back.” It is her mentality, faith, and passion that has kept Girlz Rock growing to this day.
If you are inspired by Denita Washington's work, you can donate below to help Girlz Rock serve many more young women.