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March 15, 2013

‘Chica Chat’ teaches girls to be happy being unique

Workshops foster personal growth, positive attitudes

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

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‘Chica Chat’ teaches girls to be happy being unique
Students illustrate a board with messages and imagery promoting self-confidence and positive attitudes toward themselves and each other.

METRO DETROIT — Rasheda Kamaria calls herself a social entrepreneur, the “chief empowering officer” of Empowered Flower Girl LLC. Through workshops such as Chica Chat, she aims to build self-confidence in young girls.  

She was inspired to start the company in 2010, after nine years of mentoring girls through an organization called Alternatives for Girls.

“I was teased and bullied as a middle school student, myself — as a seventh-grader, in particular — and I wanted young people to know they can survive it,” Kamaria said. “Those things girls are put down about can actually work toward their benefit and make them successful adults.”

Born and raised on the east side of Detroit, Kamaria was picked on because she was a black girl who listened to Nirvana and other alternative music associated with white culture. She was called derogatory nicknames, like “Oreo.” She was also called a “nerd,” since she was well-spoken, wore glasses and tried to do well in school.

But she knew what she wanted to be, pursuing a career in journalism. So rather than try and change what made her unique, she nurtured it, knowing it would set her apart.

“I also had a seventh-grade teacher who inspired me, saying no matter who you are, someone will find something wrong with you,” Kamaria recalled. “She noted that people even picked on Gandhi and Jesus.”

This message stuck with Kamaria, and today, she shares it with teens in her Chica Chat workshops, typically one-time sessions through schools and community groups that begin with ice-breaking activities, fostering connections among the kids, and then teach them to appreciate themselves and others for their unique qualities.  

“We talk about things that promote cattiness and dysfunction among female relationships — shows like ‘The Real Housewives,’ ‘Basketball Wives,’ ‘Love & Hip-Hop,’ ‘Bad Girls Club.’ All of these shows make it seem like this is normal, how women react to one another,” Kamaria said.

“Even shows like ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ cultivate this sense of competition, where ‘I have to be better than her,’ ‘ I have to have more,’ and sometimes, ‘I have to put others down to elevate myself,’” Kamaria said. “I think those messages are skewed, because that’s not reality, but it’s shown as reality.”

Sorting through the media’s mix of messages helps students keep their focus, doing what they feel is right, rather than trying to simply fit in with their peers.

Recently, Chica Chat received a $2,100 grant as part of the Detroit SOUP grant/pitch competition in February. Different groups came together for dinner, each presenting a Detroit-based initiative they’re working on. Then, at the end of the night, everyone voted for the project they felt should receive all of the money raised at the event.

This year, Empowered Flower Girl LLC was the winner. The money will allow them to hold three school workshops in Detroit, and one with a community group, as well.

“The schools won’t have to go out of their budget to have these workshops, which is the goal,” Kamaria said. “Some of the schools in Detroit are facing financial challenges.”

Chica Chat is just one of the workshops done by Empowered Flower Girl LLC. Another one is “Goal-setting through Vision Boards,” where boys and girls assemble collages out of donated magazines as a way to visually express and share their dreams.

Then there’s the workshop called “Communicating with Confidence,” for groups with student ambassadors that could use some guidance when it comes to confidently engaging the community on their cause.

Tonya Weary is the executive director for the Young Entrepreneur Series, an initiative by the Michigan Association for Female Entrepreneurs, of which she is also executive director and founder. Kamaria visited the young women in her group, as part of “Communicating with Confidence.”

“I love the fact she makes it very interactive, getting the girls involved, and you can definitely feel the passion when she’s speaking,” Weary said. “She brings the fear of speaking out of these girls, helping them to build confidence and building ways to communicate in a positive way with others. I think her workshop is excellent, the way she delivers it: entertaining, as well as very interactive, the girls participating in role-playing and such.”

All of the workshops have the same general goal: To give strength to young people who may doubt their own potential.

“We want to inspire them to live powerfully,” Kamaria said.

For more information about Empowered Flower Girl LLC, visit www.empoweredflowergirl.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.