This Gold Award Girl Scout Is Fighting for Social Justice
I’m 23 years old, but I have known for a long time that I want to make a difference in the world. My family emigrated from the Caribbean, and they’re not involved in political or social justice issues. But I started Girl Scouts in first grade and stayed in through my entire childhood, even earning my Gold Award, and being a part of Girl Scouts helped me to make sustainable changes in my community as well as in other parts of the world.
My desire to help others started young. I grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn—a Caribbean neighborhood—but took a bus to the more affluent Park Slope neighborhood for school and was always struck by the differences in the two places. When I was in high school, I got involved in a program called Citizens Committee for Children, training high school kids to be change-makers in their communities. I met girls in New York City who had experienced sex trafficking in Kenya. These girls were as young as 12 and at the time my sister was 12, so it had a profound impact on me. I knew I had to do something, and I had already earned my Bronze and Silver Awards, so I decided to make this my Girl Scout Gold Award Project.
First, I did a lot of research to find out how to tackle the issue of sex trafficking, because I had the heart to do something but—as a high school student and not a lawyer or a social worker—I didn’t have the experience. I gathered a policy summit of community leaders so that everyone at the event could play a part in making small changes, because I wanted the change to be sustainable.
I aligned myself with a Kenya-based nonprofit, and I got my Girl Scout troop involved, too, gathering supplies to help rescued girls start their new lives. And my involvement didn’t end with my Gold Award project in 2014 or when I was named a National Young Woman of Distinction [now “National Gold Award Girl Scout”] later that year—two years ago my Girl Scout troop traveled to Kenya to deliver a round of supplies, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
My Gold Award project, and the worked that stemmed from it, left a lasting feeling of empowerment that has stuck with me—I have continued to work to improve institutionalized systems that marginalize people of color. In college, at American University in Washington, DC, I worked for the Department of Justice on civil rights issues for veterans, women, and children. I also created a program with a local youth group for at-risk students, to reverse the prison pipeline. These middle school students are being suspended for nonviolent issues, when they have lot going on at home and might not understand how the suspensions can impact their futures. I helped them understand the [school’s] code of conduct. As a result of my work, many of the students were able to have their suspensions reduced during the following school year. And I created a curriculum around leadership building, conflict resolution, and art therapy so that the work will continue. All the work I did on my Girl Scout Gold Award project really set me up to know how to manage this type of project.
I graduated from American in May of last year and took a job at the Federal Trade Commission. When I was younger, I would have said my plan was to go to law school and become a civil rights attorney. I am planning to return to the Department of Justice soon, but I don’t know what the future holds beyond that. I am not going to plan five to ten years ahead—I want to be thoughtful about the legacy I want to build.