Finding a Voice with GEM


Girl power is no longer a passé slogan from the Spice Girl era; it is a movement that young women of our generation are cultivating.

On May 17th, Abe Stark Primary (PS) 346 embraced this adage by hosting District 19’s Girls Empowerment Movement (GEM) at the Brooklyn Sports Club’s (BSC) gymnasium. The GEM initiative is designed to endow young women with the courage, support, and opportunities to realize their full potential. The program was developed by a group of well-accomplished female professionals (a business owner, a teacher, an insurance professional, and a partner of a law firm) who banded together to create a support network for girls. Instead of creating a competitive environment where women fight for a position, GEM teaches girls to work together and uplift one another.

This year, schools in District 19 have been learning the core values behind GEM: strength, confidence, beauty and voice. Various schools in the district have played host to these workshops with a core value as their theme. This month, PS 346 culminated the GEM journey by helping students express their voice through art.

Over 250 girls, from primary school through middle school, gathered in the BSC to participate in the final venture of this year’s GEM initiative. PS 346’s mentors, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Kishun were at the forefront of coordinating this event at the BSC. These two teachers created an ambiance that embraced femininity, with pink and black balloons hung in ordinate shapes, pink table cloths, and powerful words of self-value etched onto wooden boards. There was also the sweet aroma of delicious cupcakes for all to enjoy as they entered (and for their lunch break they dined on Subway sandwiches), which were provided by PS 346.

The event began with a performance by PS 346’s step team, which then was followed by a few speakers. Tamara Collins, the Deputy Superintendent for District 19, has been a proud participant in all of the GEM themed events. She spearhead the introduction of the final GEM core value—voice. “What does voice look like? Voice can sometimes be you standing up, and saying how you feel. Sometimes not saying anything at all is having a voice,” she said to the group of girls sitting on the gymnasium’s floor.

Upon entering the event, all of the attendees were invited to pick a workshop that they were interested in, allowing them to express their voice through visual arts. The students could choose from: singing, dancing, drums, African drums, photography, spoken word, poetry, and various art projects. At the end of the event, the girls were invited to showcase what they learned. “Think about how you can use your voice to make a difference,” Collins told the students.

Before the students split into their groups, NY State Senator Roxanne Persaud addressed the crowd. As a proud advocate for GEM, Persaud offered words of encouragement to all of those in attendance to never give up on their dreams. “I am super excited to be here. I walked in and I saw a beautiful sight—you! Girls showing that they can be a part of anything. It’s all about girl power! Today is about showcasing what girls can do when given the opportunity,” she said happily.

She reiterated the platform of GEM, stating that everyone in attendance has the ability to be the very first at something, perhaps the first female president. Persaud smiled and said that she did it herself, becoming the first black, first female, and first Guyanese person to be elected as New York State Senator.

Persaud was so impressed by the involvement of teachers and students that she chose a seventh grader from Gateway Intermediate School (IS)364, Jade Wanamaker, to pay her a visit over the summer and to be a State Senator for a day. “Today we are showcasing the positive in our community. Today is your first step in becoming whoever you want to become,” she said.

There were about 35 schools participating in the GEM event, and three of Spring Creek Towers’ local schools, Frederick Douglass Academy VIII, Gateway Inter-mediate School 364, and PS 346, were in attendance.

The teachers who were involved in the event were shown thanks by being given tiaras and golden pens as a sign of the students’ appreciation. This was the first time GEM has been hosted in the Spring Creek Towers’ community with the District 19 schools.

Photos by Amanda Moses