AKOG in the Midst of a Crossroads to Diversify

Joanna Monge, Contributing Writer

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All Kinds of Girls (AKOG) has undergone major changes in their structure and management to address observations by mentors of color in order to meet the needs of the young girls of color they mentor. The change began in 2015, starting with an addition of an application process, followed by changes to their committees’ structures and curriculum, which are ongoing.

AKOG is a mentorship program between female-identifying students at Clark University and girls ages 9-15 years old from the surrounding neighborhoods in Worcester.  The purpose of the program according to Mentor/Administrative Coordinator, Nia Slater-Bookhart (‘19) is “to empower and promote self confidence.”  

Although AKOG operates under Clark University, it is a group effort, with funding coming from The Women’s Initiative of United Way of Central Massachusetts. In 2017, All Kinds of Girls received $12,000 in funding from this initiative.

The program currently operates in two sections: the young mentees, ages 9-12, and the junior mentees, ages 13-15. The mentors range from first years to seniors from Clark University. Every weekend the number of girls attending ranges from 30 to 60 girls.

In 2015, Slater-Bookhart joined AKOG as a first-year. As a black woman, she noticed the lack of representation amongst the mentors, particularly amongst the steering committee (executive board), compared to the mentees, who are mostly young girls of color.

“There were four total mentors of color, and two women of color that spoke Spanish,” explained Slater-Bookhart.

Solely a mentor at the time, Slater- Bookhart observed that there was a disconnect in rhetoric when the predominantly white mentors spoke to their mentees of color, especially in regards to race and culture. The common response to the mentees of color by the white mentors was “I’m sorry.”

The two mentors of color had to bridge the gap between the young girls and the white mentors.  

Prior to the summer of 2016, Slater-Bookhart, alongside another mentor of color, Fatima Orta (‘19),  were elected to join the steering committee. Slater-Bookhart and Orta thus began making changes in the internal works of AKOG.

Once the fall semester of 2016 began, the selection for mentors changed completely. Beforehand, the procedure to become a mentor was simply a female identifying student at Clark attending the general interest meeting and open training, and then they were a mentor.

Now, in order to become a mentor, students must fill out an application and are then participate in a small group interview process.

The shift from an open vetting process to a more selective process resulted from the fact that Slater-Bookhart noticed that these young girls of color could not see themselves in their white mentors.

The marketing and outreach committee worked on the recruitment process by reaching out to Clark University’s women of color through personal connections and by talking to university groups/clubs like Sisters in Stride, the on campus support group for women of color.

“We framed it to the women of color that they were needed and that they had a duty to let the girls of the community know that there are women of color navigating these spaces (higher education institutions),” said Slater-Bookhart.  

At the the beginning of the 2017-18 school year there were 11 mentors of color in AKOG.

The shift to diversify the program also affected the structure of the curriculum committee. This committee’s responsibility is to put together the agenda of activities for every Saturday of the academic year.

Tobie Chase, Junior Mentor Coordinator, alongside other members of the steering committee started including more issue-based activities into the curriculum.

Over the past months AKOG offered Social Justice Day, and on another Saturday, Friendship Day. The mentees were able to participate in activities and conversations led by DIVEST Clark, social justice activists Linda Mindaye (‘19) and Arielle Pierre (‘18), SAFE, and Choices. The mentees had conversations ranging from what makes up a healthy relationship to how they can get involved in their communities to create change.

Gillian Rude (‘19), a member of the curriculum committee, was previously also a part of the Healthy Connections committee, which started as a part of this shift that AKOG was ongoing in 2015.

The Healthy Connections Committee worked to build the relationships between the mentors and their mentees by being the resource other mentors went to to resolve issues that their mentees had communicated to them, like familial or personal issues.

Rude explained how this initiative was meant to foster better relationships, however the committee has since dissolved, for it was concluded that, “it [healthy connections committee] had the potential to do more harm than good.”

The result of the dissolution of this committee is an ongoing project by the steering committee to create resource packets for the mentees to become aware of the resources they may not have known are available for them in their community.  

The resource packets will cover a wide range of topics, including information about immigration/DACA, mental health resources, internships/youth groups in the area, and academic tutoring. The packets are meant to replace the Healthy Connections Committee by taking the focus off the mentors and shifting it towards the mentees, for the resource packets will allow them to interact with their community and get access to professional help if necessary.

Sariana Angel, a junior mentee of two years decided to join AKOG because her step sisters had attended AKOG previously, but stopped coming. Angel stated that she continues to come to AKOG because “we talk about political issues and empowerment, things that I don’t really talk about in school.”

“I feel comfortable and safe in this space to talk about these things. … The mentors have been in our place before and now they are in college and they provide moral support,” she explained.

The resource packets are aiming to be complete by the end of spring semester 2018. The steering committee and the mentors are working on recruiting more girls from the local Worcester schools in order to continue this ongoing change in AKOG.