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Glow Up conference empowers Black girls

Three Black teenage girls sit at a table in what appears to be a gym. The one closest to the camera is wearing a tiara over her braids.
Denajah Phillips wears a tiara while attending the Glow Up conference, put on by Love First. Attendees enjoyed a day of yoga, drumming, and presentations. (CBJ photo: Jasmine McBride)

This past Saturday about 50 young Black girls gathered at the Glow Up conference, an event created to challenge the stereotypes of Black women in mainstream society and reawaken more positive ideas.

The Glow Up conference is produced by the local non-profit Love First, whose work is rooted in racial and youth justice. The theme of this year's conference was all about replacing oppressive narratives with love and joy. According to Love First Executive Director Satara Armstrong-Allen, a young Black girl may not even recognize that she can manifest love and joy, as a result of systemic oppression. 

“These Black girls who are out here [in Minnesota], they don't have spaces. People reject us and we have to put up walls to protect ourselves. And so it's always important for us to have safe spaces to gather, and where they can feel accepted,” said Armstrong-Allen.“Anytime Black women are in the same space and operating in our brilliance, connecting and sharing gems with each other – there's so much healing in that.” 

Held at the Black Youth Healing Arts Center this year, the Glow Up Conference offered an array of identity building workshops and Black-centered resources, including food and self care bags containing gifts from local Black-owned businesses. 

A group of Black teenage girls stand in yoga poses in a classroom. They face away from the camera.
Participants in the Glow Up conference take part in a range of activities designed to build self-esteem, including yoga and drumming. (CBJ Photo: Jasmine McBride)

Founder Chauntyll Allen says at the center of the Glow Up conference series is a racial equity tool she identifies as 'restorative exposure.' In a world where Black identity is oftentimes viewed through a negative lens, Allen says restorative exposure involves placing an array of positive leaders in front of youth as inspiration. The message is that, no matter where they come from, their options are wider than they think. 

“Black girls really need to see other Black women that are doing great things, so that they can have something to really reach for to thrive and grow. A lot of times they look to music artists and all of these things that are on the surface to say, ‘that must be what my greatness is.’ So we have to expose them to all of the great Blackness that exists in our community” said Allen. “If I'd known that there were things out there beyond what I could see that I could be, then I probably would have reached further than what I did.” 

Black Youth Healing Arts Center Director of Community Engagement, Kylie Burge, says the conference even had an impact on her. This year’s event featured a panel in which community members shared their personal stories of stepping into their power. 

Burge, who is 23, says the panel challenged some of her beliefs about herself as a suburban-raised Black woman. She says hearing the stories of women who came from more challenging environments than she did inspired her to rethink her own resilience, and see herself a part of the community rather than separate.

“There's so much learning that we can do from each other and where we come from, because the reality is, people are coming from worse situations. I'm walking away knowing I’ve got stuff to do in being the powerful Black woman that we are capable of being.”

Three Black women sit together, smiling at the camera.
Love First Founder Chauntyll Allen, Lip Esteem owner Tameka Jones and St. Paul Councilwoman Anika Bowie. (CBJ photo: Jasmine McBride)

Junior high students Lyric Higgins and Ameeyah Hill, who live in urban areas, say they felt empowered as well.

“It feels good and you can relate to a lot of people. We had a lot of fun doing peaceful activities to ease our minds,” said Hill.

They say their favorite activity was drumming. Overall, they appreciated the sense of community.

“It feels really nice to know like you're not standing alone, or [that you're] going through struggles other people might be going through too,” said Higgins.

A woman in a blue jean jacket carrying a woven hand bag stands between two young Black girls, smiling at the camera.
Kumbè workshop facilitator Aiyana Sol Machado pictured with participants Milan Alowonle and Lola Alowonle. (CBJ photo: Jasmine McBride)

Lyric Higgins’ mother, Tahnea Brown, says she and her daughter have attended all three

of the Glow Up conferences, and the gatherings had a positive impact on both of their lives. Brown says, after seeing the effects on her daughter, she’s motivated to stay engaged with the work of Love First.

“She's happier, she's more outgoing, she's more confident in herself, and uses the tools that she gains at conferences to help function in life during junior high, like, ‘I'm better than this.’ And here at these events specifically, I don't have to be ‘mom.’ There's aunties, there's cousins, there's community members, there's friends… I am a part of this amazing village that is helping me raise my child and is supportive and loving in every aspect of life,” said Brown. “No matter what you need, there's somebody in, or connected to Love First, who will have your back – no matter what. It is a phenomenal organization.”

Overall, the event was an opportunity for Black girls to feel good. And as I peeked into the various workshops filled with young girls engaged in healing practices such as yoga and drumming, partaking in community conversations and bonding over a meal, the most consistent sights were smiles and laughter. It's safe to say that the focus of love and joy was felt and accomplished. 

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