PEOPLE’s Voices from the Fight Against Racism will amplify Black perspectives on the push for equality and justice

By Rachel Cargle
August 04, 2020 11:00 AM
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Rachel Cargle is an Akron, Ohio-born public academic, writer and philanthropic innovator and serves as the founder and president of The Loveland Foundation, a not-for profit offering free therapy to Black women and girls. She recently launched The Great Unlearn, a self-paced, self-priced community of people learning outside the traditional institutions of Academia. Her upcoming book, I Don’t Want Your Love and Light (The Dial Press, Penguin Random House), examines the intersection of race, feminism and womanhood.

I remember being a little Black girl in the pews of my church and being told by the Black women, who acted as both religious educators, second mothers and loving big sisters all at once, that I had everything I needed to be a leader — to not question my abilities but to continue to acknowledge and celebrate my strengths. I would carry these words back to my suburban neighborhood in white, small-town Ohio. I believed them, even as I walked the halls of a school where I was the only one with brown skin.

Those words guided me as I tried out for the lead in the school play, as I ran for class president and as I volunteered to organize the 5th grade end-of-year party. Everything about who I was in those spaces would have suggested a “struggle” in leadership, but everything about how I showed up in those spaces spoke to the very opposite. I was told I was a leader, I believed I was a leader, and so I consistently found opportunities to be one.

But it wasn't without question of my “audacity” — I can remember in 1st grade a teacher demanded I tell her which of my parents did my part of a group project because there was no way I could have developed those ideas on my own. And then again in 6th grade a teacher asked me who I thought I was reading such “advanced literature” when I should stick to the elementary school shelf. In both instances I was simply stepping into what I knew I was capable of, and instead of the praise and appreciation I saw my white classmates receiving when they excelled, I was instead met with suspicion.

And I'm not the only Black girl who has this type of story to tell: being underestimated, being over managed and being dismissed as I sought to excel.

In Girls Leadership’s newly released study, Ready to Lead by Charlotte E. Jacobs, Ph.D., data was collected and analyzed to explore the leadership supports and barriers for Black and Latinx girls. This groundbreaking study surfaces the personal, societal and structural factors that deeply impact Black and Latinx girls’ leadership identity, aspiration and skill development. It uncovers and highlights truths of so many little Black and Latinx girls who shared a similar story to mine.

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There is the intersection of race and girlhood that contributes to the ways that Black and Latinx girls experience the world and leadership in particular. This study exists alongside years of research that focuses on one or the other but not both, and certainly not as it applies to young girls. And herein lies the importance of a study like Ready to Lead: When we can pinpoint the ways to support Black and Latinx women's leadership in such formative years, we can eliminate the disparities we are seeing in societal and corporate culture.

Rachel Cargle

The findings of the study are what I, a Black woman, would say is of no surprise. My truth as a young Black girl and the light I see in the young Black girls of today made it obvious what young Black and Latinx girls are capable of when it comes to leadership — but the data shows that their white teachers, institutions and classmates who often act with bias and in complacency with the structures of white supremacy and racism are missing what's right under their noses: Black and Latinx girls are ready to lead.

The Ready to Lead study has the following findings:

  1. Black girls are the most likely to self-identify as leaders (48%) compared to girls of other races (36% of Latinx girls identify as leaders, 33% of multi-ethnic girls, 31% of white girls, and 25% of Asian girls).
  2. Over 1 in 3 Black and Latinx girls who score highly on the leadership scale have reported witnessing racial bias.
  3. The presence of a mentor in girls’ lives was positively correlated with higher scores on the Roets Leadership Scale as well as the earning of higher grades.
  4. Over 1 in 3 Black teachers in the study noted that at their schools, students of color experienced bias and unfair treatment.
  5. Black and Latinx girls score higher on the Roets Leadership Scale than girls of other races/ethnicities even if they are in schools with predominantly white teachers. However, in schools with predominantly teachers of color, Black and Latinx girls score even higher on the leadership scale.

I encourage anyone who works in any direct way with young girls to read this report and take accountability for the ways that they are showing up for Black and Latinx girls. The details this report offers can act as a new lens through which you reconsider the contributions and celebrations of our girls in your spaces.

Lastly, I encourage Black and Latinx girls and women to give it a read to be seen. To see our voices and experiences captured and celebrated. To be reminded that our experiences were not unique — it is the system that needs to be fixed, not us. We have always been and will continue to be ready to lead.

Girls Leadership — a national, educational nonprofit that is "fiercely committed to teaching girls K–12 to exercise the power of their voice" — hopes its Ready to Lead findings, announced Monday, "will monumentally impact the way that girls, especially Black and Latinx girls, are supported and taught to become skilled and ambitious leaders," the organization says. "These findings quantify both the strengths and assets of Black and Latinx girls and proves that they are poised to step into leadership — at school and beyond. Yet, institutional racial and gender bias in educational organizations and the broader society prevent Black and Latinx girls from fully activating their potential. This new data will serve to inform new curriculum and pathways for leadership development for the diverse needs of 25 million girls across the U.S., initiating necessary changes within educational institutions to address systemic gender and racial injustices." To get involved, visit readytolead.girlsleadership.org and use #ReadyToLead on social media.