Today was a celebration of the 200+ women who have earned degrees through the GEMS education initiative. We were introduced to the women who have graduated from the program, and those who are in school exploring their own paths and futures. They spoke to us through a beautiful video and then, during a panel discussion moderated by GEMS CEO and Founder Rachel Lloyd, they discussed their unique hurdles as girls of color and their struggles in school prior to “being in the life.” Coupled with this level of trauma and the road blocks placed in front of them, they continued to work towards their coveted bachelor’s degrees.
They are mothers, students and survivors; but more importantly they are radically intelligent and determined to claim the freedom and pure mental enjoyment that education brings. They are succeeding so beautifully.
The absolute reality in this country is that poor women of color will have a much harder road in school starting as early as kindergarten. They are often seen to be more adult, becoming fetishized, harassed and dismissed. And some may have less support at home. As two survivors of sexual exploitation made clear today, they are confronted with having to overcome years of being told they are “worthless and stupid,” or they are expected as a teen mom “to stay home from school to be a mom.” They also struggle with “having to now deal will a 9-5 schedule versus being out all-night making money.” Each of these women recounted the fear of failure, and the fear they simply didn’t have what it takes. Their mentors in the GEMS Educational Initiative Program are their cheering them on every step of the way, while also validating thosefears and accepting that truth.
One of the women expressed her pain and her triumph. When she left the life as a young teen. she was highly traumatized and didn’t know how to process that trauma. She couldn’t handle both the trauma and high-school. Once she was able to address the trauma, GEMS helped her gain entry into a specialized high school. She graduated valedictorian of her class.
Education is expensive. Beyond tuition there is the cost of books, their stipends, metro-cards and of course the salaries of those working behind the scenes to keep this program moving forward. GEMS is relying on funding and donations to supplement the scholarships and financial aid the girls are granted.
It goes without saying that founder Rachel Lloyd was beaming at this event. It’s a true testimonial to her belief in and support of these women and girls. GEMS proves over and over that when you empower survivors they will achieve their dreams.
Found & Chair, Life Preservers Project