How Can We Empower Young Girls? An Interview with Asha Ntim

How Can We Empower Young Girls? An Interview with Asha Ntim

By Dhruvi Soni

 

To start us off, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a wife and mom of three girls. I am the author of the Dark Brown Girl collection and founder and director of the Chrysalis Program. I am also a poet by nature.

 

What inspired you to write The DARK Brown Girl book series?

Colorism and eurocentric standards of beauty in our communities and all over the world can make girls with darker skin feel less beautiful. My children are beautiful dark brown girls. I want to solidify their self-confidence and self-image from infancy. I needed them to be so secure in themselves so that the opinions of others couldn’t rattle their self-image.

Affirmations have been a big part of my parenting. I was up one night, writing a poem of affirmations for my oldest daughter. The next day, I created a book with pictures that went along with the poem. I then shared the book that I wrote for my daughters on social media. I received inbox messages from parents of girls who struggled with self-esteem surrounding issues of skin complexion, hair texture, facial features, and body image. The Dark Brown Girl’s Book of Affirmations then turned into a series of books encouraging girls to love themselves.

 What inspired you to start the Chrysalis Program? 

The overwhelmingly positive response to the book inspired me to create workshops that addressed self-esteem issues of skin complexion, hair texture, facial features, and body image. I and a group of professionals I know, got together to plan out what the program might be like. The questions I asked them were, “What did you need as a girl? What aspects affect our self-esteem?” We needed to develop self-confidence by learning life skills, we needed to address trauma we experienced, and we needed creative outlets. Chrysalis program was thus born.

What is the Chrysalis Program?

The Chrysalis Program is a safe space for girls to be who they are with unconditional love, and enjoy what they enjoy unapologetically. I tried to create a space where there is unconditional acceptance.

Every class and all interactions have a point of mental health and love. Girls are shown love through a myriad of ways, from cooking to small gifts to hugs to reciting affirmations. The point of some classes is life skills, learning how to navigate life into adulthood, and what love is. In others, we are planting seeds for the future, teaching girls about financial literacy. I want girls to always remember the love, skills, and self-confidence they built in the program.

What do you love about the Chrysalis Program?

I love the feeling of love and acceptance that has become the culture at the Chrysalis Program. I love that it doesn’t only apply to students. Parents, volunteers, and instructors feel it too. It is so apparent in the parent class. It truly is a safe place to share, learn and cry together.

My favorite Chrysalis memory was the last day of our first annual Glamping Retreat. The retreat is a time when our students bond with each other and nature in cabins over a weekend. We cooked all our meals together, enjoyed workshops, did manis and pedis, hiked, and did rock climbing. After the retreat, when parents were picking up their children, there were at least five girls crying because they didn’t want the retreat to end. They said it was the best time they ever had. In moments when I feel burned out and depleted, I go back to that memory. It reminds me of why I’m doing all of this. 

What advice do you give young women in the program?

We first recognize that everyone is teachable, has value, and brings their unique set of experiences. Openness to learn and hear what others have to say are essential. I have also learned that if the seat at the table does not exist, I need to create it. Starting the Chrysalis Program has given me opportunities I previously did not have access to. I want girls to learn from that. If girls can meet black leaders, becoming a leader themselves seems possible. We remind girls that they too can become scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs, professors, and any other leader in a field.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, who are some strong women that you look up to?

I would like to highlight two women. First, I would like to highlight Project Upward Bound’s director, Bonnie Spears. Project Upward Bound is a college preparatory program designed to help low-income students successfully complete high school and enroll in college.

I joined the program in eighth grade. I was very shy and introverted, wanting to be invisible, but Bonnie Spears would encourage me and push me out of my shell. She saw something in me and would give me an award every year, like Woman of Distinction, Woman of Character, and Woman of the Year. These awards made me question why does she say that about me? Because she said I was a Woman of Character and Woman of Distinction, I felt like I needed to be it. She changed my life because as I got older, I started to grow into what she named me.

She was passed away some years ago, right as I was starting the Chrysalis Program, but she was so proud of the work I was doing and excited about my kids. She stayed in touch with me my whole life. Mentors like her model for me what I need to be for somebody else. She is the reason why I created the Chrysalis Program, and she is my inspiration.

I would also like to highlight Maya Angelou, a writer, and a poet. She is unapologetically herself, changing the game for black women in poetry. It was her poems that made me come out of my comfort zone in grammar school. We had an oratory, where we had to read poems out loud, and my dad gave me a book of Maya Angelou poems. Those poems were the poems that helped me find my voice in writing.  

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Master of Science in Education School of Education & Social Policy

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Phone: 847/467-1458

Email: msedprogram@northwestern.edu