What if young girls in the city could imagine for themselves a life unhampered by poverty or crime or other negative circumstances? What if the city’s residents could imagine its young girls as intelligent, confident and full of possibilities? Pascha Lee started pondering those questions after agreeing to mentor a middle school girl through her workplace mentoring program.
“I realized that not everyone has the benefit of a caring adult,” she says. “What you’re exposed to makes all the difference. If you’re born and raised in one part of Baltimore, many times that’s all some of our girls know. But if someone comes along and broadens your horizons and exposes you to other states, cities , countries and other cultures, it makes all the difference.”
In 2007, Lee started Imagine Me Ministries, an after-school mentoring program at Friendship Preparatory Academy at Calverton, the middle school she attended as a child. The goal was to use one-on-one, group- and peer-mentoring relationships to foster young girls’ talents and abilities. Lee works to equip the young women in her program with the tools and life skills to transition from middle school to high school to college and adulthood confident and socially balanced.
Over time, Lee says it became clear that the girls, ages 12 to 15, also needed help making the connection between academic success and financial stability. “It became increasingly difficult to get the girls engaged in the academic component of the program,” she says. Her efforts to get the girls to participate in a book club or to complete homework assignments were unfruitful and “honestly disheartening.”
To combat that, Lee will introduce a new component of the after school program–the Imagine MEBook project. She will use her fellowship to teach her girls how to write their own stories for compilation in a book that they will publish, market and sell. And in the book, they will be the stars. “My goal is to get them–from start to finish–to write their own chapter on who they are as a girl in Baltimore city. The book will be a compilation of all of the girls’ stories,” Lee says. “What person doesn’t want to read his or her own book?”
Through the process of writing their chapter, the girls will work on many of the aspects of the original after-school program: critical thinking, reflection and self-image. The girls will also be developing important academic and job-related skills such as writing, reading, proofing and computer skills.
They will have to work together to improve each draft of the book until it is just right, encouraging teamwork and collaboration. “We will put together a marketing plan and decide as a group on our price. How are we going to sell it?” Lee says. “We will all brainstorm about things like what will the book cover look like and what do you want the world to see about you?” In addition, the girls will learn how to develop a website and will lead the process of marketing and selling the book. She also hopes people will buy and read the book and learn something about these girls.
“As a Black woman and having been born and raised in the city, many times we are judged right off the bat,” she says. “People should know that what they think they see is not all there is. There’s a lot of light in Baltimore.” When the book is complete, Lee hopes the girls will have learned new skills as well as new things about themselves, especially the fact that they are capable of accomplishing great things.