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City summit emphasizes inspiring young girls

Talia Whyte | 8/20/2008, 5:06 a.m.
Amelia Aubourg (left) of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay and Lanita Tolentino of the United Way...
Amelia Aubourg (left) of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay and Lanita Tolentino of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay lead a roundtable discussion at the third annual Citywide Girls Summit, held last Saturday at Simmons College. Talia Whyte

Over 130 girls from across the city went to Simmons College last Saturday to be inspired, feel empowered and have fun, all at the same time.

Co-sponsored by the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) and the Simmons Institute for Leadership and Change, the third annual Citywide Girls Summit offered teen girls an opportunity to get educated about a number of important topics they should be concerned about — both now and when they get older.

The idea for the summit came from BCYF leadership coordinator Erika Butler, who wanted to give girls that normally do not have access to mentors or the college environment some exposure to both.

“I had mentors in my life that inspired me,” Butler said. “I want to give other girls the same experience. Today is a chance for girls to learn from accomplished women from the community, as well as from each other.”

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in a variety of workshops on topics ranging from self-defense tactics to negative portrayals of women in the media. The most popular workshop, however, dealt with sexual education and wellness, where the girls had an animated conversation about healthy dating and relationships.

Workshop organizers said discussions like these are more important than ever, especially as sexually transmitted diseases — particularly HIV/AIDS — continue to have a disproportionately detrimental effect on black and Hispanic women.

According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, while blacks and Hispanics make up a combined 12 percent of the state’s population, over 28 percent of blacks and 25 percent of Hispanics are living with HIV. In addition, over 80 percent of new HIV infections diagnosed last year were among black and Hispanic women.

Roslindale resident Kim Guillaume, 18, said she was glad she attended the sexual education workshop, and hopes other attendees learned how to better take care of themselves.

“I thought I got good information,” she said. “A lot of kids don’t have the right knowledge about sex or about how their bodies work.”

In one new feature at the summit, entitled “Girl Talk,” the young attendees were broken up into small groups to participate in roundtable discussions led by professional women from different career fields.

“I think it is important to give back to the community,” said Amelia Aubourg, marketing manager for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay, who led one of the roundtable discussions. “I think it is exciting to do this, and help out another young girl to get on track for a positive future.”

Over the past few months, BCYF has also hosted monthly “Girls’ Night Out” events, such as film viewings and skating nights, Butler hopes to continue the programming into the school year and provide a positive space for Boston’s young women.

“I want girls to realize their true potential to change the world,” she said.