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On Bringing Back Knowledge and Giving to the Community: An Interview with Ateira Griffin

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Our BlackHer Shero of the Week is Ateira GriffinShe is a community organizer.  Griffin and her brother, Korrey Eggleston, were raised by her mother and grandmother. Ateira observed from a young age that Black women have the heart and soul to make the world go around!  She also observed that we can be even more effective with empowering information, tools, and resources. Today, Ateira leads several organizations, (Yes, you read that correctly!). These organizations empower Black women and other people and provide valuable resources to the Baltimore community.

Angela:  Hi Ateira. Thanks for talking to BlackHer today! Can you tell us about your work?  What do you do?

Ateira: Honestly, I wear a lot of hats. I’m a community organizer, the CEO and founder of a nonprofit and an entrepreneur. (I also volunteer locally.)

First, in terms of paid work, I am the director of Baltimore Rising, where I lead a 7-week leadership development program for Baltimore City residents.  Through this program, residents learn how to organize themselves and promote policies to help their community.  We bring a diverse group of citizens together and teach them how the city government works. Then, they often end up working together to push initiatives of common interest forward. It’s a great program.

I am also the founder and CEO of BOND, Building Our Nation’s Daughters, a fiscally sponsored, 501(c)(3) organization that I started 4 years ago.

At BOND, we help single mothers and their daughters cultivate positive relationships. Together, they grow and develop. The BOND experience is transformational for both mothers and their daughters. Unlike other mentoring programs where the daughter is paired with another person, which can lead to moms not being involved in the relationship, we focus on building relations between mothers and daughters. We know that mom will always be there.  She’s got the primary relationship with her child, so we focus on building that relationship.

Studies show that when a daughter has a positive relationship with her mom she does better academically and emotionally and is more likely to achieve her goals.  Mom is her example of how to live, and she’s right in front of her.

In addition, Mom must have the skills to manage her own life and be an example to her daughter.  We also create mom mentors so single mothers can mentor each other!

Angela:  I love this! 

Ateira: We couple the mentoring with a wrap-around curriculum, which includes understanding crisis management, learning how to talk to others, and determining how to make and meet goals. We also teach our mentors how to be good mentors.  Last, BOND is a hub for resources.  It is hard to navigate the systems like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), reduced energy bills, tax assistance or healthcare services that can help people receive support. You need to understand how to navigate these agencies.  We make sure our moms get the help they need, and we connect them to key resources.

We also work with our moms on creating policy change.  For example, we are advocates for raising the minimum wage – we “Fight for $15.”  Our single moms testified and wrote to their legislatures to persuade them to raise the minimum wage.  They are minimum wage earners, and they have a unique voice that legislatures don’t hear from enough.

Angela:  What amazing work!  And there’s more.  Let’s talk about your media outlet, Point of Hue.  What’s that?

Ateira:  Point of Hue is a bi-weekly podcast, where we talk about all things impacting women of color.  We have the “Is this real life?” segment where we discuss conduct that is this still happening to women of color in the 21st century.  We also have DisruptHers, a segment where we highlight women in the community who are acting to change things.  We interview women to amplify their work and experiences as women of color.

I work on Point of Hue with a partner, named Salimah Jasani.  She’s Indian and Muslim, I am African American and Christian.  We have different hues and we often talk about the intersection of identity and how that shapes and affects us. It’s interesting because even though we are different, as women of color we often have very similar life experiences.  We believe these similar experiences can bring women of color together.  Folks can find Point of Hue on iTunes, Stitcher, Facebook, Instagram and other places for podcasts.

Angela:  You are doing a lot in the space. Why do you do this work? 

Ateira: For me, this work is personal.  Being a Baltimore native, I want to see my city thrive.  I also want to make sure the people of Baltimore are part of the city’s decision-making processes, and that Baltimore is in a stronger position to create better conditions for my people, and even better for my kids than they were for me.

My work with BOND is also deeply personal. My mother, Alisa Williams, and grandmother, Veronica Morton, were both single mothers.  I saw their sacrifice.  They taught me the meaning of community and unconditional love. I have a responsibility to take it further and show others what they taught me.

My grandmother was a mentor to my mother and me.  There was a nurturing and valuable generational connection in our household that I feel is missing among Black women today.  I wanted to bring that back with BOND.  Older generations have wisdom and knowledge that younger generations may lack.  If Black women can stop competing and just focus on learning from each other, we can gain so much. At BOND, we use a mentoring within the family model to make cross-generational mentoring work.

Angela:  And what about Point of Hue?

Ateira: I hate that the divide and conquer mechanism has worked so well against women of color.  I wanted to make a space where we could start to have conversations with each other and overcome our distrust. I want to understand and know about the history of other people. I prefer not to be ignorant. I believe once we come together we can accomplish anything.

Angela: I am amazed by the number of people, like you, who are doing several things, including blogging, running nonprofits, and more, while also working and raising a family.  Where do you get the energy from?

Ateira: I love this question! It does take a lot of energy.

The community itself re-invigorates me, as do thoughts of my grandmother and my mother. I recently spoke to young women at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) about voter engagement. A young lady came to me afterward with tears her eyes.  She said, “I want to say thank you. You are doing what I want to do, and I did not know there was a name for it.”  I am now introducing her to people I work with in the nonprofit leadership space. That’s energizing because part of my commitment is to leave something behind, a legacy, and to bring the next generation along.

Angela: This is all fascinating.  Is this “multi-tasking” typical of your generation or is something special going on in Baltimore?  Is there a movement? 

Ateira: Yes, the multiple interests are typical of my generation, and yes, there is a movement within my generation.

I am an older millennial. We were in voting booths for the election for the first Black President. We know that we influenced the election’s outcome.  It gave us a feeling that we could change things and create our own reality in this country.

Then we got hit with the recession. I graduated from college at Morgan State University, in 2008. I had to struggle to find a job after graduating. I was an engineering major.  There were no jobs for me in my field.  So, I had to figure out how to re-invent myself.  My peers and I also figured out that we had to redefine the American Dream. We know that you can’t count on any job to sustain you.  And, the wealth or status a position brings is illusory because it can disappear overnight. What you can count on are yourself and usually others. That feeling is typical of my generation.

What we are also doing is throwing “the competition thing” out the window. My generation strives for connection, not competition.

The old definition of the American Dream doesn’t work so well with my generation because it is all about INDIVIDUAL success.  It is all about you! That does not work in the Black community.  Individual success is great, but if you are not bringing back knowledge and giving back to the community, you are failing. We see ourselves as unsuccessful if we can’t bring our community with us. Community success is a must.

Angela:  Let me ask you the Miracle Question. You go to sleep tonight and wake up in the morning and it’s November 2019.  The miracle has occurred for Black women.   What happened?

Ateira: The first thing that comes to mind is that Black women see ourselves as who we really are.  We stop believing the lies.  We stop striving to meet society’s definition of black women and questioning whether we are valuable. We have learned to love ourselves first. We come together to support each other, uplift each other and take on leadership roles in spaces where we have not led before because we know we need to be in those spaces to see true progress.

I see every possible system of oppression being disrupted because Black women are selfless; we make decisions for the good of everyone.  I see every faulty system being disrupted because Black women have decided to show up and lead as our true selves – as powerful, compassionate, liberating leaders of the world.

So maybe we should ask ourself, “Hey Black woman! Do you know who you are? Who you really are?” and then miracles will be the reality.

 

 

 

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