The University’s chapter of the Pretty Brown Girls Club hosted their first conference Saturday with the aim of empowering women and children with darker skin tones. The program was designed to provide a platform for club mentors and guest lecturers to share stories about the types of struggles faced by girls of color.

Inspired by the original Pretty Girls Movement and its founder, Sheri Crawley, Azia Harris Martin, a junior at College of Engineering, founded Pretty Brown Girls Club #52 at the University in 2013.

“Sheri recognized the need to address the harmful messages about skin tone and beauty in media,” Martin said. “She was very concerned about the effect on girls who rarely see images of their own likeliness depicted in a positive manner. She created a product line for young ladies that carried the message ‘Pretty Brown Girls.’ ”

Nationally, the organization holds workshops, various events and clubs for girls and young women. In Ann Arbor, Pretty Brown Girls Club #52 offers mentorship, healthy dialogues and social activities to young girls.

“Through Pretty Brown Girls Club #52 here, we want to fulfill this mission and encourage girls to be happy in their beautiful brown skin,” Martin said.

LSA Student Government and the Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach sponsored the event, which was held on North Campus. The event’s theme, “Dream Big, ” centered around encouraging young girls to sustain passion and determination throughout their lives and careers.

A discussion panel allowed college students, high school seniors and professionals to share stories about facing and overcoming difficulties and insecurities stemming from the color of their skin.

Izetta Bright, a judge for Michigan’s 36th District Court, told the group about her life-long dream to become a lawyer and represent African American women, such as herself.

“The road had many bumps and bruises,” she said. “I came from the civil rights era and during that time, and even now, law has always been a white male dominated area and you couldn’t even imagine a Black woman in such a position. However, as Martin Luther King has shown, we can all be who we want to be if we dream big.”

Jolisa Brooks, a senior at Michigan State University, described her own journey to law.

“When I was nine years old, my father went to prison,” she said. “Being a product of the cocaine culture, which caused my family to break up, I wanted to be an attorney and give back to the community by writing policies. I care about environment policies because they affect Black people in brown bodies differently.”

Adrian Roberson, a high school senior who has a passion for softball, openly talked about the sometimes hostile treatment she received at school.

“In my school where there were only five Black students, I faced many challenges,” she said. “There were teachers who didn’t know how to talk to Black students or help me. It was worse in my softball team since I was the only Black girl there and some team members shunned me and tried to get against me because of my culture and skin. But I worked hard, overcame the problems and showed my tremendous dedication. I managed to become the captain of the team.”

Following the discussion panel, members of the audience participated in separate workshops geared towards children and parents. While the children decorated mason jars, parents participated in interactive workshops that covered topics such as parental curriculum, balancing lives outside of work and their roles in society as women of color.

Despite the low attendance of University students in the audience due to Spring Break, Alexis Stanton, LSA junior and activity planner for the group, was happy and grateful for the opportunity to coordinate the event.

“We hope everyone in the audience leaves empowered and with the thoughts that it doesn’t matter where you come from,” she said. “You can do anything. And as a club, we hope to get bigger since we haven’t yet gotten our name out there yet.”

Martin was also eager to share about the future plans, including a two-year anniversary celebration.

“We want the whole community to be involved, not just African Americans,” she said. “We want all brown girls from different backgrounds and cultures to become part of the group so that we can talk about these issues and help each other.”

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