The International Day of the Girl Child may be over for this year, but WomenStrong International continues to reflect on the importance of considering EVERY day to be Girls’ Day. We need to work for, lift up and celebrate girls every day, as evidenced by these recollections of girlhood that last a lifetime.
Ms. Tawana Mason, a participant in Bread for the City’s WomenStrong DC program, grew up in northwest Washington, DC, the elder of two children. A stubborn and rebellious child, Ms. Tawana says she always had to have the last word. Not many people could tell her what to do, she felt, because she’d become independent at the young and vulnerable age of 14. She attributes her “unruly behavior” to the lack of a father figure in her life; as a girl, she describes herself as “very difficult, like a rock,” but she says that she blossomed “into a flower” soon after meeting the teacher who, along with her mother, had the most positive influence on her girlhood and who left her with indelible lessons that have informed her adult life.
That teacher was Brother Mark, an instructor at the Urban Academy, a Christian school in northwest DC. A father figure to Tawana, Brother Mark always took the time to correct her wrongs and to show her how to become a better person, not just as a student, Ms. Tawana claims, but in her life as a whole. Brother Mark taught her patience and discipline and was one of the two people whose positive influence on her girlhood helped guide her onto the right track and to feel well-rounded in many ways.
Ms. Tawana’s mother was the other positive influence in her young life. Her mother always took in anyone – complete strangers, even! – who had nowhere else to stay, teaching little Tawana that giving back to those less fortunate would bring blessings. Ms. Tawana confessed that she would sometimes be fearful of these unfamiliar people in her home, but she eventually realized that her mother, although she had very little herself, had a tremendous passion for helping others.
Both Brother Mark and Ms. Tawana’s mother helped her learn and adapt to new structure and rules. She smiles, recollecting a time when she was “acting out” in the school church, running around and jumping over the pews. Brother Mark pulled her aside and explained to her why her behavior was unacceptable. Ms. Tawana recalls being surprised and hurt that her mother allowed Brother Mark to step in. Now, as an adult and a parent herself, she understands: “The discipline taught me how to behave as an adult,” she explains.
Although the rules and structure were difficult for her to get used to, Ms. Tawana has been grateful for the discipline that has helped her organize her own life. Through all her hardships and her early sense of abandonment, which made it hard for her to appreciate that someone actually cared for her, she believes that Brother Mark and the Christian school taught her respect for herself and others.
Ms. Tawana has two children, whom she has raised to become loving and successful adults. She speaks with evident pride in her daughter, who is pursuing a college education and seeking a career in medicine. And she cherishes her son, who calls regularly to tell her how she has contributed to his own strength and endurance. She believes she could not have raised such wonderful children without the guiding hands of Brother Mark and her mother.
Indeed, Ms. Tawana credits the caring, patience and the appreciation for structure and rules, charity and discipline that she learned from Brother Mark and her mother with helping her in many aspects of her life. She recently graduated from Bread for the City’s Pre-Employment Program (PEP), a six-week life/job skills readiness program, and was able to obtain an eight-week internship at Bread for the City to assist with the organization’s annual “Holiday Helpings” campaign. This internship will allow her to translate what she learned in her six-week PEP class into direct practice. Following the internship, she hopes to find gainful employment helping the mentally ill or senior citizens, whom she says she especially loves to help.
Meanwhile, her girlhood mentors are still going strong. Her mother, now a leader of a prominent mental health agency, continues to nurture her passion for helping others. Brother Marc still volunteers in his community, helping children in need as he did for Ms. Tawana, way back when.
Looking back, Ms. Tawana expresses her gratitude to these two girlhood mentors, whom she credits with giving her the values that have served as steadying anchors for her and have helped her find her way. Now happy and thriving and eager to minister to people of all ages, she is gratefully aware that she couldn’t have done so without them.