One year ago today, many were shocked by the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who died in Prairie View, Texas under police custody. Despite protests and media attention, similar circumstances repeated themselves in May when Symmon Marshall, a 22-year-old black mother, died under police custody in Huntsville, Texas.

Their deaths are just two of the instances of injustice that represent the myriad of social inequities affecting women of color today. Whether it’s punitive school discipline, health disparities, police brutality, or the juvenile justice system, our nation often fails to bring attention to the injustices facing this population.

“Black girls receive more severe sentences when they enter the juvenile justice system than members of any other group of girls”

Kimberle Crenshaw, executive director of the African-American Policy Forum, highlights the disparity in research on black girls and boys when it comes to the effects of juvenile justice in her report called “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected.” Crenshaw writes, “Black girls receive more severe sentences when they enter the juvenile justice system than members of any other group of girls,” adding, “In contrast to their counterparts, there is very little research highlighting the short- and long-term effects of over discipline and push-out on girls of color.” In fact, it has been five years since there has been substantial research showing the disparities in school discipline practices pertaining to young women of color—a reality that mirrors the problems indicated in Crenshaw’s data.

The gap in research between boys and girls of color calls for an increase in the number of organizations that work with young women of color in order to bring more attention to this community.

Sadie Nash Leadership Project is one of the many organizations that has set the standard for serving as a safe-space and providing resources for women of color through trauma care, social justice empowerment, and leadership opportunities by employing them to serve as deans.

What Is the Sadie Nash Leadership Project?

Community building, sisterhood, and social justice are three concepts that embody the work of the Sadie Nash Leadership Project. This organization, founded by Cecilia Clarke, has been able to serve hundreds of young women of color throughout the New York City and Newark, New Jersey areas since it opened in 2001. What makes Sadie Nash truly unique is its ability to serve as a nonprofit that provides in-house resources for young women of color through education.The community building, self-care, and empowerment curriculum that is seen through its initiatives—the Summer Institute, Ella Fellowship, and Sisterhood Academy —have also made the organization stand out.

Source: Sadie Nash Facebook.
Source: Sadie Nash Facebook.

The Summer Institute is a six-week summer program that offers the opportunity for young women of color from the age of 13–18 to not only learn from Sadie Nash staff by taking courses in social justice, colorism, and leadership, but also to be in a space where they are able to celebrate their identities and obtain college guidance. The participants also receive education about what Program Director Margarita Villa calls “transformative justice.” This concept encompasses the topics of self-care, social justice, sexual education, and reproductive justice for young women of color, who often find themselves in spaces that are not suitable for them to learn more or speak on these issues.

Both the Ella Fellowship and Sisterhood Academy provide an opportunity for young women of color who are unable to participate in the summer program to engage with the organization. The Fellowship provides resources for young women to create their own initiative and create a course for educating other young women of color.

Through the Sisterhood Academy, Sadie Nash is able to travel to schools throughout New York City and teach a course for young women on social justice and sexual reproductive education.

These three initiatives provide a sense of “transformative justice” to its participants, a feeling that inspired Villa to return to the organization as a program director after serving as a dean during the Summer Institute at Newark, New Jersey in 2011. Villa describes Sadie Nash as an entity that promotes social justice, fights oppression and injustice, and provides a “transformative experience for its Nashers.”

Sadie Nash is more than a non-profit that serves young women of color, it’s a place that many call home.

Sadie Nash is more than a non-profit that serves young women of color, it’s a place that many call home. In an interview with Villa, she mentions how, “It is necessary to have space like this,” in order to fight “intersection oppression.” This oppression of police injustice, sexual identity, and health disparities have been experienced by young women of color too often, and there is a need to increase the number of quality organizations working to address these issues.

Just as the nonprofit sector has taken on initiatives geared toward providing services to young women of color, so too has the federal government.

The Impact of the Every Student Succeed Act

The Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015. Not only did this bill revamp education in the classroom by promoting education for all and focusing on high standards; but it also promoted the importance of community partnerships through the Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods provisions.

Both of these initiatives are crucial in financially supporting the work of organizations like Sadie Nash Leadership Project that are committed to serving the needs of young women of color.

The White House Report on ESSA describes how the bill has generally been said to “ensure that we are doing a better job helping all our students master critical thinking, adaptability, collaboration, problem solving and creativity—skills that go beyond the basics for which schools were designed in the past.”

Although ESSA addresses the importance of a quality education through community collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity—it largely fails to focus on the severe barriers of injustice that young women of color face everyday, which impacts their education in the classroom.

Why We Need More Organizations like Sadie Nash Leadership Project

While there are a plethora of organizations that focus on singular issues, there is a greater need for institutions like Sadie Nash that concentrate on mitigating a host of issues to address the intersectional and wide-reaching issues of race and gender.

Turnaround For Children, for example, only provides resources for schools to tackle mental health issues in the classroom. This organization works with over 4,000 students and 400 educators across eleven schools in major northeast cities, and pairs each school with a community mental health provider to identify high-need students. While their work is vital in improving mental health, they don’t address many of the other issues faced by young women of color as effectively as Sadie Nash because of their narrow focus.

As Mercedes J. Okosi, New York University graduate in Applied Psychology, notes in her recent publication, “young women of color may experience trauma and resilience in a distinct manner linked to their social identities.”

Source: Flickr, Joe Brusky.
Source: Flickr, Joe Brusky.

Trauma may be better served and treated in organizations that not only provide identity education through its transformative justice curriculum, but also incorporates in-house social workers alongside experienced teams composed of women of color.

As Villa states, “spaces like these [Sadie Nash] are needed in order for young women of color to feel free.” In order for these women to continue to fight the social inequities they face everyday and to push back against the norms that allowed for Sandra Bland to die in police custody, there should be more spaces like Sadie Nash Leadership Project nationwide.

Cover Photo: March to honor Sandra Bland and protest deaths of black women in police custody. Source: Fibonacci Blue.