Phenomenal Woman is a youth empowerment program for middle to high school aged young ladies of color. It is designed to encourage self-respect and to transform dysfunctional behaviors through the exercises of willpower and positive reinforcement and interactions with positive role models. Phenomenal Woman's goal is to motivate, inspire, encourage, and challenge young woman to look more critically at their life situations, find value in their lives, and maximize their potential. Groups of 8-12 young women meet regularly, and through a series of candid conversations, work through psychological and emotional barriers preventing them from realizing their full potential. Young ladies also learn to experience personal gratification and growth through community service activities that allow them to contribute to the community in a meaningful way; this increases their self-efficacy and sense of connectedness. Other activities include book club readings, movie reviews, and social advocacy.
The first Phenomenal Woman groups began meeting in 2007 in response to the identified need for young ladies to engage with one another in a positive manner. Chevelle Bailey, former Associate Director of Youth Development explains that, "Phenomenal Woman began as a way to create a female "collective," or a way for young females to connect across generations on a level that is not possible with members of the opposite sex." Today, Phenomenal Woman operates in several schools in Chicago: Collins Academy High School, Bethune Elementary and Johnson Elementary through UCAN's partnership with AUSL; Power House High School through UCAN's partnership with Homan Square; and at Michele Clark High School through generous funding from Chicago Public Schools. UCAN also hosts Phenomenal Woman groups in Chicago Housing Authority developments as well as in the Auburn Gresham community, the latter through a partnership with Safety Net Works. Phenomenal Woman has been primarily geared towards African-American young women, but this year a Latina group has also been launched.
Phenomenal Woman aims to address the realities that youth of color experience, facilitating discussions on difficult topics such as those of conflict management, leadership, self-esteem/knowing yourself and loving yourself, sex, womanhood, spirituality, education, positive relationships/relationship management, motherhood, violence prevention, life principles, healthy lifestyles, cultural identity, economics, and financial management. Each of these topics and messages are tailored to the specific age group of the young women. Another component to the small groups is goal setting.
Groups are run by UCAN's Youth Leadership Specialists, all of whom have gone through UCAN's Clinical Philosophy training. This is beneficial for Specialists because most of the young women they work with have seen a lot of trauma. The group leaders work with the young women to set personal, developmental, and educational goals for themselves. "The girls get excited about accomplishing their goals and are constantly asking when the next goal review session will be," says Chevelle. "The groups have been transforming for our young ladies - you can see a newfound consciousness about the way they live their lives. The girls want you to be proud of them, and we are."
To read an incredible story about Phenomenal Woman participant Bre'anna Lenton click here.