Looking for the Roots of the Problem
The program teaches the girls a new way of being together and supporting each other as they navigate a system that can feel like it has been designed to make them fail: concentrated poverty, food insecurity, racial segregation, schools that don’t receive infusions of resources from their community, teachers overwhelmed by the needs of their students. The neighborhood’s Brackenridge High School, with 98 percent minority enrollment, is almost fully segregated, and ninety percent of the students there qualify for free lunch.
For the high school leaders at Girl Zone, this means they are juggling part time jobs on top of everything else.
“A lot of them are working and helping out their families,” Victoria says.
Facing so much injustice requires a special kind of resilience to avoid becoming bitter or resentful, so the accordion lessons will soon give way to discussions in which staff model the principles of transformative justice.
“Transformative justice is a new concept to us,” explains Victoria, “and we are excited to learn how we can implement community accountability and community based organization.”
For those unfamiliar with the idea, transformative justice aims to address root causes rather than individual injustices. While charities like food banks and homeless shelters provide important short term assistance, transformative justice hopes to improve society by working on the social conditions that lead to injustice in the first place. For San Antonio, this means addressing inequity experienced by a community like Dignowity.
These are big ideas to throw at fifth graders during summer camp, so Victoria takes a relational approach, teaching the girls to love each other, love others, and ultimately develop enough self-confidence to love themselves.
“You grow, like, a family bond around here,” explains Jala, one of the high school mentors. “It’s like a sisterhood.”
“Girl power,” agrees Linda, a camp counselor who has been with the program for 12 years. Linda is now working toward a nursing degree at the University of the Incarnate Word.
Results like this are why the Martinez Street Women’s Center was invited to participate in one of the H. E. Butt Foundation’s first capacity-building cohorts. The foundation aims to support transformational work in organizations all across San Antonio.
Annabelle has a few years before she graduates from camper to Girl Zone mentor, but it is clear that she, too, is finding her voice, learning what it means to be accountable to her community, and maybe even growing into an agent of transformative justice.
Just after she finishes this accordion lesson.