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Finding #BlackGirlMagic at Bryn Mawr

This February, Zahni Jackson-Garrett ’12 returned to Bryn Mawr to teach a series of wellness and empowerment workshops for Lower and Middle School students titled, “Bryn Mawr, Black Girl.” Sponsored by the Black Alumnae Network, the workshops were created for students who identify as Black, African American or mixed-race, to teach them how to support one another, find sisterhood and know that they all belong at Bryn Mawr.

When alumna Zahni Jackson-Garrett graduated from Bryn Mawr in 2012, she felt she had the answers to many of the typical questions seniors are asked. She knew she would be attending George Washington University in the fall, majoring in Peace Studies, and that she was a 13-year Bryn Mawr girl. The question she felt unprepared to answer was, “What was it like to be a person of color in a predominantly white school for your whole life?” 

Jackson-Garrett says she spent many years searching for the language to address that question, and to reconcile it with her love for Bryn Mawr. “I loved my class. Everyone had a story, but the one thing I wish I’d had during my time at Bryn Mawr was more guidance from role models that looked like me. I remember feeling confused and isolated by the racial optics on campus. I loved Bryn Mawr, but didn’t understand why there were so few Black and brown people; I thought it must be a problem with me or with people of color!” 

Jackson-Garrett recalls having a tough time with her self image and acceptance after graduation, and wanted to figure out a way to help other Bryn Mawr students who might be struggling with the same feelings. She says “Bryn Mawr, Black Girl” was the result. 

“I wanted to offer an interactive experience to our young students because they need guidance and visual representation in order to thrive at Bryn Mawr. Children learn about themselves and the world from the images they see, the people they interact with, and the environments they experience. They interpret images directly, meaning they relate what they see to their own experiences, and often consider images as facts.”

Jackson-Garrett says she wanted to make her workshops a time when students of color could feel safe to work through their experiences, develop a sense of belonging to a network of Black and brown Bryn Mawr alumnae, and form a sisterhood with current students who might be experiencing the same struggles.
 
“When girls of color do not see people of color widely represented in their own environment, they can develop a belief that they do not authentically belong to that environment, that they ought to modify or justify their existence. My biggest hope is that “Bryn Mawr, Black Girl” will give every student the confidence and assurance to know that they belong and develop an even more loving sense of self.”

 
Through music, meditation, journaling, games, worksheets about identity and leadership and open discussions, students who attended had the opportunity to engage with alumnae, faculty of color and members of the Upper School Black Student Union in a meaningful way that is not always possible during the school day. The group centered their discussion around students of color, and discussed topics such as hair, practicing affirmations, how to be and find positive role models, and what diversity and inclusion looks like at Bryn Mawr.

In a powerful end to the series, students received their own crowns in a crowning ceremony to remind them that they are “Black girl magic.” The phrase stems from a movement popularized by CaShawn Thompson in 2013 with the #blackgirlmagic in an effort to celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of Black women and counteract some of the negativity that is too often associated with being a Black woman. 

Jackson-Garrett says she hopes students left feeling renewed hope and positivity about their Bryn Mawr experience. “I want them to be proud to be Bryn Mawr girls and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they belong at Bryn Mawr,” said Jackson-Garrett. “Asian, Latinx, Native American and LGBTQIA students also need spaces that center their experiences and celebrate their presence on campus. I hope Bryn Mawr will create these opportunities with a sense of urgency. Their unique experiences and ideas can help strengthen and uplift the entire Bryn Mawr community.”
“I’d like to thank Talia Titus for allowing me to do this work, artist, Evette Monique for hand making 20 plus wire crowns, The Land of Kush for cooking up vegan soul food, alumna Monita Harrison-Travis ’15, Christine Wyatt ’14, and Zakiya Shivers ’02 for volunteering their creative expertise.” - Zahni Jackson-Garrett ’12
 
My daughter is a deep thinker. She is keenly aware of the differences between her and many of her classmates, however, it isn’t a major hindrance, just the occasional hiccups. I hope this program will aid in fostering healthy relationships with older girls of color, further develop her leadership skills and offer a safe space for her to just be.
- Bryn Mawr Parent
I want her to embrace the beauty of herself, her culture and roots and be an advocate and teacher of who she is. I want her to walk her own path as a leader with pride, grace and dignity. Every positive role model helps with this journey.

- Bryn Mawr Parent