Girls and Gangs Helps Girls Realize Potential for Greatness

Robyn Burleson, Intern, Women’s Foundation of California

I recently spoke with Dawn Brown, Executive Director and CEO of Girls and Gangs, a Women’s Foundation of California’s grant partner. Girls and Gangs is an inspiring organization based in Southern California that provides support and mentorship to young girls involved in the juvenile justice system.

In thinking about how to describe Dawn, it’s hard to find a word that adequately conveys the enthusiasm and dedication that she brings to her job. “Passionate” is an understatement. This powerhouse exudes an infectious energy for social change. Growing up in a low-income community in Washington DC, Dawn found herself surrounded by a culture of gangs and violence. She credits her mother for introducing her to the world of performance art and education. From the start, Dawn knew that she “was destined for something greater,” and she describes her work to empower young women of color as a “dream opportunity.”

In our conversation, Dawn shared stories of young women who have come to her for help after finding themselves in tough situations. Dawn explains, “It saddens me when we have girls who come to us and say that their goal in life is to survive past the age of eighteen or to get pregnant so that they can receive services to help their families.” Girls and Gangs helps mentor and support these girls to become better mothers, better daughters, and better students by helping them realize that they are more than just a crime that they’ve committed or the community that they came from: “Everyone makes mistakes, but we can all move past those mistakes.”

One story, in particular, really moved me. Dawn spoke of a young woman she met during a Girls and Gangs field trip to a Los Angeles Sparks game, sponsored by the Women’s Foundation of California. This young lady, a graduate of the Girls and Gangs program, introduced herself to Dawn and shared why she became involved with the Girls and Gangs program. She’d grown up with an abusive father, so when she was a teenager, she went to the police and asked for protection. She was placed in the foster care system. When she learned that her mom had died of AIDS, she began taking care of her two younger brothers while trying to keep up in school. She turned to Girls and Gangs for support, where she learned how to advocate for herself and her needs, as well as balance her responsibilities. In September, this brave young woman will begin her first year at Cal State Northridge. She knows that she always has a support system and a safe, trusting space at Girls and Gangs. Dawn acknowledges that it has been “so great to watch this girl come from a world where she was abused, and watch her develop into a tenacious, determined young lady who advocates for herself and her needs.”

Girls and Gangs aims to help young women realize their potential for greatness. Dawn recognizes that the empowerment of girls and young women is the key to lasting change: “Self-advocacy is so important. We must believe in ourselves and our voice. We must teach these young women to have their own voice, and teach them how to be confident and comfortable with their voice.”

Young girls are the mothers of future generation, and Dawn believes, “They are the ones who have the power to make the biggest impact on generations to come.”

The Women’s Foundation of California provides grants to Girls & Gangs in support of their Re-Entry Services program.

Find out how to donate to this important organization by clicking here

To find out the many ways you can volunteer your time to help out Girls & Gangs, click here.

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