by: Carrie L. Williams
It may not be a common thing to think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and sex-trafficking all in one breath — but SCLC First Lady/Special Programs Director Cathelean Steele is encouraging folks to do just that.
She calls it “Justice for Girls“.
A retired public school teacher who achieved special recognition for her innovative history teaching approaches in the State of Alabama, First Lady Cathelean Steele has a passion for mentoring young women — and standing for their future — that simply will not quit.
This year’s annual SCLC National Convention in Baton Rouge put that passion and commitment on display at the Women’s Empowerment Luncheon — through the speeches of several young women who have been participating with and being youth champions for SCLC’s “Justice for Girls” initiative.
|photo: Ann Ragland|
Ms. Taylor Bull speaking to SCLC attendees at Empowerment Luncheon
“Education is key,” emphasized Ms. Taylor Bulls, an undergraduate at Tuskeegee University, and a “Justice for Girls” youth ambassador. “I didn’t understand the big picture of sex-trafficking, until I met First Lady Steele. I had to go do my own research.”
Seeing the sex-trafficking of young girls and women as a continuation of the civil rights — and human rights — work of Dr. King’s organization, Ms. Autumn Smith added, “We are the new generation of leaders, and we are going to continue that fight. That means incorporating the human rights issue of sex-trafficking at the SCLC. We can make things known, just like Dr. King did at Selma.” Autumn is an undergraduate at Georgia State University who has been a lead student coordinator at the SCLC.
Ms. Autumn Smith relates personal experience for Justice for Girls as Chairman Dr. Bernard LaFayette listens.
Working with young women to build their leadership skills, and to empower/mentor those young girls and teenagers younger than themselves, First Lady Steele is focused on preventing sex-trafficking through a combination of awareness education, self-esteem building, and youth role models.
“I know the difference young women and even young girls can make if they are given the tools of leadership and empowerment. My goal is to instill a sense of leadership in those who participate in the ‘Justice For Girls’ initiative. This aspect of the initiative is not about SCLC. I am committed to focusing on fostering good leaders — for right now and for the future.”
And there is one leadership aspect in particular she focuses on: the ability to speak well in public.
“If I can support them in developing their ability to speak well,” the veteran SCLC leader and mother/grandmother explained, “then they will have the tool Dr. King had, and other great leaders have: the ability to empower others, and to have confidence in themselves.”
First Lady Steele has a keen eye and ear for recognizing that gift, and was quick to request Ms. Asia Newson — the “Super Business Girl” — to accept a special award and give words of inspiration at the Baton Rouge Empowerment Luncheon.
Young Asia Newson’s image on her website [click HERE]
Having met First Lady Steele when she spoke at an association meeting in Chicago, the 12-year old dynamo and her family have stayed in touch with Ms. Steele ever since.
“Mrs. Steele was very kind, and very poised,” reminisced the “kidpreneur”, who has an online store and helps other youth to be entrpreneurs through her public speaking.
“She[Mrs. Steele] is a great example, and she taught me a lot of stuff, especially about sex-trafficking. I want the the young girls that I teach to know about it. And I want the girls who might be in sex-trafficking, or who are now out of it, to never give up. I want them to stay strong — pain is temporary. I want to inspire them to move on, and forget the past. And I want to encourage fathers to stay in their daughters’ lives.”
Receiving the Youth Entrepreneur Award, the acceptance speech that Asia gave at the Luncheon received a roaring standing ovation. On the spot, Dr. Glover, President of Tennessee State, and Dr. Tonea Stewart/Performing Arts Dept Chair of Alabama State University offered Asia scholarships.
|photo: Ann Ragland|
Miss Asia Newson, with mother (left) and President Glover (right)
“I was very happy in the moment,” shared the wiser-than-her-years middle schooler, “but I didn’t see it as a big deal. Then, afterwards, I realized how really fortunate I was, to be given the four-year scholarship to Tennessee State University — and how many other people were deserving of that scholarship. I understand now just how great an opportunity it is for me. ”
Dr. Stewart’s offer of free tuition during the summers for drama and music classes at Alabama State University really excited Asia. “I sing in the choir at my school, and I’ve already done some commercials, so I’m looking forward to going to Dr. Stewart’s Arts School.”
Another “Justice for Girls” youth ambassador also participated in the Empowerment Luncheon: Ms. Jade Cummings. A 14-year old Honor Roll ninth grader at Grady High School, Jade performed a “Still I Rise” poem as her Convention contribution, and had recited a “Phenomenal Women” poem at 7th annual 2015 Women of Distinction Empowerment Luncheon held in Atlanta.
|photo: Ann Ragland|
Ms. Jada Cummings’ inspiring recitation with support of First Lady and Justice for Girls’ Youth Ambassador Taylor Bulls
“Collectively, these young women are already striving to be great leaders,” pointed out First Lady Steele. “It is my prayer that, as leaders, they will influence untold numbers of young girls and women to be more like them.”
“I hold myself to a higher standard, because of my role as a Youth Ambassador with ‘Justice for Girls’,” shared Taylor Bulls, who intends to become an Army Doctor in Obstetrics and Gynecology. “I can’t act at the standard level. SCLC is changing — it’s pushing towards a new generation, a young generation.
“The Convention took us another step forward. I want to be there, to go the next step forward.”
To learn more about Justice for Girls, or to receive a briefing package, contact:
First Lady Cathelean Steele
Special Program Director
“Justice for Girls” Initiative