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Love yourself: A special kind of Valentine's Day message

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Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance is a speaker at the Empower Her event at the Boys & Girls Club on Feb. 9, 2019. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 11, 2019

Those conversational candy hearts, so popular for Valentine’s Day, deliver fun messages like “Be Mine,” “Kiss Me” and “Crazy 4U,” but there are even more important messages that all teen girls need to hear  — like “You are loved,” “You are special” and “You are worthy.”

More than 100 girls attended an event called “#Love&Lipgloss” at the Jack Minges Unit of the Boys & Girls Club in Greenville on Saturday night and heard those very words.

The “Empower Her!” event was sponsored by Daughters of Worth, a nonprofit organization whose mission, according to its website, is “to educate, equip and empower girls of all ages to become strong women of influence in their communities.”

Being strong women starts with being well-informed teens, and several speakers were on hand to offer the girls practical advice about issues like human trafficking, dating violence and social media safety.

One of those speakers was Sarah Tellis, founder of True Justice International, who spoke about the prevalence of human trafficking, which she called a form of “modern day slavery.”

Tellis asked the girls to accept a “Mission Possible” that calls for them to “know who you are” and “know your worth.” 

“Thirteen years old is the average age of girls who are trafficked,” said Tellis, as she cautioned the girls to be aware of how traffickers manipulate and brainwash their victims by playing on their vulnerabilities.

Detective LaChauncey Staton with the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office provided the girls with an update on dating violence.

Dating violence comes in many forms, including physical and emotional, he said.

Staton told girls to reach out to a trustworthy adult if they ever encounter physical or any other type of violence from someone they are dating, or if they have a friend in that situation.

“Somebody’s here for you,” he said. “Never live your life in fear.” 

It’s not just about physical violence, he said. 

“If you are with someone who is belittling you, you don’t need to be with that person,” Staton said.

One form of dating violence occurs when someone uses a revealing photo against you, he said. 

“Do not send (by text or social media) a picture you won’t send your grandmother,” Staton said.

Desha Lane, community programs coordinator with the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, expanded on the topic of using social media wisely.

She reminded the girls that being constantly exposed to social media adds more pressure for young people today. Some studies, she said, have shown that “excessive use of social media leads to depression.”

Throughout the program the girls were reminded that the event event was a safe place to ask questions and talk to adults who care for their well being.

The girls received not only practical advice, but heard words of inspiration and hope.

Paula Dance, who is the first African-American female sheriff in the state, told the girls, “Be a trailblazer. If there is no path, make your own.”

Dance shared her personal story of growing up with two loving parents and a big family in rural farm life.

She knew from an early age that she wanted to be involved in police work. But the journey wasn’t always easy. Dance said she faced setbacks just because she was a woman.

Years ago, in another town, Dance was told that she had to stay inside and work in the office even after she had received her law enforcement training to be a deputy. That’s when she applied to Pitt County and was able to continue the pursuit of her dream.

Dance reminded the girls that their bodies are their own and that nobody has the right to touch them without their consent.

“If you feel uncomfortable, that’s your clue,” Dance said.

Diane Taylor, publisher and founder at Taylor Made Publishing, shared her personal story, as well. 

“I was dealt a horrible hand,” said Taylor. “I was born into (a home with) a physically abusive, alcoholic father.”

As a successful publisher of books about people of color, Taylor has had the opportunity to meet Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama.

Taylor said that she now lives “the life I created, not the life I was born into.”

She said that attending a program like #Love&Lipgloss was a big to help to her when she was a teen. She urged girls to help one another and lift one another up.

“Hurting someone’s feelings intentionally is (a form of) bullying,” she said.

April Villeda, 16, a sophomore at Eastern Wayne High School in Goldsboro, heard about the event through her church and attended along with other girls and a church leader.

“I’m very, very happy that I came. I learned a lot,” she said. “I mean, it just made me think because, like, sometimes I’ll complain about something and then hearing other people’s stories (made me realize) I am lucky and I should be grateful for everything that I have. And I don’t know....Something in my heart just told me ‘Oh, you should help. You should do something”... Especially when Diane Taylor talked — and the sheriff — it was like ‘Oh, I can actually do stuff.’” 

Montasia Foreman, 16, who attends J.H. Rose High School, invited a few friends to attend the event with her.

Foreman said that an important point that she got out of the event was Paula Dance’s message that “no matter what you wear or where you are or what situation you’re in, it’s never the victim’s fault because ‘no means no’.” 

Foreman’s friend, Raynise Corion, also 16, said the event “opened your eyes to the possibility that this could happen” referring to human trafficking, dating violence and other issues that had been addressed.

Jadaja Britton, 16, a student at Greenville Christian Academy, said, “What stood out to me is that you have to step out in faith. They talked about how you are so loved. You are a daughter. And you need to realize what (type of) relationships you need to get into before you actually start to get into them.” 

Liz Liles, founder and CEO of Daughters of Worth, said she thought the event was “amazing.”

“We are so blessed to have such powerful, phenomenal women who are willing to not only step up and share their stories of places that they have come through themselves, but to also just pour that energy and heart and passion back into their community,” Liles said. “ I think the information that was shared was necessary and valuable and it’s a game-changer. So now it’s just up to the girls to take these little truth nuggets that they have been given and to actually go and implement them.”

This was the first Empower Her! event and more are planned for the future. The goal is to have these types of events once a quarter, Liles said.

“It’s an incredible first step,” she said. “My heart is full.”

For more information about Daughters of Worth, including volunteer opportunities, visit www.daughtersofworth.org or visit them on Facebook.

Contact Karen Eckert at 252-329-9565 at keckert@reflector.com.