Serious Joy at the HerStory Regional Summit in Detroit

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Our Director of Program Innovation, Amber Peterson, recounts an exciting week at the HerStory Regional Summit in Detroit.

The LitWorld team spent the week of May 28th in Detroit, Michigan, visiting and celebrating one of our oldest and most prolific U.S. partners. Since 2012, Detroit has been home to hundreds of LitClub members. Hosted at elementary and middle schools across the Detroit Public School District, LitClubs have a long and proud history of inspiring children and helping shape stories all over the city.

This year, members of the New York and California-based LitWorld and HerStory teams traveled to Michigan to help host the third annual Detroit Regional HerStory Summit, a convening of HerStory LitClub members across Detroit. The summit was an opportunity for girls to cultivate connections, learn from one another, build leadership skills, and drive community-based action.  They participated in dynamic activities, shared stories, and engaged with our powerful Detroit network of girls, women, and community leaders. In keeping with the larger HerStory arc of community service in LitClubs around the globe, the Detroit Regional Summit theme focused on celebrating acts of kindness to ourselves, our communities, and the world.  

 Left to right: Dr. Deborah L. Winston (an honoree at our Spring Gala this year), Cynthia Coble, Amber Peterson.

Left to right: Dr. Deborah L. Winston (an honoree at our Spring Gala this year), Cynthia Coble, Amber Peterson.

After weeks of careful planning and prepping, our teams arrived in Detroit. The LitWorld team consisted of myself and Jodi Harris, LitWorld’s Donor Engagement Lead. We were joined by the HerStory Manager and Team Lead Juliana Vélez, the HerStory International Program Manager, Binta Freeman, HerStory’s Southern California Regional Manager Tracy Tran, and the Global G.L.O.W. Communications and Development Associate, Divya Joseph. Together with the incomparable Detroit Regional Manager, Cynthia Coble, our teams were excited to host the event and meet the girls.

We were more than a little nonplussed to discover that we arrived in Detroit in the midst of a heat wave. Temperatures soared into the mid and high 80s, prompting multiple days of school closures and early dismissals across the district due to a lack of cooling equipment in classrooms.  On May 30th, with a wary eye on the still rising temperature, we traveled to Cynthia’s house to finalize our last to-do’s. After a morning of filling swag bags, filing folders, packing cars, and rehearsing our introduction step routine (which we made up for in enthusiasm what we lacked in coordination!), we headed out for a meeting with Lurine Carter, Coordinator of Children and Teen Services at the Detroit Public Library.  

 The team tours the Woodward Avenue Main Branch building of the Detroit Public Library.

The team tours the Woodward Avenue Main Branch building of the Detroit Public Library.

Our visit started with a tour of the beautiful Woodward Avenue Main Branch building. We discovered the myriad ways that the libraries occupy a seldom heralded but essential role in the Detroit community. They connect all of the downtown public cultural institutions and the school system, host popular and innovative art, music, and theater events, and provide coveted space for community members young and old to learn and have access to information. One of the most impressive and creative aspects of the Main Branch was the “H.Y.P.E. Room,” a community space designed by and reserved for teenagers.  It boasts a state of the art entertainment space, a brand new radio station and recording studio, as well as regular teen programming and opportunities for leadership development. Lurine Carter leads all of the youth focused services at the branch with an inspiring passion for working with young people. Our meeting of kindred spirits was cemented with an enthusiastic invitation for her to join us at the the Summit and her equally enthusiastic confirmation that she would be there.

 The “H.Y.P.E. Room,” a community space designed by and reserved for teenagers at the Detroit Public Library.

The “H.Y.P.E. Room,” a community space designed by and reserved for teenagers at the Detroit Public Library.

On the morning of the Summit, we arose early and watched the news with bated breath, only to discover that intense heat inspired early dismissal across the district once again. The messages of regret and apology began rolling in as principals were forced to cancel afterschool and field trip activities to accommodate altered bussing schedules and new pick up times. The anticipated number of participants quickly began to dwindle.  

Dismayed but not discouraged, we headed out to the gorgeous Belle Isle State Park where the event was to be held and crossed our fingers. We cheered as one by one, busses full of girls from Coleman A. Young Elementary School, Marcus Garvey Elementary and Middle School, Noble Elementary School and Vernor Elementary School rolled up. By 10:00 a.m, the event was in full swing. Our Introductory HerStory step routine, in the tradition of black Greek organizations across the country, was met with generous applause, and was followed by amazing routines that each LitClub made up to introduce themselves.  

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Members then completed special “Message in a Bottle” themed activities led by art teacher extraordinaire, Susan Greene. The girls wrote positive messages to themselves which they put into special, artfully designed tiny bottles that could be worn around their necks.  Then the girls composed messages of strength and positivity to an anonymous recipient which they slid inside decorated water bottles and collected to distribute at a nursing home or classroom of their choosing. Finally, the girls wrote kindness challenge messages to their fellow HerStory LitClub members in California with the expectation that they would complete those challenges and pay them forward in turn.  

 A LitKid shows off her completed "Message in a Bottle" necklace.

A LitKid shows off her completed "Message in a Bottle" necklace.

 Different LitClubs introduced themselves through their own dance routines.

Different LitClubs introduced themselves through their own dance routines.

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The event was an overwhelming success. More than 60 participants were able to complete powerful messages of kindness and hope for the community and our new friend Lurine was able to see our work in action. A videographer from Fox 2 news even showed up to cover the celebration.  

Detroit is and always had been a special part of the LitWorld story. It is a city of constant renewal, filled with innovative and passionate residents. We are proud to play a role in helping to tell and amplify their stories. I can’t wait till our next Motor City adventure!