The #Homegirl Cypher: Tola L. and Gyrl Wonder
These are the famous words of Malcom X from his 1962 speech, “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?” These words are just as important today, because black women still have not received the respect they deserve. But what about our female youth? What about our black girls?
That’s where Gyrl Wonder comes in. Right now, Gyrl Wonder is a NYC based nonprofit that is dedicated to empowering and developing young girls of color. In a world where the needs and potential of the girl (especially those of color) are often overlooked, they provide mentorship and resources to these girls, so that they can realize their full capacity.
Luckily, I was given the chance to sit down with the organization's founder and creative driving factor, Tola L., for a Q&A session. Here is what she had to say.
. . .
Q: How and when did Gyrl Wonder start?
TL: This organization really grew out of me having this cool domain for years that I kept renewing, not really knowing what to do with it, and there being a need for an empowerment organization for girls.
We started in Fall of 2015. My sorority sister, was the director of student life at the current high school that I work at. She reached out to me explaining that she needed something for the girls to do on the weekends or after school because they didn’t have any type of girl empowerment organization. She knew that I had the Gyrl Wonder domain for a while, and was wondering what I’d do with it. So quickly and within a matter of days I put together a years worth of programming.
Q: Where did Girl Wonder Start?
TL: Achievement First Brooklyn HS. (Tola currently works here) We are in our 3rd year of programming.
Q: What sparked the name?
TL: I’m not really sure, because I’ve had the domain since 2010. But I’ve always been about ‘girl power’, so I was inspired by that.
Q: What is a Gyrl Wonder?
TL: She's the young girl who’s working towards figuring out what she wants in life and working diligently towards getting that.
She’s working towards our five pillars. Taking care of her self, her image, empowering other girls around her, and building a community of dope girls who will grow into dope women.
Q: How would you define the organization?
TL: We are an organization that takes a holistic approach to the development of our young girls.
I was initially worried that Gyrl Wonder was not really a niche organization with a specific focus. But then I realized... who else focuses on the holistic development of girls prior to sending them to these niche orgs? Who teaches them how to love themselves? Who teaches them how to empower each other? To give back to the community?
That’s really what Gyrl Wonder is about, that’s what Gyrl Wonder is.
Q: Why spell ‘Gyrl’ with a Y ?
TL: Just to be different. Simple as that.
Q: What are the organization’s long term goals?
TL: We’re all about expansion, growth, and reaching as many young girls of color as seemingly possible.
We’re starting slow but we definitely have plans to expand. We have a lot of contact with the Department of Education, and right now we have one collegiate chapter over at Syracuse University. And actually, a lot of the girls who are graduating want to start collegiate chapters at their own universities, so we’re also looking into that.
Q: Who inspires you right now?
TL: I've always found inspiration in my mother, because she's the coolest person I've known in my entire life. But I think I find inspiration in all women of color doing it right now. I feel like we have set the tone for the last couple of years but now more than ever we are demanding seats at the table and demanding that our voice be heard at the table.
Q: What songs are currently on your playlist?
TL: Nipsey Hussle's whole [latest] album is centered around going out and getting it no matter what, by any means necessary. Hustle and motivate. It is one of my favorite albums in rotation right now.
Q: Who do you think we should #passthemic to next?
TL: There's so many people, but I want to say Asha Boston. She started this project called "Dinner Table Doc" [which is] just women of color having conversations. She also has another project called "A Time Before Kale", which is a take on Brooklyn before gentrification.
. . .
Before concluding I asked Tola if there was anything else she wanted to add. She took a deep breath and then responded,
“To see Gyrl Wonder come to fruition is so amazing to me. So many people have been reaching out. (From California, all the way to South Africa!) This is really what is driving me and the team to keep our heads down and keep the work coming.”
After a short pause she added,
“I know this is where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.”