Girls for a Change

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Stephanie Ramirez

It was supposed to be an ordinary day. Lorraine Ruby Ramirez, who at that time was working in community relations, was in a car with her daughter driving. Lorraine declared that she had signed up as a coach for an organization called Girls For A Change, and urged her daughter to consider joining her Girl Action team. The latter was quick with her response, and as one would expect from a young woman sporting a pink mohawk and piercings, she said a curt ‘no’, laughed, and told her mother that she had no idea how to deal with teens.

Years later, the same young woman who used her voice to hurl words into fights to cope with her personal struggles, used the same voice to speak in front of 1,200 girls and professional women coaches at the annual Girls for a Change Girl Summit. In high school, Stephanie Ramirez was the student image antithesis – she was never the girl who would yield to popular trends and fads, was highly artistic, and the type who was always left alone to concentrate on her art, poetry, and music. Despite her good grades, she would fall into constant battles with herself as she strived to find the space to be herself, even when that her appearance would bait curious glances and be summarized into one word: trouble. Fortunately for Stephanie, she found refuge in art. “I always had an artistic disposition and an affinity to art, music, and creative culture,” she said. Her creative personality kept her out of the streets and disruptive behavior, and she spent time after lunch and school hours working on her pieces.

When her mother cajoled her into joining GFC, Stephanie was initially reluctant to work with a team of girls, who she thought were a teenager’s worst enemy. Like many 16-year olds, her high school years brimmed with backstabbing, lies, deceit, and humiliation with girls, and the idea that her mother would be there to witness it only steeled her resolve against joining GFC. Stephanie eventually agreed to go to one meeting, which she discovered would tremendously change her life and her relationship with her mother forever. At her very first Girl Action Team meeting, she was surprised to find comfort in the company of girls who, to some degree, experienced the same struggles and prejudice. Stephanie suddenly found herself actively participating in a project that dealt with women’s self-esteem, an issue her group concluded clouded the experience of women and girls. “We would collaborate and work as sisters, as a team, to make other girls aware of some of these issues. We all came to the conclusion that a constant battle for girls and women is their self-esteem. In a culture where thin, fair skinned, and long hair is valued over intelligence and artistic abilities, this has become a serious issue and distracts young women from focusing on what is important in the world. It also distracts young women from following their true passions and dreams,” she said.

After weeks of planning, Stephanie gathered up her art materials to facilitate an art workshop as a conduit for girls and young women to express their strengths and passions. This was part of an all-day self-esteem summit in Rancho Middle School with music, art, self-defense classes and parenthood discussions that her group put on to celebrate the beauty of young women and their connection to healing and self-esteem.

If Stephanie was 15 again, she would tell herself not to be too hard on her parents, who she realized have always loved her unconditionally no matter how many mistakes she made. Years after she joined GFC, her relationship with her mother dug deeper when Lorraine was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a major in film and digital media, Stephanie created a testimony to her mother’s triumph and courage with breast cancer in a documentary titled “Love of My Life”.

“I would also tell my 15 year old self: there are some things that are important at 15 that will never matter again. And most importantly: never lose sight of education and passion and everything will be okay,” she added.

Stephanie was an exceptional young woman who used to be a rag-bag of selves, torn fragments of her creativity and adrift in the struggle with her identity. Fortunately for her, she had her mother who never gave up on her, and GFC, who helped her find her voice - until at last she stopped changing, was no longer ocean then fire then avalanche then wind – and became her extraordinary self.

Stephanie now works at Apple in a creative position, training people on using cutting-edge hardware and software. She lives in San Jose and plans to re-join GFC as a coach. She continues to make art and just got engaged to the man of her dreams.