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Sistas on the Rise

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Contents

OVERVIEW

Sistas On The Rise is a youth-led organization devoted to women of color in New York City ranging from ages 13 to 21. As their website states Sistas is dedicated to providing a space whereby young women of color may "develop their leadership skills, socio-political analysis and organize without being marginalized."

Sistas On the Rise is an expanding organization with a non-hierarchical collective that currently employs eleven young mothers as interns, cultivating leaders that in turn serve more than 150 other young mothers in the New York City area. The collective is entirely led by the young women who are a part of it. Initiatives, projects, and critiques emerge from the group as a whole, creating a much more empowered and stronger leadership base for young women of color.


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BACKGROUND AND HISTORY

"(from left to right) Jadine, Sharim, Yomara, Laura, and 2-month-old Michael at Sistas on the Rise in the Bronx"
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"(from left to right) Jadine, Sharim, Yomara, Laura, and 2-month-old Michael at Sistas on the Rise in the Bronx"

Reflecting the historically significant role in the social action movement from the grassroots level, the founding of "Sistas on the Rise," too, echoes that legacy. As their website states:

Sistas on the Rise evolved 3 years ago, from an informal collective called "Sistas en la Lucha" that focused on social justice issues such as the US Navy's occupation of Vieques, Puerto Rico and violence against women of color.

Yomara Velez and Sharim Algarin (pictured at right), both co-founders of the organization, saw a desperate need for a place for young mothers, who are often marginalized in their own communities. Both women became mothers at a young age during a time when no programs existed to address issues of young women, young mothers specifically. Velez believed in Sistas because "there was such a need for a place space where young women could develop their leadership skills and make changes in their own communities. There's so much to be done, but it can come from us and our community."

Likewise, one of the organization's co-founders include Jadine Ortega, currently a Bronx high school student, who helped start Sistas when she was only 14 years-old.

GOALS

A central goal of this organization is fostering and supporting solidarity and sisterhood among not only young women of color, but also between women of color with children and those without. Consequently, mindful of teen pregnancy's negative and deleterious impact on many women's ability to participate in other youth programs, Sistas addresses this issue by providing child care for its members.

Sistas has a powerful long-term effect on its members. Laura, who has only been an intern for one month, attended her first political rally as a member of Sistas, and though it was something she previously would not have participated in, "it was so empowering, and I know it's something I want to do again."

Ortega, a young mother and intern at Sistas, also spoke to how the organization has changed her. Regarding Sistas workshops on male supremacy, Jadine noted: "I'm going to teach my son respect. Respect for women, respect for gay people, respect for everyone. There's so much violence in our communities, but you can't stop violence without teaching respect."

PROJECTS AND EVENTS

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Workshops/Activities

Sistas on the Rise provides numerous workshops to help build skill sets and educate the young women in the organization. Everything from jewelry and candle making, to creating story books for children, to HIV testing, to tax preparation, to resume building is covered in these comprehensive programs. Women's boxing is also a popular program to help promote health and self-defense.

One of the most important workshops deals with male supremacy. Sistas is a strong women's organization that examines almost every aspect of society with an empowered female mindset. Often in their literature or on their website, small changes have large meaning in common words. For example, the word "women" is spelled "womyn" in order to challenge the assertion of maleness in the dominant culture which is evident in words, such as "human" and "female" that suggests a masculine word associations.

Organizing for Change

Sistas on the Rise recognizes that helping young mothers cannot happen in a vacuum. The program uses its eleven interns to move beyond the walls of their facility and reach out to other mothers as well as speak to other issues.
Tracking progress of P-School survey
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Tracking progress of P-School survey

Sistas works in what are known in New York as P-Schools. These Pregnant and Parenting schools are set up to help young mothers maintain their education with the goal of transferring them back to their previous schools after they give birth. Unfortunately, these four New York City schools are often inadequate, lacking math teachers, English courses, parenting classes, and gym facilities.

In order to address the efficacy of these schools, Sistas in currently conducting a major survey. Contacting former Sistas members and P-School attendees, the members of the organization are gathering information on whether or not the schools do indeed follow through on their commitment to aid young mothers in returning to mainstream education.

The Sistas also see awareness and availability as a concern in their communities. According to Laura, "a lot of guidance counselors, even the ones who know about the P-Schools, won't tell young mothers about them. They just tell them 'if you're pregnant, you have to leave." By law, young mothers have every right to remain in their schools, but other barriers, such as heightened minimum attendance rates, keep them from doing so. The young members of Sistas have organized and facilitated meetings with school principles and super intendants on these issues, and plan to do so again once their survey is complete.

To read more click here.

Holla! Voices of Sistas Rising

Holla!
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Holla!
In the Spring of 2004, Sistas published a newsletter, "Holla! Voices of Sistas Rising" that featured opinions and concerns of its young members on a variety of topics ranging from AIDS, police in schools, teen pregnancy and education, and child abuse.

Excerpt from "Holla!":

"Society expects us as young women of color to be uncivilized and we have to prove them wrong. We have to act more polite with better judgement when dealing with one another...Organizations like Sistas on the Rise need to come together and support young women of color become open-minded and find different ways to resolve our problems."
-Former Sistas member Zoraima

INTERVIEW WITH SISTAS

To learn more about the history, interests and goals of Sistas on the Rise with an interview with Sharim Algarin, click here

BE A SISTA: GET INVOLVED

Meeting with Sistas on the Rise
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Meeting with Sistas on the Rise

Internship

Sistas on the Rise is currently looking for a strong college womyn to fill a paid internship position for the summer of 2005. (Qualified applicant must be no older than 21).
For more information, please contact: Sharim Algarin (sharim@sistasontherise.org) at 718-991-6003.


Volunteer

Interested in volunteering? E-mail Yomara: yomara@sistasontherise.org
Include a short paragraph telling them about yourself, why you are interested in volunteering, and how would you like to contribute to their work.


More Information

Visit their website at Sistas on the Rise.

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