About Black Girls Stay Lit™

A Literacy Movement for Black Girl Excellence

Our Mission

Black Girls Stay Lit™ engages Black female/femme adolescents with culturally/gender sustaining literature, interpretative lenses and strategies as well as expressive writing in order to bolster their literacy and academic outcomes, cognitive and social-emotional competence, and socio-cultural awareness and engagement.  Its culturally sustaining pedagogy re-centers and affirms culture, identity and lived-experience as central features of personal well-being for adolescents while also emphasizing social-emotional learning, social justice and literacy-based skill development, including oral and written communication skills, critical thinking and analysis, empathy, collaboration and creative problem-solving.

Our Vision

Black Girls Stay Lit™ sustains and empowers the literacies, histories, gender and cultural values of Black female/femme adolescents and their communities, and upholds a communal space in which their voices are heard, validated, cultivated, and amplified. Participants begin the processes of making meaning of their intersectional identities and belonging deeply to themselves, honing their unique capacities for Black female/femme excellence, and working to co-create a more equitable, just and beautiful world.

Guiding Proverbs

"If you educate a man, you educate an individual but if you educate a woman, you educate a family (nation)."

—Traditional proverb, Fanti (Ghana)

"Until lions start writing down their own stories, the hunters will always be the heroes. "

— Traditional proverb (Kenya and Zimbabwe)

“Resistance is the secret of joy”

—Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author, Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy

Our Approach

Black Girls Stay Lit™ (BGSL), a Cincinnati, Ohio-based in-person and virtual after-school/summer program, is a literacy movement to affirm, support, and empower Black girls and gender-expansive adolescents.* Black Girls Stay Lit™ engages critical explorations of select African American women’s literature/multimodal texts as well as guided expressive writing practice to interrupt systemic racism and systems that have historically marginalized Black girls. Our exclusive Liberatory Literacy model combines an evidence-based culturally/gender-specific approach to Black girls’ positive development with a focus on quality literacy instruction and practice that bolsters girls’ cognitive and social-emotional competencies. Black Girls Stay Lit™’s gendered culturally-sustaining intervention is designed to have maximum impact during adolescence,the pivotal developmental phase when girls transition from childhood to adulthood, try on different selves, negotiate old relationships and form new ones, test boundaries, build skills, and make future plans.

*When Black Girls Stay Lit™ refers to “Black girls” we include any cis, trans, gender-expansive, non-binary and/or any girl- or femme-identified person, in grades 9-12, who identifies as a Black girl.

The Core Elements that make up the Black Girls Stay Lit program include

RESEARCH BASED

The Black Girls Stay Lit™ program is based on the latest research-proven instructional strategies for adolescent literacy, and we rigorously study student outcomes and work toward continuous improvement, using pre- and post-program survey assessments of targeted outcomes by participants, parents, and teachers.

LITERACY FOCUS

While some youth-serving programs prioritize STEM education, Black Girls Stay Lit™ focuses on rigorous literacy instruction and practice designed to develop Black girls’ capacities as critical readers and informed writers. Young folks’ ability to adapt and thrive in a world beset with such challenges as climate change, artificial intelligence and social inequality depends not on training for specific STEM jobs, but on developing the ‘qualities of mind’–oral and written communication skills, critical analysis, empathy, creative problem-solving, and collaboration–that BGSL fosters.

In addition to traditional literacy—reading and writing—Black Girls Stay Lit™ also incorporates:

  • Critical Literacy—the capacity to write, think and speak clearly, critically, persuasively, and
  • Information/Media Literacy—the capacity to effectively access, interpret, critically evaluate, and apply information as well as the ability to produce different forms of media.

Black Girls Stay Lit™ engages the reading and writing of quality literature because they are powerful tools for supporting learners’ cognitive, social and emotional development.

Benefits of Reading Literature Reading literature can help sharpen the mind, stave off dementia, reduce stress, improve concentration, and increase our ability to think critically. Compelling narratives have the power to affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and provide us with the language to name and discuss their feelings. Reading literature has the potential to foster emotional intelligence by providing vicarious emotional experiences that shape the brain circuits for empathy—our ability to feel and understand the emotional reactions of others, and to share them—and help us gain insight into human behavior. Quality literature is also unparalleled for expanding learners' vocabulary and modeling inventive uses of language.

Benefits of Expressive Writing Black Girls Stay Lit™ also focuses on amplifying the voices and narratives of Black girls. Expressive writing is a powerful vehicle for individuals to process and explore their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and impactful life experiences. Research shows that expressive writing can enhance self-awareness, ultimately decreasing depressive symptoms, anxious thoughts and perceived stress. It can also strengthen our immune systems and help us heal from trauma. Other research suggests that creative writing in group settings, like Black Girls Stay Lit™, offers the same benefits and more: it can create a sense of community, promote confidence, advocacy and care of self and others.

SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING (SEL)

With our three-pronged, culturally-sustaining approach, Black Girls Stay Lit™ participants learn thinking and cognitive skills, emotional management as well as interpersonal/social skills. Research shows that SEL “not only improves achievement by an average of 11 percentile points, but it also increases prosocial behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy), improves student attitudes toward school, and reduces depression and stress among students.” Collectively, these skills and strategies help create a peaceful, affirming environment where students are empowered to manage their behavior, decrease conflict and increase receptivity to learning.

ENGAGING CULTURALLY- SUSTAINING CURRICULUM

Black Girls Stay Lit™’s evidence-based curriculum centers and affirms Black girls’ intersecting identities and lived-experiences and promotes in them a positive sense of racial and gender identity, belonging, resilience and empowerment. The Black Girls Stay Lit™ curriculum is grounded in culturally sustaining pedagogy, which builds on decades of asset-based pedagogical research including Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (Ladson-Billings) and Culturally Responsive (Gay and Hammond). As Geneva Gay, a foremost scholar of culturally responsive pedagogy, explains in her 2018 book, culturally-responsive teaching uses “the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them.” BGSL’s culturally sustaining pedagogy extends Gay’s model and the other asset-based pedagogies that came before it while also recognizing the need to not only affirm and connect to students’ cultural backgrounds, but also to sustain their cultural wealth in the learning space.

In Black Girls Stay Lit™, the languages, literacies, and cultural wealth of Black women and their communities are sustained rather than eradicated, in deference to false notions of universalism. BGSL’s exclusive focus on African American Women's Literature has been shown to not only “support, nurture, and mentor” adolescent girls’ written and oral language development but also to shape their constructions of self. Using their existing knowledge and experiences as bridges to new content, girls use such “mentor texts” to gather their own ideas, to understand the style/ structure of particular genres, to make sense of their own identities, and to model the texts’ questioning and critiques of dominant power structures in societies. Our culturally sustaining model also builds teen girls’ accurate knowledge of diverse people and their awareness of different perspectives, as we promote equality across racial, ethnic and gender communities and seek to ensure mainstream access and opportunity for our girls.

While our approach to literacy is as serious as the systemic inequities Black girls face, Black Girls Stay Lit™ is not your average literacy program. Following in the Black literary tradition of using story in service of anti-racist education, social justice and Black joy, Black Girls Stay Lit™ is a vibe! While there is a lot of reading and writing—and viewing and listening—the texts we read are all carefully curated to speak to Black teens about what it means to be Black and female, while the texts we write are designed to help them unleash, cultivate and amplify their unique voices, styles and perspectives. BGSL’s proprietary curriculum includes a variety of multimodal texts—print, images, video, social media posts, lyrics, music, and other online media.  This, combined with web-based lessons, fun activities and take-home materials make Black Girls Stay Lit™ engaging and effective for students.

LIBERATORY LITERACY PEDAGOGY AND INSTRUCTION

Black Girls Stay Lit™’s pedagogical approach (or method and practice of teaching) is grounded in our exclusive Liberatory Literacy model. Our model incorporates the following recursive (each part depends on the application of the whole) foundational elements:

Asset-Based Approach Black Girls Stay Lit™ acknowledges and incorporates the assets that our girls already bring to the learning space via their personal lived experiences, families, historical legacies, and cultural wealth. This approach, of recognizing that each student learns in culturally influenced ways and that each instructor’s teaching is equally influenced by her/his background and experiences, contrasts with the more common deficit-based approach to teaching, in which members of Black communities are “characterized by their problems, weaknesses, and needs.” By intentionally building on strengths our girls already possess, Black Girls Stay Lit™ seeks to create lifelong learners who are confident in their abilities to master new skills. We hold, and express to our girls, high expectations that they will flourish in BGSL’s atmosphere of genuine respect, empathy and belief in their innate capabilities. Our girls learn that their lived experiences, historical legacies, culture, race, and gender are assets that add value not only to Black Girls Stay Lit™ but also to the classrooms, workspaces and social spaces they may occupy.

Culturally Sustaining Materials and Methods Black Girls Stay Lit™’s recognition that students learn in culturally influenced ways means that we use culturally responsive materials and culturally sustaining methods to fuel our innovative programming. Study after study has shown that Black students are likely to be more engaged and perform better in school when their identities and histories are affirmed—and in ways that goes beyond fetishizing Black trauma. “Culturally responsive materials can enhance students’ engagement, improve their academic achievement, and support their written and oral language development and reading comprehension. Teaching approaches that deliberately help to leverage and sustain students’ cultural experiences serve as “protective factors” for Black girls in otherwise hostile environments: “F]eeling positive about being Black, and feeling support and belonging … may be especially important for African-American girls’ classroom engagement and curiosity.”

Cooperative discussion-based learning Black Girls Stay Lit™ believes learning should be a social and purpose-driven activity, so we engage reading and writing as shared social experiences of meaning-making, the co-creation of knowledge, and the development of concrete actions for addressing personal, communal and global challenges to self-actualization, freedom and justice. More than 1200 studies have found that “cooperative learning methods improve students' time on tasks and intrinsic motivation to learn, as well as students' interpersonal relationships and expectations for success.” BGSL combines cooperative learning with a student-directed discussion approach, which emphasizes using evidence from an assigned text, asking questions with multiple answers, building off of others' comments, and creating a nonthreatening environment.

After directing the girls to the assigned text and thematic focus, Black Girls Stay Lit™ facilitators allow the student-directed discourse to flow by assuming the role of encouraging co-learner rather than group leader. Our girls learn how to formulate questions in a way that encourages their peers to join the conversation and they discover that listening to other students’ opinions is just as important as asking engaging questions. Because the student-led discussions are conversational and open, rather than a teacher-led lecture, our girls can feel confident in exploring their ideas and opinions, discussing new concepts with peers who have similar levels of understanding, considering other opinions before reaching a conclusion and solving problems collectively. These strategies not only promote active participation, improve comprehension of the text and critical-thinking skills but they also prepare students for real-world collaboration.

Inquiry-Based Learning Black Girls Stay Lit™ approaches learning and knowledge as interconnected and contextually dependent. For this reason, we use inquiry-based learning, a learning and teaching method that prioritizes student questions, ideas and analyses. In this method, facilitators guide studen​​​​ts’ thought processes through queries, thus helping them master “how to think" rather than “what to think."​ Textual themes, concepts and events are discussed as open-ended problems that BGSL participants are encouraged to question, elaborate upon, and define in relationship to the real-life problems being represented. Program facilitators model the evidence-based reasoning and creative problem-solving that the girls then use to identify causes, reach conclusions and propose actions that can be taken to solve them—both orally and in writing as well as in their everyday lives, thus giving Black Girls Stay Lit™ participants a concrete purpose for the literacy they are developing.

Youth Leadership Development Black Girls Stay Lit™ promotes the development of girl’s leadership skills by way of these methods: Cooperative Discussion-Based Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning and Decentered Facilitators. In addition, our program’s facilitators address and enable participants’ individual learning needs, interests and expertise by offering them active roles in formulating and upholding group codes of conduct and developing learning activities, writing projects and group activism. These approaches support youth in “developing the ability to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, set personal and professional goals, and have the self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and abilities to carry them out.”

Decentered Facilitators Rather than acting as authorities who hold all knowledge and issue judgements in the form of grades, Black Girls Stay Lit™ facilitators serve as knowledgeable guides, mediators, coaches, mentors and ‘Other Mothers’/Aunties, as well as highly skilled instructors. Instead of grades, our girls receive expert guidance, encouraging feedback, and unwavering support.

Learning Circle Rather than standing before students at desks, Black Girls Stay Lit™ facilitators sit with and among our girls in a Learning Circle—an organizational structure and a descriptive metaphor that symbolizes the coming together of equals who recognize one another as capable, competent conveyors of information that may be safely shared. The learning circle format is meant to establish a collaborative atmosphere by breaking down the traditional classroom hierarchy so that both BGSL facilitators and participants can teach and learn from one another as co-creators of knowledge and meaning. Studies find that social interaction is encouraged when individuals are able to establish face-to-face contact and that circular arrangements produce “more on-task comments, more questions, and fewer indications of withdrawal from the class activity, as compared to seating students in rows and columns.” Within the Black Girls Stay Lit™ circle, we make every effort to support and empower one another’s development by promoting reciprocity, facilitating the equal participation of all, and honoring our individual and collective wisdom.

Balanced Reading and Writing Reading and Writing flow from, and inform, one another in the Black Girls Stay Lit™ curriculum. BGSL’s curriculum features a layering of multimodal—print, images, video, social media posts, lyrics, music, and other online media—“mentor texts” from various genres, including poetry, personal narratives, essays, public addresses, letters, blogs, social media, journals, novels and short stories. BGSL participants use these “mentor texts” to gather their own ideas, to understand the style/ structure of particular genres, to make sense of their own identities, and to model the texts’ questioning and critiques of dominant power structures in societies. In their writing projects, our girls are encouraged to write across genres and produce multimodal texts of their own.

Journal writing Journal writing is a primary learning tool in Black Girls Stay Lit™. Journal writing contributes to the development of a healthy sense of identity and provides a safe space for students to process their understanding of the central text, without the fear of making an error or answering incorrectly. Journal writing fosters learning in many ways: it expands student vocabulary, increases retention of learning, uses higher-order thinking skills, builds teacher-student relationships. The Black Girls Stay Lit™ journal enables our girls to be actively engaged in their own learning, to become more fluent in expressing their ideas in writing, and to clarify and reflect upon their thinking processes. BGSL participants complete in-journal responses to the themes, concepts and/or events of the assigned texts and related discussions, connecting them to their personal experiences, opinions and questions. They then use their journal entries as springboards for their writing projects.

 

*When Black Girls Stay Lit™ refers to “Black girls” we include any cis, trans, gender-expansive, non-binary and/or any girl- or femme-identified person, in grades 9-12, who identifies as a Black girl.

Our FouNdeR

Dr. Tiffany Noelle

Our Founder: Dr. Tiffany Noelle (nee, Hinton) is the founder, director and lead facilitator of Black Girls Stay Lit™ (BGSL). Dr. T., as her students affectionately refer to her, is a long-time educator, consultant, and scholar of Black women’s literature and culture. With a Ph.D. in English, specializing in Africana Women’s Literary and Cultural Studies, Dr. T.

has more than 20 years’ experience designing, facilitating and administering educational programs, including 12+ years as a professor of English, literature and writing and two years as director of a college-based Writing Center.

BGSL is Dr. T’s passion project, which she lovingly designed to immerse Black girls in the transformative power of Black women’s literature as a vehicle for women-centered cultural transmission and sustenance, guidance and uplift. Dr. T. is a proud fifth-generation Cincinnatian and graduate of Walnut Hills High School. She earned her Ph.D. in English at University of Florida; M.A. in English at Florida State University; and B.A. in Journalism and African American Studies at University of Cincinnati.

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