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Young UU women march at Pettus Bridge
Power Uo for Change with Powered By Girl
Bart Reviews Books Episode 3: Powered By Girl

This is a new series in which Bart reviews books relevant youth and young adult ministry ranging across the spectrum of denomination to help you decide which ones are worth your time and which ones you can pass on. Each installment will feature a brief review, examine the relevance to our Unitarian Universalist context, highlight some positive and negatives, and end with a few choice takeaways.

Hey friends, this month’s book is Powered By Girl by Lyn Mikel Brown. Lyn Mikel Brown is a professor of education and human development at Colby College and has authored five other books about gender and girlhood. She’s been studying and working with girls for more than twenty-five years. Most of the young women interviewed were involved with either Hardy Girls Healthy Women or SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action Resistance Knowledge), two grassroots organizations cofounded by Brown. The title, Powered By Girl, comes from a blog for teen women of the same name.

I grabbed Powered By Girl because most of the young folks we work with directly are young women. As an adult man who works with young women, I know that I have a responsibility to empower them, boost their voices, and support them through challenges and success. Powered By Girl examines the ways young women engage with activism and how the adults in their lives support them. It’s a powerful and an enlightening read. Sharing the direct experience of girls in their activism and the adults who work with them gets the gears moving and had me thinking of ways to implement strategy and practice into our work.

Because Powered By Girl is about youth activism, I was intrigued about how it might relate to youth ministry. One of the shifts within youth ministry that I support is less focus on leadership development and more focus on spiritual development and care. Leadership development is an important part of youth ministry, but it shouldn’t be the focus point. Our focus should be creating communities where youth can bring their full self, have their spirit nourished, be held in their struggles, and celebrate their joy. This led me to wondering how UU churches could partner with organizations like SPARK or Hardy Girls to provide our young women activists with more opportunities for rest, reflection, and renewal. Could our churches start their own chapters of Hardy Girls or SPARK? That would be really cool.

Some of it overlaps like Brown’s comment about intergenerational activism:

"Intergenerational activism is both wildly imaginative and solidly grounded; it’s about the give and take of relationships, the constant need for thoughtful negotiation, the beautiful failures and surprising opportunities. Doing such work well, by which I don’t mean perfectly, is about learning how to be present and open in the face of uncertainty. It’s not science, it’s a practice." (pp.74-75)

This is true about all intergenerational work, not just activism! There’s a lot of wisdom in Powered By Girl that could inform your work with children, youth, and young adults, especially if you want to help support their activism.

I know you want to help support their activism.

The Good

Brown’s work is timely. We are in the midst of a moment of generational activism and we must get behind it. If you read Powered By Girl, you’ll have some ideas on how to show up for young people of all genders, but especially for young women.

Furthermore, because the work of the organizations Brown highlights is multigenerational and intergenerational, there’s a lot to take away for our churches and communities. Everyone interviewed speaks to the benefits and the struggles of intergenerational activism. In my experience, these struggles (and the joy) happen in religious communities trying to do intergenerational work as well. I have adopted new strategies because of Powered By Girl.

Powered By Girl is also a great reminder to center the experience of those most affected by decisions. Throughout the book, there are reminders that young folks have agency and they have skills to get things done and the adult support helps focus and amplify the work.

The Not-So-Good

The only thing that sticks out is some of the commentary about adults stepping back. Our current paradigm of youth ministry is a shared ministry model (like the image in the sidebar of this post). It’s a model based on capacity and ability that changes over time. Furthermore, my experience working with today’s youth informs me that youth leadership is important, but not as important as providing opportunities for spirits to be renewed and rested. The fact is that each generation of youth have different needs, pressures, and concerns. We need to change our strategies to address the unique needs of each generation.

Take-Aways

  1. "But whatever the situation calls for, girls ask that we show up with all the parts of ourselves that make us knowledgeable, strong, vulnerable, and with our hearts in the right place." (pp. 87)

  2. "Our job is to help them sort out what really matters to them so they can step into the unknown, act in ways they believe in, and risk public dissent." (pp. 121)

  3. "Psychology research suggests effective support looks like someone imperceptibly creating conditions for another’s agency.” (pp. 129)

Powered By Girl is extremely timely as Generation Z rises and holds us accountable for the America and the world we’ve created. I give it 5 out of 5 stars. These young women’s stories are deeply powerful and a reminder that we all need to step up our game. We, and by we I mean adults, have to do better. We can’t just give youth a standing ovation and say, “Thank God, we were waiting on you to save the world. Get to it.” Nope. Nope. Nope. We’ve got work to do so pick up a copy today and then start practicing what you learned!

About the Author

  • Bart joined the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in 2014. As a lifelong Unitarian Universalist (UU), he has a great passion for youth and young adult ministry. Bart served the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans as Director of Religious Education before...

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