A new study suggests that black teens in America are extremely vulnerable to many of the emotional pitfalls – depression, suicide, bullying, and more – that young people increasingly face and that suicide death among black females aged 13 to 19 are soaring, rising 182 percent between 2001 and 2017.
“We need to find innovative ways to get outside the clinic walls to talk about these issues for our young people as we’re trying to change systems and policies and the bigger landscape of things,” says Dr. Jasmine Zapata. “We need more resources and efforts to help these young women who are dealing with these issues every day.”
For Dr. Zapata, these unnerving statistics are a public health crisis that needs to immediately be addressed and that we can no longer ignore. In response, Zapata launched a 10-city “Beyond Beautiful” national girls empowerment tour on Saturday in Atlanta in collaboration with a dynamic team of social workers, physicians, youth counselors, teen peer, inspirational speakers, ministers, authors, and various other youth empowerment specialists.
“I am tremendously excited about this tour,” Zapata tells Madison365 from her hotel room in Atlanta, the first stop on her tour. “Last year, we did a seven-city midwest tour and that was just so powerful and we had so many breakthroughs and so many great connections. I’m just ecstatic to be able to take it even more places this year.”
Zapata says she was very pleased with how things went in her first stop at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta.
“We had a wonderful time and received lots of great feedback,” she says. “We partnered with some amazing local nonprofit organizations – BFlyGirls and ShesMyHero – for this event. We have already been invited to come back next year, so I’m so excited.”
Danielle Oliver, a pre-medical student and breakout session facilitator for the event, said that she loved to see a group of young girls coming together and learning certain skills and strategies.
“This event was amazing. It was mind blowing honestly to see so much all in one setting. These young girls walked away with so much. They took so much away,” she said. “For me, growing up, I experienced bullying myself and I thinks it’s always good for me to come in and talk to young girls about being bullied and how I overcame it. So it’s a treasure for me because it still helps me to this day to just know what I’ve come from and what I experienced that I would not want anyone else to experience.”
Candace Horton is a mother of a 13-year-old and a 4-year-old who attended the first stop on the tour.
“I like what it taught our young ladies,” she says. “I’m all down for them being taught how to feel empowered, to feel that they are important, and to know that they are beautiful both inside and out.”
Cities on the “Beyond Beautiful” national tour will also include Detroit; Hammond, Indiana; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Madison; Houston; Los Angeles and others.
“I’ve found that in different areas of the country we see a lot of the same themes where girls are really suffering from the long-term effects of racism, bullying, adverse childhood issues, self-esteem issues, depression and there’s just a need to have a safe space to talk about the issues that they’re dealing with and to have a place to have fun while also being empowered,” Zapata says.
Dr. Zapata is an author, pediatrician, public health strategist, and founder, along with her daughter and mother, of the Beyond Beautiful International Girl’s Empowerment Movement. The “Beyond Beautiful” movement started from her book “Beyond Beautiful: A Girl’s Guide to Unlocking the Power of Inner Beauty, Self Esteem, Resilience and Courage,” an innovative approach to health promotion and youth empowerment that focuses on the social, emotional and mental health of young women.
“One of the reasons why I did this was because my daughter was born at 6 months; she was one-and-a-half pounds, critically ill and in the ICU for three months,” Zapata says. “She required a few surgeries to survive. But when she was 5 or 6 years old, in school she started to get teased for some of the scars that she had from her surgery. One day, she came home and she was feeling discouraged and she said, ‘My scars make me weird.’ I said, “no, they are beautiful.’ And I talked about all of the things that she has overcome to be here.
“Your beauty isn’t what’s on the outside, I told her, it’s truly what’s within,” Zapata adds.
Repeatedly, through her work as a pediatrician at the hospital, Dr. Zapata would see young girls coming in with the same doubts and the same stresses going on in their lives.
“It spurred me to get outside of the clinic walls and really find ways that I could speak to them,” she remembers.
Her tour will include a series of conferences which are free and will include a live musical performance by Dr. Zapata who performs her signature “Beyond Beautiful” rap and song focused on inner beauty, resilience and self-esteem.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting girls on this tour and having breakout sessions where I get to talk to the girls in smaller groups and really get at the issues that are going on in their lives,” Zapata says. “I really enjoy meeting the different girls. That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to the most on this tour. Really just telling them that, ‘We love you. You’re beautiful and we’re here to tell you that you’re amazing on the inside and out.’”
Tour stops will also include book signings, mentorship opportunities, special guests, and breakout discussions focusing on mental health, relationships, resilience, self-worth and other pressing topics preteen and teen girls face.
“Even after we leave from the stops on the tour, those girls will be connected to the local organizations in that city. It’s really cool to see that they will be supported,” Zapata says.
The tour will also include a stop in Madison, where it all began.
“There are certain school districts in Madison that we have partnered with to implement long-term, ongoing programming for the Beyond Beautiful curriculum,” Zapata says. “We will also be doing some Beyond Beautiful events at the Black Women’s Wellness Day events with Lisa Peyton Caire. We are planning on having many ongoing partnerships and special events in Madison.”
For more information on “Beyond Beautiful,” click here.