Speaker Alicia Jay talks to Westlake Middle School students at women’s empowerment assembly.
The entire female student body at Westlake Middle School in Oakland recently gathered for a Women’s Empowerment Assembly.
The day started with student poetry, dances, songs and speeches. The presenters were “the Ladies of Westlake to empower and motivate each other,” according to Westlake Middle School Principal Maya Taylor.
Westlake is located at 2629 Harrison St. near Lake Merritt.
Seventh-grader Amina Day performed a poem called “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest. She said she changed the pronouns in the poem from “he” to “she.”
Some of the day focused on the issue of bullying and how girls do it to each other, especially in middle school. “People are getting body shamed in the locker rooms and things like that, people are getting put down by other girls,” said Amina.
After the event in the auditorium, in which the girls were asked to get to know other girls they had never met, the group then moved to the library where they heard powerful stories from two guest speakers.
One was Danielle Armstrong, who works at the school as part of Oakland Natives Give Back. The other speaker was a college friend of Principal Taylor named Alicia Jay, who used to work for the Golden State Warriors and is a well-known blogger, writer, speaker, actor and model who – at six feet six inches tall –stands out in a crowd.
Jay told the students she was bullied for being tall when she was in school. “My height is eventually what did all these things. It is what made people see that I am a talented person.”
Her experiences motivate Jay to talk to girls about changing the way they view the people around them. “They are not your competitors,” she said. “This room is full of leaders. This room is full of future mothers, this room is full of entrepreneurs… You guys are going to change this world. But you don’t have to step on somebody else to do it.”
Jay shared with the group five points for being strong women: “Reject the lies,” “there is only one you,” “comparison is the thief of joy,” “confidence begins with you” and “protect your social space.”
She indicated she was able to turn her experiences into an advantage. “This attribute that people bullied me for, is actually one of the things that makes me most powerful.”
Students think this kind of assembly should be done at every school. “Every girl at every school has a problem, personal body issues, self-esteem issues… on the outside they may look fine, on the inside they may feel like they’re worthless,” said 8th grader Curlaila Cornelius.
Even if they get told that (they are worthy, powerful and beautiful) it’s very hard to hear it from someone’s perspective if it doesn’t relate to you,” she said. “But when you have somebody who relates to you, it’s different and you finally see it. I feel like everyone should have that.”
Students say, since the Women’s Empowerment Assembly, there has been a noticeable change on campus and that people are being nicer to each other. Westlake Middle School is set to hold another assembly in the spring, and Principal Taylor says she plans to hold them on a regular basis going forward.