omm visits ballou high school for women’s history month

Photos by Mikal Yemane

On Wednesday, March 20, OMM Program Manager Mo Butler attended the Knights Minds Matter club meeting at Ballou High School in Anacostia to mark Women’s History Month. OMM team members regularly join club meetings to offer coaching and support. This one was so impactful, we wanted to share this highlight from Mo. It’s an inspiring window into the day-to-day of our ongoing work: 

Over the past month, I’ve been reflecting on the ways that gender, and other parts of our identities, impact our mental health and how the world engages with it.

As a queer, Black woman, what comes to mind are some of the messages I’ve been told — like that being a strong Black woman means having little room for any weakness or vulnerability. Or that Black men aren’t supposed to cry. While these messages no longer linger at the forefront of my mind as an adult, I believe as a Program Manager that it’s important for our organization to hold space for teens who may have just begun their journey of unlearning those messages.

I was thinking of this last week when Knights Minds Matter invited me to their club meeting at Ballou High School in Anacostia in honor of Women’s History Month.

Knights Minds Matter was one of the first clubs I helped onboard when I joined the OMM team two years ago. They have since remained a strong club, organizing school-wide campaigns frequently and even opening a “Peace and Wellness Room” in their school library.

They are a powerful group of students who do so much for the community — and I was curious about what they did for themselves, and how they navigated these messages outside of the club.

Let me acknowledge that, as an outsider, I took a risk in asking for vulnerability so directly from these students. But to my surprise (and gratitude!), right away folks started opening up about how difficult it can be to escape societal pressure to perform your emotions in a certain way.

Together, we did an activity where we rated our comfort level with naming certain emotions to a close friend/adult or loved one, then started a deeper discussion about how fear of being seen as vulnerable or weak can push us into staying silent, even when we’re in our safe spaces.

At the end of the meeting, as we were sitting with all we learned, I asked, “Who here knew that others were scared to admit when they felt lonely or sad? Does it feel comforting to know that you’re not alone in feeling that way?” As a mindful closing, I encouraged them to sit with this feeling, to remember we all have a say in the messages we choose to believe. I believe that choosing vulnerability is one of the most powerful choices we can make.

I don’t remember what it felt like the first time I chose vulnerability, but I remember when I started to feel like maybe society didn’t always know what was best for me, and to lean deeper into the spaces where I felt safe, heard, and unashamed.

My colleague Sean, who attended the club meeting too, shared this thoughtful reflection after with me:

“Society shapes our thoughts and actions in insidious ways, and one of the biggest is the push to stay silent. Coming together with a group of teens who were willing to open up with us and with each other reminded me again of how important this work is. We are making space to replace silence with connection, which is the way we will change our society to better care for us all.”

Whether you’re just starting out or deep on your journey of unlearning, I invite you to reflect on the ways you’ve been expected to perform your emotions, and consider the impact it’s had on when and how you’ve chosen silence. I hope you can find comfort in knowing that there’s always a better choice.

Read more about Ballou in our recent Knights Minds Matter Club Feature!