Even though A’Dorian Murray-Thomas had support from her church, school and family, she says she still felt alone.
“My father was actually killed. He actually, two blocks from our house, he was killed on his way to pay tuition for my school. So it was really difficult,” she said.
She felt nobody could relate to her story.
“I didn’t want any other girl, whether she was going through losing a parent or sibling, or being bullied, or just feeling like everything she’s going through in the world is literally making her feel like she’s nothing. I didn’t want any girl to feel like they didn’t have another group of girls to go to, to connect with,” Murray-Thomas said.
So, at 19-years-old, she started She Wins to give girls in Newark what she was missing – a sisterhood. She says you don’t have to go through it alone and other people can relate to how you feel.
“Ms. Dana and Ms. Dorian really taught me how to just love myself more, because when I came to the program I didn’t know how to really love myself,” said 15-year-old Zekiyah Rivers.
This rising ninth grader says she was bullied for years and it a room of girls that helped her to find self-confidence.
“I just started thinking about myself and saying, ‘I’m beautiful, I’m pretty, I’m smart, intelligent,'” she said.
“If you feel you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful,” said Romilla Rouse, a SHE Wins scholar.
One of the founding members, Lakita Lloyd, is now a peer leader in the program. She says she tells the younger generation her story of being bullied to help them.
“They can relate to you, and know that they can actually get to where you are now,” Lloyd said.
It helped Sasha Andrews, who was also bullied in school.
“You hear other peoples’ stories. It just motivates you to think to go further. And when I just was going through it, it was like I didn’t have anybody to protect me. It was only my sisters and my mothers and like, family. And they always taught me that — oh, keep going, and don’t listen to what other people say and black is beautiful, but sometimes I felt like those words, it didn’t mean anything to me because they didn’t feel it. You sit in there, in class, and people are coming after you recklessly for like, who you are and you’re like, ‘I didn’t ask to be this color.’ I didn’t ask to be in my skin. I didn’t ask to go through what I’m going through,” Andrews said. “It just was un-worth it, and I felt like it was just like nothing in the end. I guess, I just stopped for a minute and I just started coming to this program and started to feel this sisterhood and they protected me and then I felt like I was worth it.”
“The fact that they have each other, that makes a world of difference,” Murray-Thomas said.
The other part of the program is taking the issues these girls face, whether it’s bullying or gun violence, and showing them they can create the solutions.
Murray-Thomas brings the girls into the community to give back and to have conversations with elected officials.
“I wish to stop the gun violence. I say that because I have a lot of family members that got killed with guns and I just wish it never happened. I just wish they were never in that space at that time,” said Zariyah Harrell, a She Wins scholar.
“Those experiences, even those tough ones, can really be the source of you transforming the issues that most affect your life and your community,” Murray-Thomas said.
During one of the sessions, girls went around the room answering questions about what they wanted to do later in life.
“In the future, I want to be a doctor,” a She Wins scholar said.
What they would do if they won $1 million.
“I would, of course, buy my parents a house so they could live in. I would put money aside so I could go to college and get through law school,” Lloyd said.
Answers that show what Murray-Thomas says — they come into this program with all the tools to become the next generation of leaders. She Wins is a safe space where they get to enhance it.