Girls Empowerment Network

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A Life in the Shadows

Dr. Obayan shared that she spent more than 20 years of her life undocumented. “Growing up I lived a very precarious life. I lived a very hidden life,” she says. “And I lived a very what felt to me like an unsafe life.” She described living in the shadows and in constant worry, while still trying to reach for her goals. “It was kind of like running a marathon, but with a 100-pound rock on my back is what it felt like,” she said.

The way people talk about children who are undocumented is isolating, and many children feel deeply ashamed of their immigration status. She points out that children like herself did not make the choice to immigrate to another country. Negative “rhetoric causes internalization of all these negative thoughts that can impact a child’s mental health, a child’s physical health and the child’s ability to connect and attach,” explained Dr. Obayan. “There are so many things that, that I’ve had to work through living in this country…with basically no support.” When people are marginalized and frightened, it can adversely affect the trajectory of their lives.

Communities of Support for Girls

Dr. Obayan’s experience growing up prompted her to create different experiences for black, brown and/or undocumented girls or those with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). “So when COVID hit, I said, gosh, if I could just do one thing in my life, what would that thing be? One thing. And for me, that thing was creating community, for these girls,” she says.

Since Dr. Obayan had already been a volunteer with Girls Empowerment Network, she reached out because she knew that help could really be impactful in Texas. “I reached out to Julia and I said, you know, I really want to create the scholarship for girls who are undocumented, or who have something called DACA.”

She explains that young people in this situation often cannot apply for scholarships anywhere else and they are mainly on their own financially. Dr. Obayan continued, “I wanted to fill that need in our community and give these girls an opportunity to be part of a beautiful, diverse, thriving community of powerful women and not have to worry about that financial roadblock.”

 She explains that it would have made such a difference if she had the support of a community as a younger person.

One Lesson for Girls: Self-Love

From her early experiences, Dr. Obayan’s advice for girls is to concentrate on self-love:

“I just really want all the girls out there to, I want you to just treat yourself like just the most precious, precious thing that you have ever come across in your whole life. Because treating yourself that way—and loving yourself—is gonna lead to so much enrichment of life. It’s going to lead to so much healthiness for you. It’s going to lead to so much self-confidence. It’s going to build your self-esteem. It’s going to help you speak. It’s going to help you advocate not only for yourself, but also for our communities.”

Dr. Obayan explains that a positive outlook starts from within. This is why we should be gentle with ourselves and show ourselves compassion. She said, “So I want you every single day, when you get up, I want you to look yourself in the mirror, I want you to say, say ‘I am beautiful’. I want you to say ‘I am strong’. I want you to say ‘I am feeling’. I want you to say ‘I love me.’ Every time we get up, I want you to say those things.”

It’s okay if negative emotions come up. Simply observe those feelings and let them pass, so you can process them more healthfully. She advises, “You will feel healthier, you will feel empowered, you’ll feel strong, you’ll walk out the door and you’ll be ready to conquer whatever you need to conquer the day.”





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