After several quiet months, the museum is slowly and safely welcoming small groups of young visitors back into our spaces, sprinkling chatter and laughter into the sounds and rhythms of the galleries. Lit in hot pink on a Saturday in May, NOMA’s new Lapis Center for the Arts became home-for-a-day to GIRLS NOLA—the Girls Initiative for Reproducing Leaders in Society—for an incredibly special reunion and retreat.
GIRLS NOLA is an arts-integrated sexual and reproductive health program in New Orleans that works to educate and empower young women to lead. Like many youth organizations, GIRLS NOLA made the jump to all-virtual programming during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the girls, ages 8–19, reconnected with one another in person for the first time in months; some even met their adult mentors for the first time beyond the Zoom frame. At the helm of the initiative is community leader and educator Nakita Shavers, the founder and executive director of the Dinerral Shavers Educational Fund (DSEF), the initiative’s parent organization. I’ve been privileged to collaborate with Nakita through her work as the Music and Arts Coordinator at the Youth Empowerment Project, and was thrilled to reconnect through another one of her many avenues of youth engagement with her community.
Raised in a family of musicians and artists, Nakita centers the arts in her own life, and thus, her approach to programmatic development. The visual arts, music, New Orleans culture, and the spirit of play, or “gamification,” are embedded into GIRLS NOLA lessons and projects, amping up the fun and opening up points of access for deeper engagement with topics like sexuality and reproductive health.
At NOMA, GIRLS NOLA mentees took part in team-building exercises, personal reflection and vision-boarding, art-making with a guest artist, and even a private luncheon with surprise guest Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Mentor–mentee pairs got to know one another through a scavenger hunt in NOMA’s galleries and Besthoff Sculpture Garden, culminating in a group discussion about Wangechi Mutu’s The Seated III, an ethereal Black goddess kneeling as she presides over the garden. In her, we saw luminescent gold and bronze; we saw poise and power; and we saw an other-worldliness that evokes a bright and innovative Black future where she’s free of her earthly burdens.
GIRLS NOLA trailblazers are well on their way to becoming our future thinkers, makers, movers, and leaders, lighting the way for our local community and beyond.
—Danielle Rives, Youth Programs Coordinator
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