Monday, June 1, 2009

Smart Girls Rock!

There is so much to blog about right now my head is spinning. From the GM bankruptcy to the senseless murders of Wichita OB-GYN and abortion rights advocate George Tiller and Chicago Police Officer Alejandro Valadez, who was gunned down in Englewood, there's a lot going on globally and locally.

But there's one thing, one name, one person that keeps sticking out that I can't shake: Kavya Shivashankar.

As you by now know, 13-year-old Kavya won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week. I'm not ashamed to admit that I watch the Spelling Bee every year, even when it was on ESPN. I've watched Kavya for the last several years and have always been impressed with this young lady's discipline and her strong family support. Every year that she lost was a heartbreaker because she was always so obviously well-prepared. This year was her final year to win it all before aging out of the competition and she did it!

Grace under pressure, calm, determined, prepared, brilliant. In short, Kavya is a salient reminder that Smart Girls Rock!

LaVida, I think of girls like Kavya and am automatically reminded of your 12-year-old -- another card-carrying member of the Smart Girls Rock Coalition.

We grew up with a lot of privileges and I think we both were fortunate to grew up in households and communities where it was ok to be a "smart girl." To a large extent, I think we were both rewarded for being "smart girls."

But girls like Kavya and Asha? They are Smart Girls 2.0. To the 10th power. To infinity. Seemingly unscathed by the self-doubt and mixed signals that crept into our generation. We were "self-sufficient" smart girls. I think of a lot of my friends who were in "accelerated" and honors programs and our parents all largely left us alone. My parents both were educators and yet they spent little hands-on educational time with me checking my work or really finding out what I was doing.

I was so encouraged to see footage of Kavya's father and spelling coach working with her for hours each day, helping her sharpen her craft and preparing her for victory. As close as my retired-college-professor dad and I are, he never spent that kind of time with me on academics, and I don't think would have even had the patience to coach me in spelling words. Tennis and swimming, yes. Spelling words? Not so much. When I was in the 6th grade spelling bee I was my own coach, scrawling out words, definititions and etymologies from the dictionary on notecards in pencil.

Your own "smart girl" benefits from the same kind of hands-on academic and extracurricular involvement as well. Excellence is the norm; exemplary and extraordinary are expected.

These young ladies are matriculating in a time where there, truly, are no limitations to what they can do. Their president is African-American. Their Supreme Court includes women and people of color. Women who look like them are represented in nearly every discipline they're interested in. And most importantly, they come from families where their nurturing and self-esteem supercedes whatever negative influences exist in the larger culture.

But for every Kavya and Asha, there are scores of girls just entering their teen years who are wracked with self-doubt and lacking the support to shine as they should. As proud as I am of Kavya, my dream is to see more kids like Kennyi Anouad in the spelling bee. Kennyi, whose parents are from Ghana, was the only African-American boy to make it to the final round, tying for 5th -- up from 91st place in 2008. I want to see a real-life Akeelah in the final round, like from the movie Akeelah and the Bee -- a bright and shiny "smart girls rock" kind of Black girl from the public school system. Someone whose mom, dad, grandma, mentor, pastor, etc., is coaching her to greatness in the spelling bee, in academia, in life!

Were I blessed enough to have a daughter, I'd make sure she was part of the Smart Girls Rock Coalition. I'd tell my daughter to forget about Miley Cyrus or Hannah Montana or any other fictional "tween" phenomenon. I'd want my daughter to be like Kavya -- tenacious, persistent, disciplined. I'd want my daughter to never feel conflicted about being "smart" like so many African-American children are. LaVida, I want our generation to raise geeks and not gangsters.

I want our generation to be raising the baddest little girls in the world; girls who will smile onstage just like Kavya, confident, when they get a word like laodicean.

From one Smart Girl Rockin' to another,

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