I hail from humble beginnings.
As a former high school dropout who lived in a single parent household, I was inspired to create Girl Vow after a suicide attempt at the age of 16 while enduring a silent domestic violence relationship. It was during that period of turmoil that I said one day I would help girls like me.
I always encountered fierce, educated, pure, and dulcet no-nonsense women throughout my life. My saving grace became a teacher named Ms. Bell, as well as the countless women who provided me with shelter while teaching me life skills. My adopted mom was a super-shero. I could always tell her my darkest secrets. She carried them to her last breath. She was a small, quiet woman who sat in power. I absorbed as much as I could from her. Our love affair was precious. We had a genuine relationship that consisted of late-night conversations and tea. She protected me. She pushed me. She showed up for me.
I took the final leap to start Girl Vow after the last and much needed push from her. Unbeknownst to me, she was gravely ill. She called me the evening before she transitioned: She was too weak to talk, but I was on her mind. She was worried about an issue I had been facing. I remember telling her not to worry about me. She sat still on the phone. I got the news she passed the next day. I received the nonprofit's 501c(3) the following week. Losing her still devastates me, but knowing she chose me is my saving grace. I will always cry for her. My relationships educated me on womanhood in ways I never knew I had to prepare for. Those invaluable dialogues shifted my thinking and my visibility. Without the lessons, my burdens would be costly.
Looking back, the injection of women supporting me was instrumental in the completion of my high school diploma. I was advised early on that education would be my way out of poverty. I took those words to heart. I am now the founder of Girl Vow, an organization dedicated to the mentoring of and advocacy for disadvantaged girls. Through education, mentorship, and life skills training, we open the door to economic sustainability and personal transformation for future generations of women and girls that were in the position as me. I wanted to help forgotten and hard-to-place girls find ways to overcome trauma, while also putting a strong emphasis on helping them understand their inherent worth. In addition to creating Girl Vow, I am also a faculty member at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a certified researcher. My graduation would become the catalyst for obtaining two master's degrees, one from Brooklyn College City University of New York in Sociology and another from Baruch College City University of New York in Higher Education Administration.
Now, in my work, I find resolve; I find purpose; I find the power to live out my dreams and heal others on their path to pursue dreams of their own. I am driven by our mission to transform, mentor, and advocate for girls impacted by poverty, foster care, or the juvenile justice system. Yet, I am not immune to the challenges of being a girl of color. I have had to fight for many accolades that are normally more readily allowed to others. My losses have become my gifts. Although I have not passed through unscathed, I remain more determined than ever in spite of life's misfortunes.
I advise girls and women everywhere to lay their burdens down. Let those harmful moments go and share it with someone else, to give them the potential to heal.
Dawn has received recognition for her work in addressing domestic violence from The New York State Attorney General's Office, for community leadership from New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera, and from Delta Sigma Theta and The Department of Juvenile Justice for her work with incarcerated youth. Currently, Dawn is a resident of New York City, an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan College and at John Jay College of Criminal Justice City University of New York. Dawn spent the previous eight years as a faculty member at The College of New Rochelle, where she was considered an emerging academic leader. She is a certified Institutional Review Board researcher, a youth motivational speaker, and the former vice president of a large not-for-profit organization that focuses on community development in New York City. Dawn also has worked for the Bronx District Attorney's Office, and worked in youth development at The Department of Youth and Community Development. She has worked in several capacities in the foster care and juvenile justice systems while working with incarcerated youth. Contact Girl Vow here.
Words: Dawn Rowe