TEACHING OUR DAUGHTERS
#TeachingOurDaughters is a candid Q&A series with educators, practitioners, creatives, and everyday community changemakers focused on the empowerment of Black Girls.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker/Orange, New Jersey
In December of 2019, Congressional Black Caucus released
a new report to address the alarming increase in suicide rates for Black children and teenagers over the past generation.
The report found that from 1991 to 2017, suicide attempts in Black teens increased by a staggering 73%.
No one is more familiar with the stories and experiences of Black adolescents than Marline Franscois-Madden - licensed clinical social worker, author, speaker. and owner of Hearts Empowerment Counseling Center. With more than 15 years
of clinical experience, Marline's humanistic approach to counseling coupled with her warm, down to earth view of healing makes her a much sought after expert in the areas
of mental heath, trauma, self-care and girls leadership.
Recognizing that the challenges Black girls face are often overlooked by teachers, administrators, policy makers and
the larger community, Marline is especially passionate about empowering Black Girls. Her book, The State of Black Girls, offers girls activities, coping skills, affirmations, goal-setting and leadership tools to help them navigate through life with poise and success.
More than an advocate, Marline is a wife, daughter, sister
and survivor on a mission to teach teen girls to thrive beyond the survival mode. Read her interview below as she discusses the motivations behind her career choice, why Black girls are in crisis, and the ways we can work collectively to help position them for success.
"This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Marline Franscois - Madden
Where did you grow up? Any cool interesting facts about your childhood or upbringing?
I grew up in Orange, New Jersey which is about a half hour from New York City. I am first generation Haitian, I have two brothers and I come from a large family. We always had family around, and that’s something I truly value. I would say a pretty cool fact is that I'm left-handed [laughing]. Another cool fact is that I still have friendships that I’ve maintained for 30 plus years, friends that I talk to almost on a daily basis. I'm pretty proud of this!
What inspired you to want to become a therapist?
Two things sparked my interest. My mom used to work for a psychologist. And when I first met her, I knew I wanted to become a doctor like her. I didn't know what type of doctor she was - I was just five years old - but eventually I realized she wasn't a medical doctor. Which was fine because I didn’t like blood [laughing]. But by the time I was 13, I was sure I wanted to become a psychologist or a therapist. So part of it was seeing what I wanted to do right in front of me giving me a clear picture of what that looked like.
But my decision to enter this field was also birthed out of my own childhood trauma, experiencing child sexual abuse at a young age. Going through that, not disclosing the abuse to my parents and just trying to navigate that space in my own thoughts was hard. Even though I still maintained a “normal” life - able to maintain friendships, go to school, etc - I was still trying to deal with all the thoughts in my head regarding the abuse. How do I tell my parents? Who can I trust? So I started reading teen magazines like Teen Vogue and Seventeen. They both had “Ask an Expert” columns where young people could ask a therapist all kinds of questions including ones related to sexual trauma. I was like, “Wow, someone else has a story similar to mine and they have no one to talk to about it.” Reading these magazines and the responses from therapists and psychologists, I knew that I wanted to become the person who helped other girls.
What advice would you share with young women looking to mirror your career path??
I would say do your research. It will help you get clearer on what
you want to do and why. Secondly, having a mentor is key because there are so many different directions that you can go in this field. Do you want to get a masters in social work? School counseling? Family therapy? Or do you want to get a PhD in clinical psychology? A mentor can help you navigate those choices. And be sure to find out their mentoring style to make certain it’s a good personality fit.
Chapter one starts off with do black girls matter. Why did you feel that was an important question to lead with?
Because I knew the book was going to get heavy with some of the topics, I wanted the first chapter to give girls space to assert their magic and uplift them before they started to dive deep into topics that would probably be difficult to explore. I wanted them to challenge themselves to think about why they really matter. Sometimes it's hard for girls to think of even one thing they like about themselves or what makes them unique. I really wanted them to understand that being a Black girl is a good thing, a beautiful thing and something worth exploring. We're lit and Black girls ain't going nowhere!
Speaking of Black girl magic, I'm drawn to idea of sisterhood and how we model this for our girls. In your view, has the image of Black women changed in pop culture and media over the years?
That's an important question. When I look at reality TV, it's just
a lot of competition and pettiness in my opinion. Then the pettiness goes to social media and gossip sites which just creates more noise and publicity. So it's really a money trap. I do watch it occasionally myself, but I’m aware that this behavior is not something I practice in my daily life.
At the same time, we have seen more positive images of Black
girls and women over the recent years. A lot of magazines are putting more Black women on the cover. There was one month that almost every major magazine had a Black woman on the cover. It was so dope! I do think by seeing more of that, it helps us greatly. We’re observing more stories about women breaking barriers, excelling in the stem field, or creating ventures that invest in other women. The positivity is hitting the headlines more which I think is
a great thing. We're also seeing more freedom in the way Black women choose to express themselves creatively. People like Lizzo and Cardi B show up super authentic, whether you like it or not! There’s not a lot of code switching happening and I love to see that.
Were there any personal experiences that helped inform your work or influence your decision to write Ths State of Black Girls?
Yes, of course. In addition to the things we discussed earlier, I
also thought about the 15 years I put in the field working. And
with almost every Black girl that I encountered – whether it was
in a rural community, a suburban community, an urban community, or internationally – there was a common theme happening with them. They felt invisible. They were being silenced and not getting the support they needed.
I got tired of seeing the headlines in the news about Black girls - either committing suicide or being slammed to the ground by a police officer. Or hearing from girls who were being pushed out
the classroom or getting teased at school because her hair is
"too big." And instead of supporting her, the school is forcing her to straighten her hair to meet a crazy school dress code policy.
I was also hearing from girls who were dealing with sexual abuse, but didn't disclose it to anyone for fear of being removed from
the home and put in foster care. It was exhausting and infuriating, but also motivating. Suddenly, it all became very clear: We are
in a critical state. Our girls are experiencing a crisis that needs immediate attention and that’s literally where the concept of the book came from.
What in your view are some very specific policies needed to effectively address this crisis?
One important thing is to increase the amount of practitioners that we put in the school system and decrease the amount of school resource officers. You have some schools where practitioners – clinicians, psychologists, school social workers, guidance counselors – are sharing multiple schools. They have so many kids on their caseload which unfortunately means many of them will go unnoticed.
We also need to have more creative arts programs. In many schools, especially those strapped for funding, creative arts programs are the first to go. Now, everything is focused on math, English, social studies, science, and maybe an elective or two,
but that's it. That leaves students with all this academic pressure and no outlet.
We also need to have more mental health training in our schools. For example, in New Jersey, the Governor signed a bill that will establish mental health curriculum for students K through 12th grade. I think this is something that should be done nationally in every school district.
What are some of the ways parents, family members, educators,
and the larger community can work collectively to help empower
Invest in them. Whether it’s mentoring one girl for six months to a year or investing your dollars in smaller grassroots organizations doing the work to support girls in the community. Sometimes we forget about the smaller organizations and tend to give money to
the larger organizations and churches. But are our girls being well represented and supported in those spaces is the important question to ask.
Also, wherever you see a Black girl show up for her. I always
tell people take a minute to look at your own skills and strengths.
When you do that, also think about the ways you can use those skills to help advance the work to support Black girls. Because
it varies from person to person. For some people it may not be mentoring, it may not be coaching, it may not be therapy. But it could be that you’re great when it comes to finances. Perhaps
you can sit on a board of a nonprofit or grassroots organization
that needs help with that and could benefit from your skills. You
may also have access to a big network because you work at a Fortune 500 company. So just think about your own network, your own circles, and how you can leverage that to create more opportunities for Black Girls.
If you had to give your life story a title, what would it be?
It would be entitled How I Flipped My Pain Into My Purpose.
It would be about my life - how the pain of being the girl who struggled to deal with her own childhood trauma is now using those struggles as a purpose to help other girls by creating safe spaces for them.
Be okay with saying "yes" to opportunities. I find that sometimes, as Black women, we struggle with saying
yes to opportunities because we feel like we haven't met all the criteria when it comes to certain duties related to a particular job. But there are some things you can learn while you're there. So learn how to say yes and challenge yourself even more so that you
can grow within your career...
— Maline Francois-Madden
Black Girls Unscripted
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