Shirley Edgerton: Berkshire County Community Activist | Connecting Point | Nov. 20, 2019


IN PART THREE OF OUR
MONTH-LONG LOOK AT WOMEN BUSINESS LEADERS IN THE
BERKSHIRES, WE FEATURE THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF COMMUNITY
ACTIVIST, SHIRLEY EDGERTON. SHE IS THE FOUNDER OF A
MENTORING PROGRAM FOR ADOLESCENT GIRLS CALLED THE
“RITES OF PASSAGE AND EMPOWERMENT PROGRAM,” MORE
COMMONLY KNOWN AS “ROPE”. EDGERTON RECENTLY SAT DOWN
WITH CONNECTING POINT’S CAROLEE MCGRATH TO DISCUSS WHY
SHE DECIDED TO START THIS PROGRAM 9 YEARS AGO.>>IT’S BASICALLY MENTORING
PROGRAM FOR YOUNG WOMEN IN MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOLS, WE
HAVE A STRONG FOCUS ON EDUCATION, TRANSITIONING INTO
WOMANHOOD, CELEBRATING WOMANHOOD. SO — THAT PROCESS OCCURS
THROUGH THE YOUNG WOMEN BEING CONNECTED TO A PROFESSIONAL
MENTOR OUR YOUNG WOMEN ARE PREDOMINANTLY OF COLOR, AND SO
IT’S AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THEM TO ENGAGE WITH PROFESSIONAL
WOMEN OF COLOR.>>HOW DO YOU DEVELOP
SELF-ESTEEM WITH WOMEN OF COLOR, SAME COULD BE SAID FOR
YOUNG MEN, YOUR FOCUS IS TEENAGE GIRL, THAT IS A HARD
AGE FOR EVERYBODY, HOW DO YOU DEVELOP THAT SENSE OF
SELF-WORTH?>>THAT’S AN EXCELLENT
QUESTION. SO IT’S COMPREHENSIVE, AND AT
LEAST THE WAY WE APPROACH IT, WE HAVE A HOLISTIC PROGRAM
WHERE WE DEAL WITH ALL ASPECTS OF OUR BEING, SO THE PHYSICAL,
THE SPIRITUAL, THE MENTAL. SO WE MEET ONCE A MONTH, AND
THERE ARE DIFFERENT TOPICS THAT WE COVER WITHIN THE
SCHEME OF BEING HOLISTIC BEINGS. THE MENTORS ARE EITHER —
GUESTS WILL COME IN AND HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUNG
WOMEN. THAT’S ONE WAY, WE START OFF
OUR MEETINGS WITH AN AFFIRMATION EVERY MONTH AND
ASK THE YOUNG WOMEN IF THEY WOULD RECITE THAT AFFIRMATION
DETAIL AY AT HOME.>>WHAT IS IT?>>I AM ENOUGH, AND IT’S ALL
THESE SENTENCES ABOUT WHY YOU ARE ENOUGH. JUST YOUR VERY BEING, HOW
BEAUTIFUL THEY ARE. HOW THE GIFTS THAT THEY HAVE,
THE BRILLIANCE THAT THEY CARRY, HOW THEIR CULTURE AND
THEIR RICH HERITAGE IMPACTS THEIR BEING AND THAT THEY’RE
ENOUGH WITH ALL OF THAT. I TELL YOU LADIES THIS
CONSTANTLY, YOU’RE BRILLIANT, YOU’RE GORGEOUS, YOU HAVE ALL
THESE INCREDIBLE CAREERS AND FUTURES IN FRONT OF YOU. YOU REALLY ARE ENOUGH RIGHT
NOW, YOU REALLY ARE ENOUGH.>>WE DO SERVICE LEARNING
PROJECTS, WE DO LOCAL PROJECTS EVERY OTHER YEAR, WE TRAVEL TO
SOUTH AFRICA, AND THERE THE YOUNG WOMEN ENGAGE IN
PARTICULAR PROGRAMS AND TASKS. FOR THE LAST SIX YEARS WE HAVE
GONE ORPHANAGES AND DEVELOPED SOME RELATIONSHIPS, THE
LEARNING AND THE UNDERSTANDING OF WHO THEY ARE IN THE WORLD
AND THAT THEY’RE GLOBAL WOMEN, IT ALSO IMPACTS THEIR
UNDERSTANDING AND THEIR SELF-ESTEEM.>>I WANT TO GO BACK TO YOU
TALKING ABOUT THAT PHRASE, I AM ENOUGH. YOU KNOW, THAT IS SOMETHING
THAT I THINK WE ALL COULD LEARN FROM CERTAINLY, BUT YOU
WOULD HOPE THAT THEY WOULD KNOW THAT, THAT THEY WOULD
KNOW THEY’RE ENOUGH AND THEY’RE BEAUTIFUL AND VALUED
AND THEY MATTER, UNFORTUNATELY, WE KNOW
SOCIETY, YOU GET LOST AND YOU OFTEN FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T
MEASURE UP.>>THAT’S RIGHT. ALSO BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A
COMMUNITY WHERE THE PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR,
PARTICULARLY PROFESSIONALS, IS AT A MUCH LOWER PERCENTAGE
THAN WHITE, SO THE RESEARCH TELLS US THAT WE NEED MIRRORS,
WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO SEE OURSELVES. SO OFTEN OUR YOUNG WOMEN, WHEN
THEY ATTEND SCHOOL, THEY DON’T SEE EDUCATORS OF COLOR. WHEN THEY’RE IN THE COMMUNITY
DEALING WITH WHATEVER — THEY DON’T SEE WOMEN OF COLOR. SO THIS PROGRAM IS ALSO —
HELPS THEM TO PROVIDE THAT MIRKER TO SAY, SEE, LOOK AT
ME, I’M A WOMAN OF COLOR AND I’VE HAD THIS INCREDIBLE
CAREER. GUESS WHAT? YOU CAN DO LIKEWISE BECAUSE
YOU ARE ENOUGH.>>WHAT ABOUT FOR YOUNG GIRLS
WHO COME IN HERE, PERHAPS THEY’VE EXPERIENCED STRONG —
THEY’VE HAD THEIR SPIRIT CRUSHED BY WHATEVER MIGHT HAVE
HAPPENED IN THEIR YOUNG LIVES, HOW DO YOU REBUILD THAT AND
HOW DO YOU GAIN TRUST? I HAVE TO IMAGINE THAT HAS TO
BE A LOT OF IT. IF YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT
MENTORS COMING IN, THEY MIGHT LOOK VERY SKEPTICAL AND SAY I
DON’T BELIEVE YOU, I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING TO
ME.>>DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIPS IS
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF WHAT WE DO AS MENTORS. WE DON’T PUSH OURSELVES ON THE
YOUNG WOMEN. WE ALLOW THEM TO MAKE THE
CHOICE, THIS IS THE MENU OF INCREDIBLE WOMEN THAT ARE
BEFORE YOU. OFTEN WHEN THE MENTORS PRESENT
THEMSELVES, THEIR CAREER, THEIR LIFE EXPERIENCES, THERE
IS A YOUNG WOMAN OR TWO THAT CAN RELATE TO THAT
EXPERIENCE. AND THERE’S THAT INSTANT
CONNECTION. THEN THEY BEGIN THEIR
RELATIONSHIP. SO THERE’S THAT MONTHLY
MEETING, BUT THE MENTORING IS BEYOND THE MEETINGS. THE MENTOR AND THEMENTIES
DECIDE HOW THEY WANT TO CONNECT WITH EACH OTHER. COULD BE TEXTING SOMETIMES,
YOU COULD BE GOING OUT FOR ICE CREAM, COULD BE GOING TO A
SHOW. IT’S AN ARRAY AND SOMETIMES
IT’S JUST RESPONDING WHEN THEY’RE HAVING A HARD DAY OF
SCHOOL OR THERE’S A FAMILY SITUATION AND THEY NEED
SOMEONE TO TALK TO.>>WHY WAS THIS SO IMPORTANT
FOR YOU TO START THIS NINE YEARS AGO?>>WELL, BESIDES RECOGNIZING
WHAT I SAW IN THE PERFORMANCE ARTS GROUP, IF IT WASN’T FOR
MENTORS IN MY LIFE, I KNOW I WOULD NOT BE SITTING HERE
TODAY AND WOULD NOT HAVE EXPERIENCED THE THINGS THAT I
HAVE IN MY LIFE, WOULD NOT HAVE HAD THE SUCCESSES. SO I UNDERSTAND THAT, AND I
UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORING. SO IT’S MY WAY OF GIVING BACK,
AND IT’S MY WAY OF UNDERSTANDING THAT THAT’S PART
OF MY PURPOSE ON THIS PLANET.




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