Girl Power was a strong movement in late 1999, when Medjinne Dubuche, now 22, joined a fledgling after-school program to help middle school girls understand who they were and who they could become.
"I remember the Spice Girls were really big at the time, so I knew what Girl Power was. But I didn't really know what it meant until becoming a Jump Start Girl."
The Jump Start Girls program was created by the Silver Spring-based nonprofit Community Bridges at Silver Spring International Middle School in Silver Spring, Md. Dubuche was among the program's first class—girls from Africa, the Carribbean, and Latin America who brought many unique languages and backgrounds to the program.
"But Jump Start showed us how alike we were," Dubuche recalls, saying she formed strong cross-cultural friendships that broke powerful social barriers at school and in her community." Because we were all girls who had the extraordinary ability to do anything we wanted in life, beyond the many limitations put on women from our different cultures," Dubuche says.
Her mother was a Haitian immigrant who knew opportunities existed for her children in the United States, Dubuche says, but did not know what or where they were.
"That's why she enrolled me in the program," Dubuche says, adding that at first she did not know what to expect and was shy. "But I quickly gained confidence that blossomed into leadership."
One of Dubuche's early memories of the program was of an African woman who talked with the girls about their bodies. Dubuche admits to feeling uncomfortable with the subject at first, but says it made her feel strong.
"For the first time I thought, ‘I can do whatever I want—with my body or my mind,' " Dubuche recalls. The lesson came just in time; Dubuche experienced sexual abuse just before entering the program and needed help coping and talking about it.
"Jump Start Girls gave me tools to be strong for myself and then taught me how to use them. I knew I wasn't broken. It was not my fault. I was okay. I still had worth." The program helped her find the support and courage she needed to eventually tell her parents what had happened.
Dubuche says Jump Start Girls changed the whole course of her life. "I gained a strong sense of resilience—that no matter what challenges I faced, I could push through."
Dubuche is now a mother and a full-time psychology major at Lehman College in New York, and works with developmentally disabled youth. She always draws upon her experience with Jump Start Girls, saying her most important lesson was learning to give back.
"I want to share what I learned—that life is full of challenges, but also opportunities."
That's why she tries to inspire the same Girl Power in other women she learned as a Jump Start Girl.
"If you love yourself first, nothing else matters. And when you are in control of your self-esteem, nobody can break you."
Community Bridges is a nonprofit organization that provides multicultural empowerment and leadership programs for young, at-risk girls in the Silver Spring, Maryland, community. Community Bridges' services are free to all participants. Most program participants are from low-income or immigrant backgrounds. At Community Bridges they gain access to the experiences, opportunities, people, and ideas that will help them succeed in life. Learn more about Community Bridges.