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Summertime Chi: She's Home

Summertime in Chicago is my favorite time of the year.

As the smell of barbecue begins to fill the air, the windy city breeze quickly turns into a heat that beats down the back of your neck. The melodies of Bucket Boys fill the air at major intersections as members of the South Shore Drill Team move to the beat of the summer sun, and block clubs across the city prepare for a staple summer ritual -- The Block Party.

Block parties originated as functions to help acclimate southern Blacks to their new communities. Originally introduced by the Chicago Urban League in the 1900s it has continued to be a function where Chicago culture is embraced and showcased from sun up to sun down -- or until a heavy rain shuts the party down. It is a function that has modernized over the years with new music and new games, however, its essence is the same. The purpose of a block party is to commune together, share a meal, engage in a few heated conversations at the spades table, dance to the music, and enjoying each other's company.

With last year being a year without much human interaction and no block parties due to the pandemic, an inspiring event kicked off the reopening of the city. Welcoming in another beautiful Chi-town summer, the You Go Girl Leadership Institute launched the She's Home Block Party, catering to fostered or adopted young black and brown girls, connecting the community with resources and programming, providing a meal, and so much more.

Volunteers, family, friends and attendees setting up for the festivities.

Pink shirts were sprinkled across a section of Ogden Park, orchestrating a divine symbol of femininity, sweetness, and unity. Standing in solidarity with the foundation's President and Founder, Danielle Porter, businesses, community organizations, and family came out to support the mission and vision of the You Go Girl Leadership Institute. I had the honor of sitting down with Danielle Porter, and a few of her close family and friends, to learn more about the work that she is doing and the She's Home block party event.

"You Go Girl," started off as a personal mantra for Danielle. Growing up she used to sing all the time and whenever she would get nervous on stage she would hear the voice of her Aunt cheering her on, telling her, "You go girl!," and it became a statement that she carried with her throughout her life because of its power to shake off all of her nerves and fear.

"I remember growing up there was shame around being raised in a single-parent household or if you had a different last name than your siblings. There was such a negative stigma on both of them… And knowing my own story, being adopted, I didn't want to be judged or feel any shame considering my own situation. I also knew at home… I never felt that. And so, in starting the leadership foundation I wanted others to feel lifted up and encouraged."

What started off as a personal word of encouragement, manifested into a foundation that seeks to encourage, mentor, develop and guide young girls between the ages of 7 and 18, who have been fostered or adopted, providing them with a safe space to be themselves, be encouraged and uplifted and be surrounded by a community who understands that we all come with our own stories that we sometimes need guidance and support in navigating.

A group of children and lovely volunteers striking a joyful pose for the camera.

Danielle has a story that is uniquely hers. A story that one recognizes as the favor of God in her life. Adopted as a newborn, her biological mom and her adoptive mom (biological cousin) would talk a lot while she was pregnant with Danielle -- in fact her then cousin would often refer to Danielle as her baby. And when she was born, it was almost as if the words that were spoken over her came to fruition.

"It never felt like adoption because my mom that raised me included my biological mother in my life. My biological mother encouraged me to respect the woman that raised me. So for me, I never really felt like I was adopted. All of my siblings and I were adopted, but we were still blessed. And if that was the story that God had blessed me with, why not share it?"

Volunteers preparing the table for meals to be served.

You Go Girl Leadership Institute was started recognizing the phenomenal, game-changing, women that Danielle met in college and throughout life which made her inspired to share those connections with others. She seeks to break the stigma around the conversations of being fostered or adopted, she envisions her foundation as her ministry -- with the goal of changing lives through authentic mentorship and genuine connection that shows each girl who comes through the institute that their stories and futures are theirs to reclaim and define.

"A lot of the time you'll hear someone say 'Oh, they gave her up for adoption.' or 'She was put up for adoption.' And the reality is, people are not objects. You put things up for an auction, you put away a pet. At the end of the day, we're all human beings and the conversations around adoption or foster care should be humane conversations. There are different situations that call for the normalization of adoption and fostering."

Since inception in 2020, You Go Girl has been able to admit their students, Diamond and Jamire Wilson, to their top choices for college coupled with a $250 book scholarship from Barnes and Noble, while also connecting with other groups and institutions in the Englewood community.

"Honestly, I breathe better knowing that I can help someone else. The adoption may be the start of someone's story, but then what? The stories that we are given are our platform, our testimony, to be able to share with others. It's not an asterisk, to be omitted or looked over -- and it is surely not where our stories end. And I know that I may be the exception to the rule because sometimes there are circumstances that are very difficult. But if I have to be a living testament to encourage others to adopt or for someone to be proud of who they are being adopted [by], I would absolutely share my story time and time again."

For Danielle, the She's Home Block Party was a reminder of her purpose. Walking the same blocks she grew up on, reminiscing, and talking to the people in the community hearing, "Wow, you're doing something positive here," affirmed why she even hosted this event in the first place -- to uplift and encourage not only the young ladies in her program but ultimately others as well.

Two beautiful young girls pose for the camera at the arts and crafts station.

I see women like Danielle as bridge builders, connecting and bringing the people around them together for a greater good. It was interesting meeting her for the first time in person, yet still somehow feeling like I had met her before or known her for a long time. The aura her spirit gives off is familiar, loving, and kind. Being around her family, friends, and loved ones helped me understand why this block party made me feel so at home. At a time in my life where I'm preparing to move, it was an experience I needed. It was an opportunity to honor and appreciate the culture of my city, a city that I have grown to know and to love. It was an atmosphere saturated with genuine love and inspiration, with the laughter of children and adults filling the air.

The She's Home Block Party was a homecoming event. Everywhere I turned there was a smiling face or helping hand welcoming me. It amazed me how intentional Danielle was with this event. At the same time it confirmed who Danielle is as a woman and what she envisions for the future of You Go Girl. With Danielle Porter on the frontlines, this leadership institute will be a space for young girls to be encouraged, mentored, and positioned around perspectives that allow them to reclaim the narratives of their stories, breaking the stigma around fostering and adoption.

Beyond that Danielle is a light. She is a God-fearing woman who delights herself in serving others. This was my first time engaging with a non-profit organization that caters to young girls who have been fostered or adopted. And walking away from the event, I had to ask myself what does it mean to be at home -- and how do I even define it. Is home truly just a place where you live? Or is it a place where you feel the most encouraged and uplifted to embrace who it is that you are right now?

In reflecting on my time with Danielle and thinking of my family's unique story, I've realized that the destination doesn't matter. The atmosphere and how welcomed you are to show up as yourself is what makes a place home, and is ultimately what makes people feel like family. I strongly believe that the You Go Girl Leadership Institute has a purpose beyond just encouragement. It is a safe haven that allows every individual who experiences their programming, students, and staff, to rediscover what it means to find a home within themselves.

Closing out my interview with Danielle I asked her, what was one piece advice that she would give to her younger self. She responded, "Believe in yourself, you're not wrong in who you are. At times you may be confused, but you are not wrong in who you are." This statement alone is a signal from someone who is affirmed in who she is. And when you know your own worth, there is a power that you birth into the work that you do which will impact the lives of so many around you.

Danielle Porter, Founder & President of You Go Girl Leadership Institute.

This block party is the first of many events that You Go Girl has planned. And I am incredibly excited to see what they have in store, how they continue to break stigmas around fostering and adoption, and the lives they impact by helping individuals discover what it means to come home.

Feel free to email Danielle Porter if you are interested in partnering, collaborating on mentorship opportunities, becoming a sponsor or networking with the You Go Girl Leadership Institute. Additionally, follow Danielle and You Go Girl on social media to stay up to date on what they have in store!

For a video featuring interviews from the event, head over to my YouTube for a short documentary. But be sure to checkout candids in the gallery below -- all photos are courtesy of Torrie Briggs.

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