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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Young women of a Rogers High club look to themselves, others for empowerment

On Tuesday morning at Rogers High School, messages of empowerment came from every corner of Room 209.

During a meeting of the Strong Women Achieving Greatness club, adviser Jaime Stacy told 15 young women about how Spokane may soon have a female mayor.

They also got the message from Michelle Obama’s best-selling book “Becoming,” which they’ve been studying for months.

Mostly, though, empowerment came from the teens themselves, who’ve already done some heavy lifting against heavy odds.

“Like getting kicked out of your own house and still find your way to graduation and still have to balance a job at the same time,” said senior Shareeda Whitehurst, who has done just that.

Or working three part-time jobs and looking for a fourth, which is how classmate Brooklynn Paul pays the rent to live with her aunt and uncle.

“And hoping that you don’t get laid off,” Paul said.

Whitehurst and Paul shared a table in the back of the room with Mika Brewer and Jacqueline Vazquez. All four expect to be in college this fall.

For them, self-empowerment wasn’t gleaned from a book, but it helps.

“That’s because it speaks directly to our mission,” said Stacy, a choir teacher at nearby Shaw Middle School. “That mission is to empower and equip women and connect them to other resources that are going to help them achieve.”

That’s one reason Stacy founded the club, now in its second year. It meets every Tuesday morning. SWAG has clubs around the nation, most offering the same recruiting message each fall:

“SWAG is now recruiting extraordinary women, real women. Requirements: independent in every way, respect for oneself and others, intelligence: book-smart and street-smart, goal oriented and inspires other females, effortlessly sexy, classy and beautiful inside and out. Got what it takes? Then SWAG wants you, beautiful lady!”

SWAG has many plausible role models, but few can compare with Obama. Raised by working-class parents on the South Side of Chicago, her story also resonates in northeast Spokane.

Determined to apply to Princeton, she was told by a high school counselor that she “wasn’t Princeton material.”

In her book, Obama said she can’t remember details about the woman – her race or her age – because she “deliberately and almost instantly blotted this experience out.”

Obama applied anyway. Four years later, she had a Princeton degree and was admitted to Harvard Law School.

Admonished for aiming too high, Obama persevered. It’s the same story at Rogers.

“They’ve been exposed to a lot of things,” Stacy said of the girls in the club. “A lot of people haven’t necessarily lifted them up in their lives.”

Much of the discussion Tuesday centered on the title of Obama’s book – why it was chosen and what it meant to them.

The answers were surprising in their level of maturity.

“There’s never a stopping point in becoming a better person,” Whitehurst said. “If you become wise, you always have room to become wiser.

“It’s about becoming the person you see yourself becoming,” added Whitehurst, who hopes to become an attorney.

SWAG’s final meeting is next week, when club members will offer presentations on the book during a forum. They’ll face a few questions, but they won’t be questioning themselves.

“I felt like this group helped me become a better person,” said Brewer, who along with Vazquez will attend Washington State University this fall.

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