Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

School self esteem program takes center stage

Talitha Anyabwele performs part of her Black Girl Speaks program Wednesday at Middleton High School in Tampa.


Talitha Anyabwele performs part of her Black Girl Speaks program Wednesday at Middleton High School in Tampa.

TAMPA — She spoke about incest and promiscuity, about teens raising themselves for lack of a suitable parent. She spoke of a cousin who lived down to the T-shirt slogan, "I know what boys like."

One thing Talitha Anyabwele did not speak about during a high school appearance Wednesday was controversy about her contracts with the Hillsborough County School District.

An investigation, requested by School Board member Susan Valdes, concluded that Anyabwele lived up to those agreements to help girls with self-esteem.

Appearing at Middleton High School, Anyabwele used music, characters and well-honed oratory skills to deliver an hour-long message of empowerment and self-respect.

"Stop listening to the dictation that says black girls have to be mamas before wives," she said, three times, for emphasis.

"I want you to hear from me that you are beautiful so that the next time Tyrone tells you, you won't think you have to give him something in return."

While Anyabwele's program is in the clear, some board members are looking for more consistency in how such contracts are executed and monitored. They are scheduled to discuss the issue this morning.

Anyabwele's Black Girl Speaks, recently approved for $35,000, is funded with federal Title 1 dollars intended to support academic goals in lower-income schools. The idea behind using the money to address social issues is that students will not apply themselves at school unless their emotional needs are met.

"They get so much out of it," said Cathy Waters, student intervention specialist at Middleton, where the program is in high demand. Sometimes, she said, the sessions prompt students to bring important issues to the attention of school officials.

They also work on writing and speaking skills, with Anyabwele acting as a tutor and advocate.

To Anyabwele, a 1998 Leto High School graduate, the venture follows stints as an educator and performance artist. She got involved with Middleton as a volunteer and signed her first of three contracts in 2009.

Girls are referred to Black Girl Speaks if their teachers feel they are not working up to their potential, or if they are getting good grades but appear distracted or distressed, Waters said. Eighty girls from Blake and Middleton high schools are now enrolled.

The audience at her appearance earlier this week, drawn from four schools, was all female and predominantly but not exclusively black.

Anyabwele had the girls shout "speak" when she hit upon a familiar subject and "ouch" if it elicited a painful memory.

They became unruly once. Anyabwele stood stoically. "I'll wait," she said, "but not for long."

Judging by the shouts of "speak" and "ouch," some girls could relate to Anyabwele's descriptions of unhealthy relationships that begin as young as age 12.

Kenyata Francis, 18, enjoyed a depiction of a 5-year-old girl praying for the silky blond hair of a Barbie doll. The girl hopes her baby's father will have better hair, and that when she has a child, "she won't look nothing like me."

Kathiana Thannis, 17, was moved by "Touch," a story Anyabwele told in character about a girl describing her first sexual encounter. "It was sad," she said. Anyabwele's delivery was giggly until the end, when her character soberly stated, "I was only 7 then."

Valdes, the School Board member, was also in the audience. While still concerned about contracts in general, she enjoyed the presentation.

"I thought it was really good," she said. "If it helps girls overcome some of these hurdles that they face, that's phenomenal."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or

If you go

The Hillsborough County School Board will discuss contracts in a workshop at 10 a.m. today in the auditorium of the district headquarters, 901 E Kennedy Blvd.

School self esteem program takes center stage 12/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 7:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Senate bill sacrifices health care for tax cuts


    No wonder Senate Republicans drafted their health care legislation in secret. Beneath the surface, it looks no better than the House version that even President Donald Trump has called mean. This remains a massive tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the poor, the middle class and the elderly, and it would cost …

    No wonder Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, above, drafted their health care legislation in secret. Beneath the surface, it looks no better than the House version that even President Donald Trump has called mean.
  2. UberEATS expands to more cities within Tampa Bay


    TAMPA — UberEATS is expanding its service area in Tampa Bay. Starting today, users in Gibsonton, Odessa, New Port Richey, Riverview and Tarpon Springs can have food dropped off at their location.

    UberEATS is expanding its service area in Tampa Bay. [Courtesy of UberEATS]
  3. Tenants face eviction as county and Dade City landlord battle

    Human Interest

    DADE CITY — Lianette Hernandez had hoped she and her family would soon move out of their one-bedroom home in Lazy Breeze Mobile Home & RV Park. But not like this.

    Sarah Bryant-Lewis sits outside her home at Lazy Breeze Mobile Home & RV Park in Dade City. Bryant-Lewis and her family are among 10 households at the park that are being evicted. [Photo by Laura Newberry]
  4. Jameis Winston stats: How the Bucs QB performed under pressure


    Every quarterback's performance declines when he faces pressure from the defense.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston faced pressure on more than 30 percent of his pass plays last season. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. Could Lightning deal for a defenseman today?


    Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has been trying to further bolster his blueline, and he may have a chance to acquire one by tonight's first round of the NHL Draft.

    The Lightning is reportedly in on Travis Hamonic (Islanders), though New York is rumored to be asking for two-first round picks.