Brooklyn women train girls to become DIVAS

When you typically hear women referred to as divas, it normally isn’t a compliment. The founders of DIVAS for Social Justice, Clarisa James and Sha Sha Feng have put a new spin on the word. At DIVAS for Social Justice, D.I.V.A.S. stands for: digital, interactive, visual arts, sciences. The women behind the organization are fueled by a mission that aims to encourage young women in underserved communities to pursue careers in new media and computer science.

“We are motivated by our mission because their is a great need in communities of color to provide love and high expectations to youth so they can realize they are capable of great things,” said Clarisa James, Executive Director.

In today’s fast-paced world, science and technology careers are in high-demand. The tools DIVAS for Social Justice provide is necessary in order to propel young women of color for high-demand STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.

One of the most exciting things DIVAS for Social Justice are brewing is the launch of their My Sister’s Keeper app, which provides a platform for a community of women and girls to receive loving affirmations.

“Our team developed the app over a six month period. The concept of the app was my idea. Murray Cox and I trained the girls in digital photography and video production while discussing how women of color are portrayed in the media and the effect it has on the relationships in our lives with each other,” said James.

DIVAS Video Shoot“We also explored the issues of what questions girls of color ask themselves the most growing up. The girls in our program surveyed their friends and provided the questions and then asked women in the community to provide loving affirmations and answers to those questions on camera. After that process, the girls participated in a six week course in coding in order to design the app.”

Aside from coding, the young people in the program get to learn other skills ranging from Photoshop to robotics. Additionally, they become a part of a community of loving women.

The organization still faces some challenges, however. Securing operational funding has presented them with a problem because some larger corporate donors consider their six year charity too small to fund.

“Even though we have done innovative programming in the communities we serve, we’ve been often told by funders we are too small for them to support us. As a result of this, the organization has a built-in revenue stream to keep programming up but now charges a fee in order to keep operating,” she said.

_MG_0490“In the six years the organization has been around we have been able to secure funding based on the strength of our grant writing. The big challenge we face is being able to secure operational funding which we know is a combination of providing programming that has impact, having a network of contributors and having good relationships with foundations.”

A relatively small group, they still manage to get a lot accomplished because the women find so much meaning in the work they do.

“My Co-Founder helps with the technological needs of the website and works on special projects alongside me. We have two wonderful volunteers: Professor Andrea Taylor and Murray Cox,” she said.

Andrea Taylor is an IT professor at Pace University and teaches robotics. Murray Cox is a multimedia producer and software engineer and was the lead app developer on the My Sister’s Keeper app and taught classes in coding.

“The greatest reward in the work that I do is being able to provide a platform for children of color that has high expectations and put them in a position to show them they can be: the innovators, technologists and creationists in their own communities,” she said.

If you’re interested in supporting DIVAS for Social Justice and their programming, check them out online at: http://www.divasforsocialjustice.org or support their current campaign online at: http://fnd.us/c/6gou5.

To download the app, it is now currently available for both Android and Apple devices.

Check out the official trailer for the My Sister’s Keeper app below.

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