For 20 years, the EmpowHer Institute has supported girls and young women in underrepresented communities, ages 11-18, by teaching them necessary skills through education, training, and mentorship to prepare them for college and career opportunities.
Since 2003, the Los Angeles based non-profit has been the only gender-responsive organization in the county to provide a fully integrated social-emotional learning class in Title 1 (includes LAUSD, charter schools, green dot schools, etc.) middle and high schools.
In addition to the social-emotional support, EmpowHer hosts culturally inclusive, trauma-informed, immersive learning programs aimed at breaking generational cycles of poverty with a social justice approach through advocacy and mentorship. The institute also teaches young women financial literacy, along with stock and investments, coding, and art activism, all while helping them develop the knowledge to navigate and explore society and its impact.
EmpowHer is dedicated to helping girls thrive as they serve over 1,000 BIPOC girls in L.A. One hundred percent of their middle school participants matriculate into high school, 100% of their high school girls graduate and attend college, 100% of girls learn a new skill in the program, 90% of their partnered schools report a decline in disciplinary actions among enrolled girls, and 80% of girls report feeling more self-confident and less stressed because of the program’s support. The institute assists Black and Brown girls each year with academic and career exploration programs through various e-steam initiatives, like the annual Girls to Greatness Teen Summit, and their Social Justice STEAM Summer Camp.
President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dawn L. Brown, with more than 20 years of non-profit management and consulting experience, joined the EmpowHer team in October 2020, and has been instrumental in expanding the organization’s reach. She has dedicated her career to the advocacy of women and young with some of the same life experiences growing up in forgotten neighborhoods. In recent interview with the L.A. Sentinel, Brown discussed EmpowHer’s operations, impact, and longevity in the community.
The Washington D.C. native always had a passion for social justice. After studying acting and graduating from New York University (NYU), Brown quickly found her way back to the community working with the youth at a local YMCA. She became a manager, began leading an after-school program in Harlem, and later went back to school to obtain a master’s degree in drama therapy.
After the tragedy on September 11, 2011, Brown believed that she received confirmation about her career path.
“I specialized in working with children and women who came from violent communities and experienced post-traumatic stress as a result. That was during 9/11, and while having my own personal experience and loss, I became one of the go-to therapists working with children who lost caretakers,” she recalled.
“That was my aha moment and my career continued from there, working with girls and primarily youth in the justice system and women who have been sex trafficked. Now I am focused on educational equity with the EmpowHer Institute. Trauma and healing are such a big part of who I am, supporting young people, and women around that work,” said Brown.
As an advocate and strategic thought partner, Brown has led advocacy initiatives that successfully became California legislation, established best practices for eliminating gender bias within the juvenile justice system, decriminalizing girls who have been sex trafficked, and implementing community-based gang intervention strategies. She has also served on various advisory boards focused on issues affecting women and girls of color.
One of EmpowHer’s successful immersive-learning programs is the Social Justice STEAM Camp, a part of the yearlong Social Justice STEAM Initiative. Over the course of five-weeks during the summer, middle school girls study marine biology while staying on a college campus.
In partnership with the University of Southern California’s (USC) Wrigley Science Center, the girls travel to Catalina Island where they’re taught snorkeling and kayaking while studying marine ecology, climate change, and its impact on marginalized communities. Less than 1% of marine biologists are Black women. The program features instructors who are women of color and illustrate the institute’s mission of empowering the girls through education and training.
At the end of the first three-weeks of the program, 25 girls prepare a report and present their research findings for a chance to complete the second session for the remaining two-weeks. The second session offers scuba diving lessons and certifications, along with sailing lessons.
While the middle schoolers complete STEAM, the high school girls work at the camp for above minimum wage or intern with other partnered businesses to align with their career-readiness programs. After graduating high school, all the girls in the program who are accepted into college receive a scholarship. The institute is keeping their promise to help break systemic barriers by eliminating some financial stress, ensuring that they’re able to afford to continue their education.
When explaining the program, Brown shared, “We take a wholistic approach to our work. Instead of just telling them they can do these things and we will inspire you, we’re truly giving them the skills and immersive experiences to know what their life could look like – giving them access to influential women and companies that can later provide employment because when you see her, you can be her.”
With their life-changing programs and initiatives, EmpowHer envisions a world where every girl is provided the opportunities and resources she uniquely needs to embrace the power of her voice; make informed decisions about her body and future; break generational cycles of poverty; contribute to the creation of an equitable society.
To celebrate their 20 years in the community, the institute has designed an anniversary necklace inspired by the EmpowHer logo and proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Made entirely in solid 10K yellow gold in a matte brushed finish, the necklace features almost one carat of garnet gemstones in rhomboid and round.
Designed by Azra Mehdi, 100% of the profits from sales will be donated to the EmpowHer Institute to continue their noteworthy mission of educating and empowering girls.