Philly teen girls get life lessons from successful Black women at Women’s History Month luncheon

Students from el Centro de Estudiantes and Vaux Big Picture High School were inspired by community leaders and discussed mental health, education and societal stereotypes.

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5 women posing for a photo together

From left to right: Shemesha Burton, Nyisha Chapman, Farida Boyer, Dawn Johnson, Battalion Chief Lisa Forrest pose for a photo after receiving awards at Women’s History Month luncheon. (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s first African American female fire battalion chief was among several prominent women from Philadelphia who spoke to a group of young girls on Thursday in honor of National Women’s History Month.

The luncheon provided an open dialogue between the women and more than 60 female students from el Centro de Estudiantes and Vaux Big Picture High School.

The panelist of Black women spoke to the diverse crowd of Black and Hispanic teenage girls about their struggles, challenges and how they overcame them to become successful.

Arianna Trueblood is a Vaux Big Picture High School senior and said she felt inspired by their stories.

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Arianna Trueblood posing for a photo
Arianna Trueblood is a senior at Vaux Big Picture High School and performed a poem at the Women’s luncheon. (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

“That you have a chance in the world to actually accomplish and be something,” Trueblood said.

“You choose your own path. Because a lot of people on the panel chose their own path they had their struggles but …  overcame it.”

Battalion Chief Lisa Forrest said she overcame many challenges when she became the first African American female Fire Battalion Chief in the Philadelphia Fire Department’s 149-year history.

Forrest encouraged the audience of teen girls to protect their brands by advising them to be mindful of the choices they make on social media and in real life.

Lianny Santiago is a senior at El Centro and plans to attend Rowan when she graduates. She said the advice she received inspired her and made her proud to be a woman.

She hopes to make a difference in her neighborhood. “I learned a lot about women and how our empowerment changes the environment,” said Santiago.

Lianny Santiago posing for a headshot
Lianny Santiago is a senior at el Centro de Estudiantes and said she hopes to attend Rowan College and study psychology. (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

Nyisha Chapman and Shemesha Burton from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc.’s Pennsylvania chapter gave advice about applying for college and overcoming bullying.

Farida Boyer is the executive director and co-founder of the Black Brain Campaign Association.

She gave students tips on how to improve their mental health and provided information on how students can take advantage of free therapy.

Santiago said she was grateful for the opportunity to meet Boyer, get advice from her and talk about her goals.

“Farida actually encouraged me more, because I am actually going to college for psychology, and I definitely want to look more into that,” said Santiago.

Farida Boyer watching as Lisa Forrest speaks into a microphone
Therapist Farida Boyer looks on as Philadelphia Fire Department Battalion Chief Lisa Forrest discusses her career. (Amanda Fitzpatrick/WHYY)

Big Picture Philadelphia and 100 Black Men of Philadelphia coordinated the special luncheon, which also included student performances, a complimentary catered lunch, and an award ceremony.

Dawn Johnson, the director of operations for Big Picture Philadelphia, was also a panelist. She hoped to inspire the young girls by providing insights from prominent female community leaders they could relate to.

The audience listening to the panel discussion
A Group of students from el Centro de Estudiantes and Vaux Big Picture High School listen as the panelists speak at Women’s History Month celebration. (Somerset Street Productions)

Santiago said she was glad she attended and plans to utilize her experience to be more open to new people and experiences.

“This also helped me to be more social with other women because I have been in a funk lately.  This made me want to be more out there,” said Santiago.

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