Nicole Cush, Principal of Asheville’s School of Inquiry and Life Sciences (SILSA), is an expert in social-emotional learning. When she observed behavioral struggles between young women of color, she recognized an opportunity to help the girls strengthen their social-emotional skills and increase positive social and academic outcomes. Equipped with a deep love for her students and her own lived experience, Principal Cush created the Glitter Sisters to serve as a safe space for girls aged 15-18 to navigate personal growth, collaboration, and professional development.
Cush recognized a trend, supported by a growing number of studies, in which black and brown girls receive inadequate academic, social, and psychological support in educational settings. Further, they often experience a unique and pervasive combination of gender and race-based discrimination that is demonstrated as the policing of body and tone, tokenization, cultural erasure in the curriculum, and the gatekeeping of grades and opportunities. (Leath, et al. 2021)
“It’s difficult for some people to understand what baggage these kids are carrying. You have to be patient, kind, even to those who demonstrate the least amount of lovability. They probably are the ones who need it the most!” she says. “The thing about Glitter, just like my students, when you put them together, no matter the color, they all shine.”
Initially, the Glitter Sisters would meet once a week during their 20-minute homeroom period. This space was dedicated to expressing vulnerability, engaging with social-emotional learning, holding difficult conversations, and developing relationships. However, after the girls participated in a soulful, three-hour art therapy session hosted by NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, Cush realized that the initial framework didn’t allot enough time to explore these practices as deeply as she felt was necessary. In response, she expanded the program into after-school hours to increase contact time with the girls. Then, when Black Asheville Town Hall held a meeting to elevate the voices and concerns of local youth, youth speakers expressed a common desire for support from therapists, coaches, and mental health professionals “who looked like them.”
With this feedback, Cush used a 2020 Racial Equity Community Grant from Dogwood to expand the scope of the Glitter Sisters to services from Black and Brown mental health professionals, social workers, and art therapy providers. Coupled with professional development opportunities, field trips, recreational events, and educational resources such as scholarships for graduating seniors, the Glitter Sisters program serves as a critical support system to increase positive outcomes and experiences for black and brown girls who have historically been marginalized in educational settings.
“Glitter Sisters was created my freshman year and I have been a part of it ever since. It’s crazy to look back and see how much this group impacted my life,” said Porsha Carter, 2022 SILSA graduate and president of Glitter Sisters. “The Glitter Sisters program has created a safe environment at school targeted toward Black women, but we have always been open to a diverse group. This group has helped our Black women feel more confident in ourselves, our skin, our emotions, and our beautiful voices that deserve to be heard. Glitter Sisters makes sure we know that.”