Niambi Jaha-Echols—an extraordinarily skilled author, speaker, and consultant—recently served as the keynote speaker for the 2019 Girl Scouts of River Valleys Annual Meeting. The theme of the meeting was Every.Girl., so her enlightening speech concerning inclusion and the joys of camp and nature was wonderfully well-fitting. To allow everyone to access Ms. Jaha-Echols' expertise, one of the members of the Girl Scouts River Valleys Press Corps interviewed her for this article.
Written by Press Corps member Maddy Dietz
Almost twenty years ago, Ms. Jaha-Echols wrote Project Butterfly: A Guide for Young Women and Girls of African Descent to to Understand the Transitions of Life to empower and support African-American girls. "When I wrote the book," she explained, "it went out underground within the African-American community as a resource for girls...analogizing the metamorphosis of the butterfly to positive change and transformation for girls and women." Ms. Jaha-Echols continued, "I had, up until that point, gone on various retreats [with the Camp Butterfly program] and had experienced the power of nature...I knew that, in order to create the kind of experience that I wanted for girls to have, we couldn't do it in a hotel, and so I wanted it to be in an environment where girls could reconnect [in nature]. "
The inherent interconnectedness of nature is something that Ms. Jaha-Echols values greatly, as it has a profound effect on centering and connecting all. She views nature as something vital, a space in which to reflect, recharge, recenter, reconnect, and slow down. Having the opportunity to experience nature can provide a sense of solidarity with others. As she explained, "Disempowerment comes from not really feeling connected and grounded. And one way to feel really grounded is to make sure you put your feet on the ground and feel the power of the earth, and you realize that you're not just by yourself, that you're interconnected to everything. I wanted to create an experience like that for girls."
Alongside the growing Every Girl in a Tent movement that originated in the Girl Scouts River Valleys Council, inclusivity is at the forefront of the minds of Girl Scouts. "Inclusivity has to become who you are, not something that you do. That starts from within. When you're hurting on the inside, you're more likely to hurt other people."
During her keynote speech, Ms. Jaha-Echols applauded the history of inclusion in Girl Scouts. In the interview, Ms. Jaha-Echols spoke to how we can all promote inclusivity. For Girl Scouts, or any community, to become an even more inclusive space we must internalize the concept of inclusivity while also being kind to ourselves. "Lack of inclusivity is reflected because of the relationship we're having with ourselves." She continued, "Some of us have very abusive self-relationships. We say all manner of negative things to ourselves. So then it's hard to be loving to other people when you have this invisible, toxic relationship with yourself." Her suggestion to all was: "You have to make sure that you've got a space within you that has the capacity to be loving and welcoming. It starts from within. You cannot give what you don't have."
The Girl Scouts River Valleys Press Corps would like to give a huge thank you to Ms. Jaha-Echols for being so gracious and generous with her time. If you'd like to read more of Ms. Jaha-Echols' work, her books are for sale at NiambiJaha-Echols.com/Books.
Learn more about Girl Scout River Valleys Press Corps, an interest group for girls and by girls about journalism, media, and finding one's voice.