GPS Celebrates Inaugural Chattanooga Day of the Girl

Area organizations and community leaders gather for female empowerment on Oct. 25
October 11 commemorated the 10th annual International Day of the Girl Child, established by the United Nations to draw attention to the challenges girls around the world face in regards to their education, physical and mental wellbeing, and career opportunities. Per the organization, “Nearly 1 in 4 girls aged 15-19 globally are not in education, employment or training, compared to 1 in 10 boys.”

This year, under the innovative leadership of Lauren Lawrence Swanson ’09, GPS Director of Belonging and Community Engagement, a new event in Chattanooga was created to promote girls’ empowerment—Chattanooga Day of the Girl. Students from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy (CGLA) and Girls Inc. joined GPS students on the lower athletic fields for an empowerment walk to Coolidge Park, where they heard from community leaders including Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp.

To begin the program, Swanson welcomed the crowd and introduced GPS eighth-grader Amiya Phade, who invited Mayor Kelly to the lectern.

In his address to the students, Mayor Kelly officially declared October 25 Chattanooga Day of the Girl, saying, “While October 11 is known as the International Day of the Girl, organizations for girls and women will come together on October 25 each year to celebrate the Chattanooga Day of the Girl. The day will be a celebration of the empowerment of girls to be advocates for themselves and the lives of other girls locally and globally.”

Baleigh Gibbs, a seventh-grader at CGLA, introduced Mayor Wamp next.

Mayor Wamp, who also issued a decree proclaiming October 25 the Day of the Girl in Hamilton County, said, “I want to you to be encouraged and empowered as you look to the leadership both of this city and the county.” With his daughter, Griffin, beside him, he also noted that future city councilwomen and county commissioners were likely among the girls in the crowd.

Caroline Clark, a GPS senior and president of the Student Council, spoke next about the importance of girls’ organizations, saying, “Girls' organizations matter because they exist solely for us, and they empower us to be our best selves, through relationships, academics, athletics, arts, clubs, and more. We don’t have to worry about anyone else taking away from our opportunities at our respective organizations because they were made just for us! Girls' organizations help us find our voices, and let us know that we can use them, and use them to make an impact on the world.” She also spoke about the importance of working together across organizations, saying, “As girls and as leaders, it is our job to lift each other up, support each other, work together, problem-solve together, serve others together, and celebrate each other!”

CGLA senior Jayda Hughes also spoke on the importance of community building and organizations supporting girls. She said, “The great education that I am receiving and the bonds that I have formed with other girls will last a lifetime. I want to thank my teachers, the administrators, and last but not least, my sisters who have all helped me to understand that there really is such a thing as ‘girl power!’ That girl power has nurtured our self confidence, inspired our leadership skills, encouraged our critical thinking, and promoted academic excellence.” She concluded by saying, “Together, CGLA and GPS are building a community of strong women in Chattanooga. And you will hear from us. In the workplace. In the boardroom. In City Hall. Again, we say thank you to all who have helped us make it this far!”

Charges from the leaders of CGLA, GPS, and Girls Inc. followed. 

Dr. Elaine Swafford, CEO of CGLA, shared the CGLA vision statement and said, “We look to continually and consistently build equity and equality in and around the lives of young ladies as they experience life with courage, confidence, tempered with compassion, humility, and empathy.” She added, “The future of our children and nation is largely dependent on the educated girl being nurtured and valued without limits.”

Megan Cover, GPS Head of School, spoke next. She reminisced on her time as a student at an all-girls school and said to the girls, “My hope for you is that you are inspired to lead a life of honor, integrity, and purpose. That you engage your mind in all you do. That you find what you’re good at and work to become even better. That you develop confidence in yourself. And that you respect others who might look, think, and act differently than you.” She concluded by telling girls to stay curious about the world around them, ask questions, and stay true to themselves.

Toccora Johnson-Petersen, CEO of Girls Inc., followed Cover and spoke on advocacy. “Advocacy takes on the shape of the men, women, boys, and girls who use their voices and roll up their sleeves to advocate for themselves and their neighbor. Advocacy acknowledges the past in order for us all to truly appreciate the present and to ensure the future.” She then had the girls look to their neighbors on the right and left and say, “We got this!” noting that, to be the best version of ourselves, we need to help those around us be the best version of themselves.

The program concluded with a thank you to all from CGLA CEO in Residence, Yolanda Williams.

Along with creating this annual event, additional collaborations for girls’ schools and organizations in our community are being planned to continue this partnership of encouraging and lifting up our future leaders.