Back in the spring, I was in the middle of putting together a panel on community interventions for ACEs when the conference planning chair suggested adding Tara Shephard. We had an amazing panel that day, but Tara hit it out of the park. Her love and care for African-American girls in Arkansas and the adversities they face was apparent in every word she spoke that day.
To give some background, Tara is an author, education and mental health advocate; an auditor for the American Correctional Association; and a suicide-prevention trainer and youth program consultant with nearly two decades of professional experience in the areas of juvenile justice, education, substance abuse and social justice. She is also the owner of Delta Community Based Services, a nonprofit organization. As the founder and CEO of the nonprofit, she advocates for the social advancement of women and girls. Annually, she hosts the At-Promise Girls Empowerment Conference.
She's a woman on a mission.
One of those missions is putting her book, Who Am I? in the hands of girls in every state. Who Am I? is a 30-day journal where girls of all ages can write about their experiences and a different feeling or emotion word. The journal guides girls through the process by providing descriptions of how that particular feeling or emotion causes some girls to feel on the inside.
Tara started working on the journal in 2017. In her experience working with adolescent and teen girls in Arkansas and Chicago, she noticed that as part of their treatment, the girls were given composition notebooks and asked to write about their feelings. But the notebooks, more often than not, sat empty.
"The problem with this was that most often they didn’t know how they felt," Tara said. "And there they sat. In an unfamiliar place with an empty notebook. It was if they were emotionally illiterate. Their brains had no heart."
At this time, Tara was working at the largest maximum security lock-up for girls in the state of Arkansas. She brought the girls together and asked them to list 30 emotion or feeling words that all girls would want to know more about. The girls more than answered the call, and a list of 30 words was compiled.
The girls agreed SHAME must always be on the list, Tara said.
"The girls believed that this is an uncomfortable feeling that most girls deal with," Tara said.
Under the guidance of mental health professionals, Tara developed writing prompts for each word. To accommodate younger girls and girls who had difficulty reading, she commissioned a local artist to create drawings of 30 girls without faces that the girls can use to draw how they're feeling.
Who Am I? is a tool that girls in all settings and communities around the country can use to learn more about their emotions.
"The more they know about themselves, the better they will become," Tara said. "When we reflect on our lives daily, we can learn from our mistakes, be at peace with ourselves, and be happier.
"No more empty notebooks or blank pages in our lives."
You can order Who Am I? here.