Project Profile: Sisters Empowering Sisters

September 25, 2009

On August 27, after a three-week delay, Chris Brown’s sentence for his felony assault conviction was handed down: five years’ probation and 180 days of community labor. He was convicted of abusing the singer Rihanna, repeatedly punching her in the face and threatening to kill her. Teenagers nationwide followed the story on TV and in the tabloid news of a young romance turned sour. Top of FormThe teens and tweens of Milwaukee were no exception, and that’s why Mary Dobbs thought it was important to use the story of the star-crossed R&B icons to open a deeper discussion about domestic abuse.

Sisters Empowering SistersAs a social worker, Mary noticed a need in her community for a stronger sense of family empowerment. Encouraged by her church to think about the community support black religious institutions provide, Mary created the Gary L. Dobbs Family Resource Center in 2002. The center assists families holistically, looking not just at children but at the larger context of family. Sisters Empowering Sisters, a mentoring program the center started in 2009 with help from an AAUW Community Action Grant, is one way the center touches the community to empower families.

Sisters Empowering Sisters offered two six- to eight-week sessions for girls ages 9–13 and 13–17, who were paired up with mentors in their 20s and several women in their 50s. Over the course of the program the girls met at the center to listen to guest speakers, reflect on personal issues through journal writing, and discuss topics ranging from how to communicate with parents to how to develop an education plan. The goal was to work from a curriculum Mary developed based in part on her experiences as a school social worker; however, the groups often addressed life issues as they arose. For example, the discussion about Chris Brown and Rihanna revealed that some of the girls were living with domestic violence in their homes. This presented an opportunity to help them understand that domestic violence cannot and should not ever be an option for settling disputes.

After completing the first two sessions, Mary is planning to start up the Sisters Empowering Sisters project again this fall. In fact, she has been getting questions from girls who were involved last time about whether they would be “having group again.” If Mary needed more evidence of the group’s success, she could point to a letter she received from one of the participants: “When I get to be a grown up,” the girl said, “I’m going to have a group just like yours.”

To learn more about the Sisters Empowering Sisters project, e-mail Mary at

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar Lula F Green says:

    Excellent article outlining the girls groups. I am glad that your program is helping them workout some of their own intimate and personal issues. By the way I was in attendance when the girls did their “Thang” in late August. I was very impressed with them, what I was most impressed about was how well that all of the different ages got along. Keep this program moving forward for out young ladies.

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