by Anna Sara M., alumna of the Oakland Teen Empowerment Program

“Hi, my name is Anna Sara and I am going to college. Hola, me llamo Anna Sara y voy a la universidad. Bonjour je m’appelle Anna Sara et je vais aller a l’université.”

A proper and impressive first impression was one of the first things I learned when I joined the Oakland Teen Empowerment Pageant. I remember receiving a lecture on etiquette, poise, and eloquence in a classroom at Laney College, a campus which I found much bigger than I had expected in my 13-year-old mind. At the time, I thought of myself as a really driven girl but it wasn’t until I joined that Pageant that I found a direction in which to propel myself.

One of the biggest things I took from the experience was the sisterhood I developed with the other girls. We would do various activities and bonding exercises together. The encouragement and support I received from them was very empowering and taught me to stand up more for myself and for others whose voice is not always heard. The Pageant is one of the main reasons why I started a motivational teen blog soon after to empower girls my age to thrive and be inspired. Hence, I named it Thrive by Design Blog and through it my goal is to inspire girls my generation with interviews of other teens, women who have succeeded in their fields, and more relatable personal posts.

The Saturdays of workshops with local inspirational Bay Area women were also especially meaningful to me. They taught us the importance of being educated and aware of our communities which really expanded my mind and made me the passionate teen I am today.

I know, just from being around other people my age at school five days a week, that teens often find themselves voiceless and alone. I know that girls, especially, suffer from a lot of insecurities emotionally and sometimes lack motivation. I want to pass on to them the lesson I learned from the Pageant that is: we all have the potential to be strong and successful young women and the burdens society sometimes put on us is oftentimes not our biggest roadblock, but it is ourselves. On the other hand, I also know of a lot of Oakland teens who are not afraid to fail. I am honestly impressed with a lot of the girls I’m surrounded with every day and, with my blog I hope to continue to encourage them.

I think the Pageant especially helped me learn how to network and advocate for myself and my peers. Even though I won the “Princess” title years ago I still have amazing friends and a mentor who I know will stay with me for a lifetime. Without the Pageant I would’ve never started blogging, realize the support of my community, and I wouldn’t have gained the confidence to always push forward until I reach my goal.

Thank you, Ms. Paula, for this opportunity and for opening my life to all that is possible.