Called “Lovin’ the Skin I’m In,” the class started as a book club for girls hosted by a St. Paul nonprofit group; it later morphed into an east metro after-school activity. It pushes girls to face head-on the pressures of adolescence through journaling, crafts, media analysis and straight talk.
Three years ago, Battle Creek turned the experience into a class for English credit. This semester, two schools in Minneapolis are offering the class for the first time.
“The ‘Lovin” movement is really spreading, but our partnership with Battle Creek is something else,” said Robin Hickman, a local activist, TV and film producer, and the class founder. “Girls get credit for healing every day.”
Hickman — a great-niece of the late St. Paul civil rights activist, filmmaker and photographer Gordon Parks — conceived of the class more than a decade ago. She was inspired by “The Skin I’m In,” the 2000 novel by Sharon Flake about a middle-school girl who grapples with bullying until she embraces her dark skin color.
Hickman got a group of girls together at the nonprofit Youth Express to discuss the book and talk openly about their own struggles. Later, she teamed up with the East Metro Integration District, a partnership among St. Paul and nine suburban districts. Her class caught on as an after-school activity in St. Paul, Stillwater, Inver Grove Heights and other districts.
“Many of our girls are walking wounded,” Hickman said. “They don’t know their identity. They don’t know their history.
They don’t have role models who look like them.”
Pierce, Battle Creek’s cultural specialist, also led the class when it was an after-school activity. At Battle Creek, which offers single-gender classes on the city’s East Side, more than 90 percent of students are minority.
She said some girls stuck with it through the year, but others showed up sporadically, making it hard to forge relationships. She pitched the idea of a class for credit to then-principal Jocelyn Sims.
The school wrote a curriculum based on Flake’s novel and other reading. It overhauled the class, which largely was geared toward black girls, to emphasize connections between different races.
This semester, the class debuted at Harvest Prep, a Minneapolis charter, and the Harrison Educational Center, which serves students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.