While Lotus Barron was growing up in Southwest Philadelphia, earning a prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, and enrolling at Drexel LeBow, she didn’t have much time to pause and reflect. But she dedicates time each winter and summer break to helping young women in her community do just that through SELaH, an acronym for Sistas Elevating Learning and Healing, and an ancient word thought to instruct the listener to quiet reflection.
SELaH, which began as a discussion group in the home of Barron’s friend and fellow Gates Millennium Scholar Sadiyah Malcolm, hosts weeklong discussion series biannually at the Southwest Philadelphia PAL. Girls from the neighborhood between ages 11 and 18 are invited for discussion, workshops and fun. The sessions are typically focused in one of three primary areas: community building, literacy and the arts.
Barron, a pre-junior double major in marketing and business analytics, joined the group after Malcolm, noticing that a fellow Gates Scholar lived only blocks from the PAL, reached out to her with an invitation to attend. After that week, saw the impact the discussion was having and made the decision to join as a mentor.
“I think, for the girls, it’s so important because sometimes they’re dealing with things they aren’t even aware of,” she says. “So being able to come into a space, even if it’s just for a little bit, that doesn’t have as much structure as a school would, being able to talk about things that you wouldn’t normally with your family or in school was something huge that benefits all of us. Even us as mentors.”
The last event was titled “Black Girls Lit” and focused on literacy. The mentors held a book drive and collected over 400 books to give away along with bookmarks and t-shirts.
Barron values the conversation and relationships that are generated with the girls, but she also knows that she and Malcolm have something to give back as they lead by example.
“Let’s face it, especially in Southwest [Philadelphia], not everyone gets to live out their goals the way that they want to,” she says. “Sadiyah and I are very blessed and very lucky that we have a scholarship that allows us to graduate debt free. So being able to be with the girls…to see them sit down and say, ‘I want to be a doctor,’ with us reinforcing that they can do it, and seeing them light up and believe in themselves, I think that’s why we do it.”