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TEDxWomen 2012

Angela Patton: A father-daughter dance ... in prison

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Views 821,315

At Camp Diva, Angela Patton works to help young girls and their fathers stay connected and become part of each others' lives. But what about girls whose fathers can't be there -- because they're in jail? Patton tells the story of a very special father-daughter dance.

- Activist
Angela Patton is the creator of Camp Diva, which helps support "at-promise" girls ages 11-17. Full bio

I was sitting with my girls,
00:17
and Joy said,
00:20
"Dang, I wish he'd get off my back.
00:22
My daddy, he calls me all the time."
00:26
"Lucky for you he calls at all," said Jasmine.
00:30
"I haven't heard from my dad in years."
00:33
At this moment, I knew the girls needed a way
00:36
to connect with their fathers.
00:41
At Camp Diva, my non-profit organization,
00:43
we have these types of conversations all the time
00:47
as a way to help girls of African descent
00:51
prepare for their passage into womanhood.
00:54
These girls just needed
00:57
a way to invite their fathers into their lives
01:01
on their own terms.
01:05
So I asked the girls,
01:07
"How can we help other girls
01:09
develop healthy relationships with their fathers?"
01:12
"Let's have a dance," one girl shouted,
01:16
and all the girls quickly backed her up.
01:21
They started dreaming about the decorations,
01:25
invitations, the dresses they were going to wear,
01:28
and what their fathers could and could not wear. (Laughter)
01:31
It was off and running before I could even blink my eyes,
01:36
but even if I could have slowed down those girls,
01:40
I wouldn't have,
01:44
because one thing that I have learned
01:46
from over a decade of working with girls
01:48
is that they already know what they need.
01:51
The wisdom lives inside of them.
01:54
As long as they have infrastructure,
01:59
mentorship and resources,
02:02
they can build what they need,
02:04
not only to survive, but to thrive.
02:07
So we had a dance,
02:13
and girls and their fathers came in multitudes.
02:17
They were dressed to the nines.
02:22
They acted sweet.
02:25
(Laughter)
02:27
They acted silly.
02:31
They really enjoyed each other's company.
02:32
It was a huge success.
02:36
And the girls decided to make it an annual event.
02:38
So as the seasons changed,
02:44
and it was time to plan the dance again,
02:46
one girl named Brianna spoke up,
02:49
and she said,
02:52
"My dad can't come to the dance,
02:54
and this whole thing is making me sad."
02:57
"Why not?" the girls asked.
03:01
"Because he's in jail," she bravely admitted.
03:04
"Well, can he just get out for a day?" one of the girls asked. (Laughter)
03:09
"And come in shackles?
03:14
That's worse than not having him here at all."
03:17
At this moment, I saw an opportunity
03:21
for the girls to rise to the occasion
03:26
and to become their own heroes.
03:29
So I asked, "What do you think we should do about this?
03:31
We want every girl to experience the dance, right?"
03:36
So the girls thought for a moment,
03:41
and one girl suggested,
03:43
"Why don't we just take the dance in the jail?"
03:45
Most of the girls doubted the possibility of that,
03:50
and said, "Are you crazy?
03:54
Who is going to allow a bunch of little girls,
03:56
dressed up — " (Laughter)
03:59
" — to come inside a jail and dance with their daddies in Spongebob suits?"
04:02
Because that's what they called them.
04:07
I said, "Girls, well, well,
04:11
you never know unless you ask."
04:15
So a letter was written to the Richmond City Sheriff,
04:19
signed collectively by each girl,
04:23
and I would have to say, he is a very special sheriff.
04:27
He contacted me immediately and said,
04:33
whenever there is an opportunity to bring families inside,
04:37
his doors are always open.
04:43
Because one thing he did know,
04:47
that when fathers are connected to their children,
04:49
it is less likely that they will return.
04:52
So,
04:57
16 inmates and 18 girls were invited.
04:59
The girls were dressed in their Sunday best,
05:05
and the fathers traded in their yellow and blue jumpsuits
05:09
for shirts and ties.
05:14
They hugged.
05:18
They shared a full catered meal of chicken and fish.
05:21
They laughed together.
05:25
It was beautiful.
05:29
The fathers and daughters even experienced
05:34
an opportunity to have a physical connection,
05:38
something that a lot of them didn't even have
05:42
for a while.
05:45
Fathers were in a space where they were able to
05:46
make their daughters play,
05:50
and pull out her chair and extend his hand for a dance.
05:53
Even the guards cried.
05:59
But after the dance,
06:03
we all realized that Dad still would be in jail.
06:06
So we needed to create something
06:11
that they could take with them.
06:14
So we brought in Flip cams,
06:16
and we had them look at the Flip cams
06:19
and just interview each other --
06:21
their messages, their thoughts.
06:23
This was going to be used as a touchstone
06:27
so when they started to miss each other
06:30
and feel disconnected,
06:32
they could reconnect through this image.
06:35
I'll never forget that one girl looked in her father's eyes
06:38
with that camera and said,
06:43
"Daddy, when you look at me, what do you see?"
06:45
Because our daddies are our mirrors
06:52
that we reflect back on
06:56
when we decide about what type of man we deserve,
06:58
and how they see us for the rest of our lives.
07:03
I know that very well,
07:06
because I was one of the lucky girls.
07:10
I have had
07:12
my father in my life always.
07:18
He's even here today.
07:24
(Applause)
07:26
And that is why it is extremely special
07:35
for me to make sure that these girls
07:39
are connected to their fathers,
07:42
especially those who are separated
07:45
because of barbed wires and metal doors.
07:48
We have just created a form
07:53
for girls who have heavy questions on their heart
07:56
to be in a position to ask their fathers those questions
07:59
and given the fathers the freedom to answer.
08:04
Because we know that the fathers
08:08
are even leaving with this one thought:
08:12
What type of woman am I preparing to put in the world?
08:15
Because a father is locked in
08:20
does not mean he should be locked out
08:24
of his daughter's life.
08:27
(Applause)
08:29
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the speaker:

Angela Patton - Activist
Angela Patton is the creator of Camp Diva, which helps support "at-promise" girls ages 11-17.

Why you should listen

Tragedies are always difficult to overcome, but for Angela Patton they can be used as inspiration to pursue endeavors that positively impact the community. When Diva Mistadi Smith-Roane, the 5-year-old daughter of Patton’s friend, lost her life through a firearm accident in 2004, Patton found a mission: To create a summer camp where girls, ages 11 to 17, could be safe and instill in them principles that would prepare them for a healthy womanhood. She named it Camp Diva in memory of Diva. Since its inception, Camp Diva has expanded to offer after-school programs, conferences and other programs and services. The aim is to empower at-risk girls of African descent, whom she refers to as “at-promise.”

In 2011 Angela became part of the Girls for a Change staff and is currently running GFC Richmond programs. Trained as a licensed practical nurse and doula, Patton has worked in the nonprofit sector for over fifteen years. Angela serves as the director of Camp Diva, completing her BS degree in Business Administration from ECPI University and certification in Nonprofit Management. She has been honored as one of Virginians Making a Difference and Top 40 under 40, and was selected as one of 75 2012 Opportunity Collaboration Cordes Fellows.

Slideshow: Pictures from the second annual Father-Daughter Dance >>

More profile about the speaker
Angela Patton | Speaker | TED.com