GIRL Project's founder, Claudine Naganuma, was inspired to offer a free week long dance and empowerment workshop for middle school aged girls living in the San Antonio District of Oakland after seeing this compelling mini documentary addressing child sex trafficking in Oakland CA. Claudine came up with the idea to offer a one week, long dance intensive that would offer young girls access to a professional art experience that also provided opportunities for self exploration and empowerment. A driving goal of GIRL Project is to foster a safe, nurturing space that will facilitate healthy relationships, self-worth, and healing through dance and artistic expression. The motivation and central theme of the program is the notion that freedom of movement is central to gender equity and a human right. And through the embodiment of that freedom agency is built.
A vital part of the workshop being a success is the community collaboration and support that the program has grown from. The roots of GIRL Project began with the support of Rhodessa Jones through the Theater Bay Area technical assistance grant and the support of Denise Pate and the Oakland Craft and Cultural Arts, Individual Artist grant. Through those grants, Claudine was warranted the support to start GIRL Project. Along with Individual donors and a generous matching grant from Felice Newman and Constance Clare, Claudine partnered with the East Bay Asian Youth Center’s mentorship program and was able to offer a week long dance workshop for Roosevelt Middle School, La Esquelita and to girls at the EastSide Cultural Center in the San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland where the program has been housed ever since. One of GIRL Project's priorities has been providing free breakfast, lunch and snacks for the girls. Addressing the reality that many GIRL Project attendees come from food insecure households, where fresh options are limited, so offering nutrient dense, locally sourced, delicious meals is one of the workshop's central goals. Continuous inclusion of community members as mentors and partnering with local businesses and neighboring organizations to join in the teaching of our girls about solidarity, expression, representation, nutrition and food consciousness are also crucial to the program.
Pulling from a method of love, GIRL Project exists in resistance to the variety of dangers that girls in Oakland face, including physical assault, kidnapping, gun violence, inequity, food deserts, and the mental health issues that can germinate due to these challenges. Girl Project resists through creating spaces to find connection and solidarity through Sisterhood.