SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV)– Standing around in a circle of sisterhood, high schoolers enrolled in Creating Heightened Opportunities in Community, Environment, and Self or CHOICES engaged in an ice breaker. This week’s prompt– “If I were a queen of the world for one day I would…” 

Each young woman went around the circle finishing the prompt. Answers ranged from ending racism to getting a private concert from Beyonce. 

Twice a month, young women in grades 8-12 from Syracuse City Schools gather at ITC after school for the program.

“It’s just a very positive group that we put together so the girls really just have an opportunity to share their experiences from high school to personal, family and they really just get a sense of self,”

Yalonda Bey, Program Advisor

Participants engage in a variety of workshops from self-development to community activism to higher education. No matter the topic, meetings create a safe space for young women to share their feelings and everyday struggles. 

Eleventh-grade participant Janiah Shadreem says since joining CHOICES she feels a sense of belonging and identity as she learns how to be a strong woman surrounded by peers that look like her. 

“As a black female, it’s hard to find other black supporters that can give you insight into how to  be a black female in the United States or any place at all…I don’t feel alone anymore because when we get in a circle and tell our stories, how we feel just simple things I feel like I’m understood,”

Janiah Shadreem, eleventh-grade participant

The program is run through the Image Initiative Inc. an organization founded in Syracuse in 2005 to empower young women of color.

Program Coordinator Semaj Campbell participated in the Image Initiative when she was in high school and now helps to run the CHOICES group alongside Ms. Bey. 

“I get chills thinking about it honestly to know that so many of these women poured into me and now I’m able to do that for the younger generation,” Semaj Campbell said. 

CHOICES is open to any young women in grades 8-12 in Syracuse City Schools. Meetings are twice a month after school at ITC. Transportation is not provided at this time.