‘Precious’ girls are everywhere

Adia Stuart, 13, says she’s a Precious girl.

“Even if you come from the meanest, nastiest places, you can always sprout up to be beautiful and unique.”

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, is dedicated to precious girls everywhere; girls like Stuart. Although the Lee Daniels film has generated considerable controversy, it also received a slew of Oscar nominations for it’s raw portrayal of rape, incest and abuse through the eyes of Precious, a teenage girl in Harlem who’s illiterate and pregnant with her father’s second child.

Though the movie was based on fiction, the circumstances that Precious must face are happening among girls whose lives similar to the character’s and the counselors who work with them.

“The movie was accurate in portraying realities that do exist,” said Latoya Wright, a social worker for New York’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and a volunteer for Blossom, a Brooklyn based program that addresses the needs of girls ages 11-21 that are at high risk.

According to a 2007 Department of Health and Human Services report, African-American children under the age of 18 account for the highest rate of victimization, with 16.7 per 1,000 children who have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused or neglected, compared to a rate of 14 for multiple race children and 9.1 white children. However, these numbers are suspected to be much higher because they only account for the number of reported cases.

“This is many people’s situation,” said Wright whose cases have included a seven-year-old girl who alleged that her father was sleeping in the bed with her naked and that she witnessed him “doing things” in front of her when she would visit him on the weekends. “The topics are hard to hear, they’re hard to see, but it’s 100 percent reality.”

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Isis Sapp-Grant is the executive director and founder of the Youth Empowerment Mission under which Blossom operates. The girls that come to Blossom are referred, primarily by teachers, law enforcement officials, caseworkers and parents.

“A lot of times it’s not as simple as somebody being bad or a delinquent,” said Sapp-Grant. “We’re talking about young people who nine times out of 10 have either been sexually abused, physically abused, mentally abused. Abandoned.”

Sapp-Grant says these issues have been allowed to flourish because people choose to ignore it. She’s glad this movie was made because it brings these taboo topics to the forefront.

”[The movie] opens the door to a conversation that’s very hard to have and it helps more women come out of the closet with their experiences,” she said.

Last October, Sapp-Grant gave Wright the assignment to lead the programs first book club. Wright, along with nine girls, read the 1996 bestseller Push, then watched the movie in theaters shortly after its release. The experience culminated into a lively discussion where the girls discussed their reactions to Precious’ story.

“All [Precious] did was push and push and push and she kept moving on,” said Ellie Quamina, 14, an energetic teenager with a lively voice. “It’s good that the movie was made because [girls] may not have every singe issue that Precious had, but it might inspire them to do better because they can look at Precious and say, ‘wow, she was able to move on so I can move on too.’”

Stuart called the movie “hardcore,” but says she also found it uplifting. Although she hasn’t been in the same predicament as Precious, she considers herself to be a Precious girl.

“I think Precious girl is any girl, whether they’re having bad times, they’re filthy rich, or they’re just ordinary. They’re all Precious.”

Like the program where Precious found refuge from her turbulent home-life, Blossom works with girls to address their issues through counseling, educational support, community service projects, mentoring and social and recreational activities.

“Blossom gives me a place to go after school so I can stay out of trouble,” said Quamina. “It’s like your second home.”

Stuart agreed but added, “I love this program because it made me realize that I am a girl and I am meant to blossom. I am meant to do something great in life.”

For now, Wright and Sapp-Grant are satisfied with the success of the movie, but they hope the conversation around abuse won’t continue to be ignored.

“It’s great that they’re [Lee Daniels, Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique] getting Oscar buzz and hopefully they win, but I hope that this is not a topic that stops when the buzz stops.”