12/2/2020, noon
Chez Smith worked in public health for more than 15 years. While she served as the administrator of the family ...
Chez Smith is the founder of Gyrls in the H.O.O.D. Foundation, an organization that seeks to educate and empower young girls in order for them to have better reproductive health outcomes. Photo courtesy of Chez Smith

     Chez Smith worked in public health for more than 15 years. While she served as the administrator of the family planning clinic, she realized there were a lot of young girls coming in repeatedly for sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
     “I realized two things, working with those girls. One, girls felt this wasn’t a bad outcome for them. If they get pregnant, if they get an STI, it was part of the norm because of where they lived,” she said. “The second thing was I realized they weren’t receiving adequate sexual education, if any at all. The girls who were receiving information, they were myths.”
     Smith decided to start the Gyrls in the H.O.O.D. Foundation to educate girls and young women about reproductive health, to improve their outcomes and to redefine the “hood” stereotype. In this instance, H.O.O.D. stands for Healthy Optimistic Outstanding and Determined.
     “We wanted to redefine the negative stereotypes that are placed on girls based on their zip code and also provide them with reproductive health education so that they can have better outcomes,” she said.
     Smith said she is a Gyrl in the H.O.O.D. She created the organization four years ago. She said the organization empowers the girls in the community by educating them. Gyrls in the H.O.O.D. works with girls ages 13-21 and is creating a program to work with girls younger than 13.
     “I think once you have girls making responsible choices, they are participating in positive things, as opposed to criminal activity, carrying guns and things like that. When you invest in girls, I feel like you invest in the community,” she said.
     Smith added those girls are pursuing higher learning opportunities and are making the choice to live a different life. There is also a service squad where the girls come together to choose communities to do community service projects. She said the organization is making a difference in the community and is impacting the community by being a presence for Black girls.
     “Knowing that there’s an organization that was made for you, that meets them where they are. I think it’s important that we focus on issues that affect them directly,” she said. “A lot of times, we don’t want to deal with the realities that these girls face. I think, as adults, we couldn’t even walk in some of these girls’ shoes.”
     The She’s So H.O.O.D. Youth Excellence Awards is another way Smith said Gyrls in the H.O.O.D. seeks to empower the girls in the community. It is a way to celebrate girls who are flourishing in spite of their circumstances.
     “Some girls are running the household, they’re expected to play the role as an adult. And, if they’re able to navigate all of that, still graduate, taking care of sister and brother, I think they should be rewarded,” she added.
     Smith said she has worked hard to change the girls’ mindset and to get them to value themselves so they can make better choices. She added that young Black women need more resources and more programs.
     She said those programs should also take into consideration the family situation. The organizations that are providing the programs need more funding, she said, and at the core - young Black women need love. “They need support, they need women who have accomplished things and went through that stuff to come back, lend a hand and bring them up and say, hey, I went through this, too,” she said. “We have to not be afraid to help with somebody else’s child.”
     Smith said all girls need reproductive health education adding, “we need to stop basing their worth on sexual activity.”
     For more information about Gyrls in the H.O.O.D., visit gyrlsinthehood.com.