Reflections of the 2017-18 Joan Amery van Vleck Fellow


What is it like working at the Policy Center?

At the Policy Center, we are a part of history as we take on the next phase of the Justice for Girls Reform Movement.

As part of our girl-centered culture, I saw girls’ lives transform through the goodness of the human heart: a force capable of bringing about both remarkable individual healing and tangible social change. At the foundation of our endeavor is an understanding that the work of the individual ripples outward to influence the macroscopic level. The crucial decision points and moments which we are present for—from the black boxes where judges deliberate to the Girl Matters: It’s Elementary classroom where a girl can finally express herself–have the power and potential to change lives, to change history.

And so, we strive to be present for as many of them as we possibly can—and in doing so, recognize that what we say and do matters.

Vanessa, our Vice President of Research, has a mantra. She expresses that we must continually ask, “Why?” until the core of an issue is reached. After eliminating the extraneous details, all societal and institutional manifestations of unease and conflict boil down to a war between values. This practice—of reaching the heart and soul of the matter–is at the core of the work that is done here. The Policy Center refuses to shy away from confrontations between value systems, embracing inevitable frictions in order to act as a true conduit for progressive change. This is the only way real reform can be achieved—when people think and act fearlessly.

Yet, simultaneously, we’re building the plane as we’re flying it—testing the waters and allowing our processes, philosophies, practices, and policies to engage in a multilayered dialogue—fluctuating, changing, and growing as we stay attune to the community’s needs. There is a diversity of purpose, effort, and communication required for our mission: staying true to our deepest values, evolving organically over time yet maintaining a crucial sense of balance, responding to and shaping the social and political values of the community, and all through an interdisciplinary approach—the eye-opening fusion of social science with political science.

The fruits of research constitute gifts that keep on giving. As we reframe our successes and begin tracking and communicating through long-term data, we open up new dialogues and create stronger foundations for future research endeavors, embracing larger perspectives and new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting. Positive growth begets positive growth.

Every day, we feel the weight of all the work that is left to be done. But this energy is translated into fearless purpose and resilience, for it is a reminder that there is always a way to move forward. In a world where temporary limitations and superficial differences are treated as law, we are a shapeshifting question, barreling bravely with a heart of fire into the future, leaving more life and light in our wake.

“If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us.” – Francis Bacon

The fact that here and now, in this office in downtown Jacksonville, we are doing the best we can—that is enough. We trust that no matter what happens, humanity will always find a way to strive towards the good, to look for the ray of light hidden in the dark.

(Left to right: Blythe Zayets, Rachel Han, Nekea Sanders)Rachel photo

Intern Writes and Illustrates a Civil Rights Book

I am Anisa, a high school summer intern at the Policy Center.  When I was in the office, a team member saw me working on a personal project and ask me to tell her about it.  To her surprise, I’m writing and illustrating a book about civil rights leaders, geared towards children. She asked me to write a little bit about the project.


Possible Cover Photo

Every year, every decade, and every era contain problems and issues, including the rights of individuals. However, with this difficulty comes people who bravely stand up for the voices of the downtrodden. In this book, I hope to showcase a variety of activists during time periods when people were working to promote political freedom and expand personal civil liberties.  The individuals profiled will represent diversity in color, race, and gender.




Malala Yousafzai, Before: I used a small black marker to draw the person and make the background designs, and then colored them in using prismacolor markers. After: I used Photoshop to color the background.

What is it?

The book tells the true stories of famous civil rights leaders, and how their actions touched the lives of many people. Accompanied with a series of bright illustrations, the biography demonstrates how anyone, no matter their background, ethnicity, or even age, can change society for the better.


Who will it feature?

Prominent figures, such as Malala Yousafzai, Mahatma Gandhi, Gloria Steinem, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Lena Horne, Joan Baez, Medgar Evers, Audre Lorde, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Harriet Tubman, and James Baldwin will be featured in the book.

Why is it important to me?

Many families, including mine, immigrated to America from another country. In the 1960s, my grandparents came from a small village in Gujarat, India in search for better opportunities and education. After graduating from college, my grandfather began searching for a job. With a strong background in mathematics, engineering, and business, he soon became successful. He patented many inventions and played important roles in different companies, including as CEO. However, many obstacles speckled his path. As a minority, he faced discrimination, where at times others judged him based more so on skin color and ethnicity than merit. Furthermore, listening to my grandfather’s story and the lives of many others showed me the importance of working hard to overcome inequality and prejudice.

What is my process?

The illustrations are made with prismacolor markers, and the background is edited with Photoshop. First, I drew the outline of the person and made the background designs. Then, I moved over to the computer to finish the background. The writing will incorporate a researched paragraph spread on who the individual is, their origins, and how and why they chose to take action.

As both the writer and illustrator, I hope to help readers understand why people fight for civil rights, how they accomplish their goals, and inspire the audience to become leaders in their own communities.


Keep a lookout for the book, coming to Amazon soon (fingers crossed I find a publisher)!
By Anisa Patel

Senior at The Bolles School

Future plans: I hope to incorporate business, finance, and economics with technology and design.



A Day in the Life of a Baby at the Policy Center

Hi, I’m Mila, and I want to tell you about being a Policy Center baby. Thanks to the Policy Center’s Baby at Work (B.A.W.) program, I got to go to my work with my mama for the first six months. I got to have fun at the office with my mom. I promised to be on my best behavior… most of the time… unless I got hungry, then all bets are off.


1. For the past 6 months, my mom and I collaborated on important work everyday. She delved into paperwork and emails, while I read books and worked on my tummy timeI even had my own desk, complete with a changing table, a seat by the window, and toys!

2. At the Policy Center, I took part in many important staff meetings. I don’t want to say too much, but some of them took place behind closed doors with the CEO and President.


3. Throughout my time at the Policy Center, I also took part in birthday party celebrations. Lawanda always wanted to hold me. Ok, fine, maybe I wanted her to hold me a little also.  


4. Sometimes, if I got a little cranky, Lawanda would take me to her office and show me cartoons on her computer. That always brightened my mood, even though my face may not look like it here.


5. At the end of the school year, we went to the Girl Matters: It’s Elementary (GMIE) graduation, and spent time with the students. Soon, I will be just like these girls, playing and learning at school.


6. The fun did not stop there, my mom took me on a research team retreat in the summer.


7. As my time at the Policy Center came to an end, the staff made me a memento to remember my B.A.W. experience: my very own shirt reading “See the Baby Girl.”


8. They threw me a graduation party, topped with a graduation cap and cupcakes! I told myself to eat just one, but I forgot and ate three. 


9. Although I was the first baby in the Baby at Work program, I’m not the only one. Alani joined the program a year later.  The team seems to really like having us around! Even though I am no longer at the Policy Center, I am still a girl expert. I’ve started my training in school, doing field research and hands on learning, so I can understand what it is like to be a girl today.


By Anisa Patel

Making Memories with Girls’ Leadership Council, by Dr. Lawanda Ravoira

As I witnessed the many special moments that I was privileged to share with the bold and brilliant members of the Girls Leadership Council during their first ever “sleepover”, I could not help but to smile as I realized the extraordinary memories that were in the making. Special moments made possible because of the vision and wisdom of an exceptional young woman, Biannela Susana, who leads the Girls Leadership Council. Biannela plans and executes each gathering with great attention to the needs and wishes of each girl. Today was particularly special and there was a packed agenda. Bubbles bounced through the summer breezes, hula hoops were spinning, sidewalks chalked with messages about the power of girls and young women and rehearsals for the upcoming “Our Story” performance! Memories in the making. This perfect day culminated with their first “sleepover” at the meticulously and lovingly renovated “little pink house” generously created for our girls by Helen Lane. The girls met Helen for the first time and sat in a circle as they asked questions and shared their dreams for the future. The power of her gift was evident in the spontaneous conversation, “When we grow up, we will come back here and have family reunions – because this is like home to us.” They all nodded in agreement. I found myself full of emotions as I witnessed the girls and young women proclaiming their individual voices, sharing their fears, celebrating their dreams, accepting each other and bonding together as a family. The mission of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center to engage communities, organizations and individuals through quality research, community organizing, advocacy, training and model programming to advance the rights of all girls, especially those in or at risk of entering the juvenile justice and child protection systems. Our core value is to “see the girl” as Maria, a thirteen year old girl who was incarcerated challenged us to do: “See me for who I am and who I can become.” The Girls Leadership Council embodies our core values and exemplifies our mission. Joyful, playful, shy, thoughtful, spirited, brave and determined young women, well on their way to becoming remarkable adults. Extraordinary moments. Extraordinary memories. Extraordinary girls and young women.

In the above photo, from left to right:  Lawanda (in blue) with interns, members of Girls’ Leadership Council and Helen Lane.

Feminism Part I: Words from Stephanie Walker

Feminism is a subject I learned about in history class. It was one chapter chalked full of powerful, competent women in the early 1900s, and that is pretty much where my education of feminism ends. Today, the word feminism is a dirty word used to paint feminists as radicals. This, like many other stereotypes about women, is unfounded and too simplistic of an explanation to describe women who fight for their rights. To me feminism is embracing the idea that women should be respected as equal members of society and can be who they want to be and can do what they want to do without being restrained by society. It is a term used to describe men and women who fight for the rights of girls and women around the world. It is perplexing to me that there needs to be a word to define the struggle of women to be equal to men because men do not have a term to describe their struggle to have equal rights with women. I hope that someday the term feminism will not only be positive, but that someday the word will not need to even be used. I hope that women will be free to say and act as they see fit without being judged and controlled by what society deems as appropriate. It may seem ideal and unrealistic, but I hope that there will be a day when women can coexist in this world with equal rights –like every man in this world.

Stephanie Walker is a previous Development Intern at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.  She is a Master of Public Administration from the University of West Florida, and current resident of Gainesville, Florida. She is developing a growing love for non-profit work, especially on the development of young girls and women.

How the Policy Center Impacts the Lives of Women: Inside the Mind of Sabreen Murray

While in college, I cultivated an in-depth passion for empowering young women. The core of my being believes that as women grow confident in who they are called to be and internalize how valuable they are to society, the world as we see it would change for the better. With this optimism in the power and influence held by women, I found myself interning at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, which I would describe as a hub of intellectuals, leaders, community advocates, innovative minds, and investigators committed to seeing the girl. In short, this place is amazing.

I don’t take it lightly that there exists such a place – where the most intelligent, compassionate, and strongest of women collaborate to empower the lives of the other women around them. I don’t take it lightly that every day the status quo remains broken, that the atmosphere of the Policy Center is not one of jealously, ill intent, or catty behavior that so often is labeled upon women in society. I don’t take it lightly that the women who work at the Policy Center have become better mothers, sisters, mentors, friends, and individual advocates through the work they commit themselves to. I don’t take it lightly that there are sex-trafficked women in our community, as well as young girls being funneled through the juvenile justice system, who find solace in the resources offered at here.

What I have found is that the Policy Center is the epicenter of the kind of work more women should be aware of and involved in.

As women, so many of us have been coerced into believing that our strength and ability is somehow insufficient. So many of us have been led to believe that we don’t possess the gift of leadership that can change the world. So many of us are crippled by insecurities that hinder our capacity to be a shining light in the world. Here are a few ways that the Policy Center is reshaping the way women interact with the world.

We reflect.

Here at the Policy Center, reflective practice enables us to witness exponential growth, both corporately and personally. We make it our priority to reflect on what we know, what we need to know, what we do with what we know, and how our doing informs our being. In short, we are always making a careful examination of what we’re doing, looking for solutions, and aiming to understand how we can become better individuals through the process. Reflective practice has made me a better intern, and pushes me daily to understand how I can use my work to better the lives of girls and young women around me.

We synergize.

I wish that the Policy Center had a reality TV show. Why? Because when it comes to women, all we are really exposed to through media is division and lack of substance. We don’t see strong, bright women working together to create change in the world. What I can say about the Policy Center is that women know the value of their contribution and simultaneously understand the importance of working together. Synergy keeps our mission afloat. It magnifies the impact we have in the community and exemplifies the power of women who work together. This type of movement is what should be broadcasted to millions around the world.

We See the Girl.

Most of all, we see the girl. What does this mean? Everything we do, whether it is research, communications, development, operations, or model programming, centers on the story of the girl. We are adamant about making sure that in the midst of our work, we don’t depersonalize the girl or invalidate her story. She is the forefront of what we do. Our goal is to serve her, to understand her, and to respect her world. We believe this drives the authenticity of our work, and ultimately shows the world that the woman is not invisible – she is colorful, complex, full of promise, and a force to be reckoned with.

Sabreen Murray is a recent graduate from the University of Florida and current Communications Intern at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. She found a passion for seeing the development of women through WRAPS (Women of Respect, Achievement, Perseverance, and Service), and is currently a GirlSMART facilitator with Girls Incorporated of Jacksonville, Florida. Connect with her at, and on Instagram @sabreenjmurray.

The Power of Reflective Practice: Words from Stephanie Walker

At The Policy Center we are encouraged to reflect upon our own experiences to gain a better understanding of what we have learned and to think about how it has informs our being. As an intern at The Policy Center, I had never been exposed to the in-depth, complex issues surrounding girls. After a staff meeting in which we discussed the programs we have developed and what we need to do in the future to expand our reach, I did a reflective practice about what I learned from the meeting and how it changed the way I view the issues surrounding girls. Below are the questions I asked myself, and my responses to these questions.

What do I know?

I know there are significant differences that exist between the way boys are treated versus the way girls are treated, and the way men are treated versus the way women are treated. Being aware of an issue versus truly understanding it is the difference between seeing and doing. Based on what I have learned at my time at The Policy Center, I now realize that I need to educate myself so that I can better serve girls, women, and society. I see now that these issues are pervasive in America, and if these issues exist in America in 2015, what does this mean for the world and the girls and women around the world?

 What do I need to know?

I need to expand my knowledge base about the issues surround girls and women. I need to first be knowledgeable about the research and cultural dynamics of being a girl and a woman. I then need to be given the tools to work with girls and women from different backgrounds so that I can help each unique girl and/or woman in the way she needs to be helped.

What do I do with what I know?

Once I have a holistic, comprehensive understanding of the world for girls and women, I can change the way I interact with the world as a woman to help to change the way society sees and interacts with other girls and women. 

How does my doing inform my being?

By realizing, understanding, and acting, I can help girls and women and society raise and treat girls and women in the way they should be treated—as intelligent, competent, and equal members of society.

By stopping and reflecting upon what I have learned throughout my time at The Policy Center, I have been able to come to these conclusions. I have examined myself and what I have newly learned. This has allowed me to better understand what I know, what I do not know, what I need to know, which in turn guides my actions in the future. By understanding my experiences at The Policy Center and what it means to me, I have realized that I want to help girls and women. I look forward to learning and reflecting upon my experiences, which ultimately will help me grow as an individual, and as a woman, to better serve girls and women throughout the world. ¤

Stephanie Walker is the Development Intern at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.  She is a  Master of Public Administration from the University of West Florida, and current resident of Jacksonville, Florida. She is developing a growing love for non-profit work, especially on the development of young girls and women.