In Sunday’s print edition of The News-Times, I wrote a column about Tujuanna Allen, a Danbury woman who wants to start an arts-based leadership program for teenage girls.
I’ve included an excerpt from my column below. You can reach Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information….
As a little girl growing up in the Bronx, Tujuanna Allen remembers the makeshift church her grandmother used to run out of the basement.
There were hands in the air and testimonials of riding the express train to Jesus. There were voices married in song and hearts filled with a joyful noise.
For three generations of folks on White Plains Road, the Rev. Shirley Pinckney wasn’t just the spiritual leader of the Missionary Prayer Room.
She was the role model for a neighborhood of girls.
“Everybody loved my grandmother. She was definitely one of those people you consider a pillar in the community,” said Allen, who turned 43 on Saturday and lives in Danbury with her childhood sweetheart, Marcus Pauling, and their two kids, 9-year-old Maya and 11-year-old Matthew.
“In a way, I became my grandmother’s apprentice. Maybe I didn’t totally understand it at the time, but she taught me so much about faith, strength of character and being comfortable with who I am, not who other people want me to be.”
All these years later, Allen is doing some preaching of her own — and just like the Rev. Pinckney — Allen’s most important flock might be a group of teenage girls.
Allen may not be a woman of the cloth like her grandmother, but everything else from those Sunday mornings in the Bronx resonates deep within her. Most likely, it always will.
After years of sculpting a vision — pulling off a piece here, smoothing out an edge there — Allen has come up with an arts-based initiative that she believes can empower teenage girls.
It’s called Tea Tree Academy — and with a little luck and a lot of fundraising — Allen hopes to earn her way into after-school programs and community rooms all across Greater Danbury.
“I want to inspire hope and confidence and leadership in at-risk adolescent girls,” Allen said Friday morning. “I’ve always believed that art — and the whole artistic process, really — builds creativity and self-awareness and critical thinking in a person.”
Allen sees drawing and writing and theater as vital components of a young woman’s self-discovery process, paper windows into her future.
Collages aren’t just cutting pictures from glossy magazines. They might be more of a mirror than anything that’s fixed to the bathroom wall.
Where teenage girls see hurdles and hopelessness, whether it’s a battle with body images or the pressure to go too far, too fast, with boys, Allen sees “development opportunities.”