A few weekends ago, several Black teenage girls graduated from a two-year-long initiation into young womanhood. Known as rites of passage, this type of tutelage helps prepare young people for the challenges of adulthood. It is a regular feature of society in most African cultures and practiced by other indigenous people the world over. Typically, it involves grueling and challenging tasks that must be accomplished by the initiates pushing them beyond their normal way of functioning and ushering them into the next phase of their growth and development. This particular program involved learning aspects of African culture, history, traditional songs and dances, and also featured self-discovery and exploring participants’ relationships with others.
One of the most beautiful and powerful segments of the graduation ceremony was when each girl sat on a beautifully carved Ashanti African stool encircled by the ceremony attendees and described what she had learned during this process. The stool served as the symbol of her initiation and was presented to each girl by her father or father figure. It was there that the girls movingly recalled the specific qualities and attributes on which they had focused while training, and which they hoped would shape their early womanhood.
In essence, the stools of initiation symbolically became their stools of power, reflection, and renewal, signifying their passage from childhood into adulthood. One young woman chose the “Stool of Articulation, another, the “Stool of Opening Up,” or the “Stool of Self-Confidence, etc. During the ceremony, the girls’ mothers also offered advice, praise, admonishment, and encouragement for the journey ahead. What was revealed by each initiate was a transformation witnessed by all who had known them before their training. Despite the fact that I was unable to attend the ceremony, I am so happy for, and proud of these young sisters!
Naturally, a sisterhood of mutual support developed among these young women, creating life-long bonds. I have close friends who went through this preparation as young adults. Today they are nothing less than phenomenal women whose lives continue to positively impact their families, friends, and communities. And like their predecessors, young women emerging from this rite of passage will leave an indelible impact upon society.