CLEVELAND — Five years ago, Celina Broyles was cold-calling schools trying to sell the girls empowerment program she’d come up with. Today she has to turn schools down because she’s booked solid. ‘I Am Bella’ is all about building self-esteem and confidence in school-age girls. Bella means beautiful in Italian. But this program isn’t about looking good in a mirror. It teaches girls to look within, heal their trauma, and find the beauty inside themselves.
Tanisha Norris is junior at Warrensville Heights High School, Broyles’ alma mater. She’s one of the dozen or so girls who meet once a week, for the 12-week program there. They come together, speak affirmations, and dig deep.
“It lets us be emotional,” she told News 5. At the end of the program every girl will get a sweatshirt bearing the program’s name. A sweatshirt that must be earned.
The principal at Warrensville Heights High told News 5 the approach seems to be working. Richard Reynolds said he’s seen a “reduction in suspensions, referrals. A lot more mediations now.” Thanks to ‘I Am Bella,’ his job is “a lot easier.”
Some might feel this kind of success means your work is done. Broyles knew it was time to dig even deeper
“Over the summer I took a lot of well-known athletes…high school boys and I had a summer program.”
She wanted to see what would happen if she tried to apply the practices of ‘I Am Bella’ with a group of popular jocks. The result?
“It was emotional,” Broyles said.“Everything that happens with the girls, from the emotion, crying, the release. We saw it come together and it was very powerful.”
Thus, a new mission was born.
Broyles decided to come up with another program, this one geared toward boys. First, she had to give it a trial run. That’s where her husband came in.
“There’s a certain responsibility that I feel like I have and that I owe to the kids that come behind me,” Dwayne Broyles explained. He tried out his wife’s program for boys and was so moved, he’s now her partner in it. It’s called ‘It’s Safe to Call Me King,’ because, as Celina explained, “Girls want to be called beautiful and I don’t know a young boy or man that don’t love to be called a king.”
Right now, ‘I Am Bella’ is offered in six schools and ‘It’s Safe to Call Me King’ is available at Greenview Upper Elementary School. There are plans to add more schools to both programs.
This story is part of A Better Land , an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here .