Editor’s Note: To celebrate Women’s History Month, South Kern Sol is highlighting notable women in Kern County who are working to create positive change in their community.
When Arleana Waller moved back to Bakersfield years ago, she noticed a major gap — a gap between black women and leadership.
She noticed there weren’t many women in positions that could be effective, she said.
“I saw this gap, and it was a problem for me,” she said. “I learned women of color had not given themselves an opportunity to be bold in their ‘she power’ and apply for positions of leadership.”
It is because of this gap she founded in 2015 the ShePower Leadership Academy, a non-profit leadership and mentoring organization, focused on developing girls today to be tomorrow’s civic and business leaders, influencers and change agents, the organization’s website says.
“I started ShePower with one mission in mind, to empower women and girls to own her power without apology,” said Waller.
Waller’s goal is to help young girls between the ages of 8 to 18 grow and transform into strong and confident women.
“That’s a very tender age,” she said. “When I see the transformation is when I feel the most grateful.”
“They can see themselves in leadership where they never saw themselves in leadership before,” she said.
Waller learned at a very young age the importance of empowering and supporting fellow women. Waller grew up with 12 siblings, nine of them girls, and she witnessed her mother lead women in church.
Her parents taught her to use her “voice for the voiceless and strength for the weak and to open doors for the underserved to have equality and equity,” Waller said on the ShePower website.
To live out these lessons, ShePower offers girls a curriculum that focuses on leadership and mentorship. The girls also develop their own community projects.
A couple projects the girls are working on include a Pants Drive for the homeless in partnership with Kern Medical; a Pop Up Dress Closet for high school girls to have access to affordable prom dresses; and a community project with Bakersfield Police Department where youth can have a conversation with officers.
When Waller founded ShePower, she wanted a program where all girls feel welcome. She said girls from different races, socioeconomic backgrounds and identities are involved in the program.
“When you look at the diversity that ShePower offers, it allows our girls to have true life experiences,” she said. “That’s what’ it’s all about — not segregating but being inclusive. We meet girls where they are.”
The group of students involved in ShePower, which has now expanded to Delano and Las Vegas, meet once a week. Waller has seem so many young girls transform into strong women. As a result of the academy, she has seen girls improve academically and has seen others’ confidence grow tremendously.
“My heart is so full because I know what we are doing is powerful and impactful and transformational,” Waller said. “I know one day we are going to have history come from this room.”