Tayla Solomon and the “Lethal Ladies of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW).
By KIMBERLY GRANT
Special to South Florida Times
From its roots in South Africa and the historically black fraternities and sororities, stepping has evolved from being an exclusive dance for Greek life to a way of empowering youth.
In particular, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW or Bliss) in Mount Vernon, Maryland – which is an all-girls charter school and home of the Lethal Ladies of Bliss (LLOB) – is at the forefront of this trend.
“Step” (directed by Amanda Lipitz) documents the true-life stories of three of the LLOB members in their senior year who have aspirations of going to college. A 2017 Sundance Film Festival winner of the Special Jury Prize (and the Women in Cinema Award at the Seattle International Film Festival), the film opens in Miami on August 11.
Back in 2015, just after the murder of Freddie Gray and resulting riots, the ladies of LLOB had high hopes of winning the Bowie State University’s Step Competition and getting accepted into college, despite their inner-city circumstances.
In “Step,” the audience is introduced to original LLOB members Blessin Giraldo, Tayla Solomon and Cori Grainger, who share their stories, which mirror the stories of many young women in today’s society looking for motivation in the face of adversity.
Documenting their senior year, the film shows the ladies of LLOB face challenges. Blessin’s GPA starts off at 1.1 in the first quarter of her senior year and her family faces hardships, like her mother’s chronic depression and the sometimes lack of food.
Tayla, whose mother is a corrections officer and a single mom, has to keep focused on her studies; as her mother will not accept any grade lower than a B. And, Cori, who’s a part of a blended family, has aspirations of going to John Hopkins University to study science, but tries not to be discouraged when her stepfather loses his job and her family struggles financially.
Thankfully, these young ladies aren’t in their fight alone. They have their new step coach, Gari McIntyre (Coach G), who is tough in motivating them to succeed in life and in step.
The ladies of LLOB also have their college advisor and BLSYW cheerleader, Paula Dofat, working diligently and tirelessly behind the scenes to help them get into college and obtain funding.
“Everyone’s road and path to success is different and we have to stop categorizing people by numbers,” Dofat said in an interview with South Florida Times after a screening of the film at the 2017 American Black Film Festival. “We have to get past that and see what’s inside of our youth and what fuels them.”
While the documentary is about Blessin, Tayla and Cori, Blessin’s journey to college is highlighted more prominently, because her path to college is not traditional.
The passion and spirit that she puts into being the captain of the step team shows in every frame. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate into a high spirit for her grades. But, her grades aren’t indicative of her intellect.
It’s evident whenever Blessin speaks that she’s smart and fully capable of achieving all of her goals. She just has to get through the hardships of everyday life. After all, her mother named her Blessin for a reason.
“(Growing up in Baltimore) humbles you. You get strength; whether you want it or not. At the same time, we just want to rebrand the city and just let people know that great things are going on in Baltimore. For example: Cori, Tayla and myself,” Blessin said about the film and the way it portrays her home city.
All three young ladies share a love for the city as well as a passion for giving back. They have all said they have high hopes of finishing college and achieving their respective masters’ degrees, then giving back to BLSYW and the community that raised them to be the women they are today.
As you can tell, “Step” isn’t just a documentary about stepping. It’s about overcoming obstacles and being steadfast in one’s resolve to succeed.
It’s also, in Coach G’s words (when asked why people should see the film): “What I want people to take from this movie is hope in a time like this and that women are powerful; especially when we get together. The impact that we make on the world is remarkable.”
So are the ladies of LLOB. You can reach Kimberly Grant at KAliciaG@aol.com.