jolie glassman_web.jpg(Florida International University) –Tierra Wilson joined Girl Power after fighting in school. Last weekend, the 16-year-old student and poetry enthusiast attended the organization’s annual “It Takes a Village” conference a different person.

“Many children don’t appreciate the opportunities that they have,” said  Tierra, who was among the nearly 200 girls at the meeting. “If it wasn’t for the people trying to make me better, I probably wouldn’t be who I am.”

Girl Power, which seeks to build self-esteem and self-confidence among girls ages 11-17, gets most of its members after they have been suspended from school or have entered the juvenile-justice system.

The conference, always held during Women’s History Month, encouraged the girls to “Pay it Forward.”

“Paying it forward means doing something for a total stranger and not having your hand out all the time thinking the world owes you something because you’re black or because you’re poor,” said Thema Campbell, Girl Power president.

The girls heard successful women talk about their own struggles.

Nakia Bowling, program director of the Carrie Meek Foundation, chronicled the obstacles she faced after graduating college and trying for a career in journalism. She said everyone, including “at-risk” youths, can achieve their goals.

“You don’t have to be an Angelina Jolie or a Rihanna or an Alicia Keys or Halle Berry or even [retired] Congresswoman Carrie Meek to make an impact in the community,” Bowling said.

Jamirah Gause, 14, attending the event for the first time, said her favorite workshop was “Building Healthy Relationships Between Girls.”

“I learned it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about you because it’s what’s on the inside that matters,” she said.

Attendance at the conference was down by half from previous years.

Organizers attributed the decline to the fact that the event moved from a downtown Miami hotel to Girl Power headquarters in Liberty City, a change Campbell said is intended to keep it within the community the group serves.

Natalie Alvarez may be contacted at