If you see a flock of chickens on the sidewalk in Los Angeles you’re in a bad neighborhood. Roosters are illegal within the city limits. People do bad things with roosters, the most innocuous of which is wake everyone up at sunrise. However, when I pulled up to the small elementary school south of Downtown LA for a tea party that’s just what I saw - derelict houses, and 2 Roosters managing a flock.
I was in South Central to help The Crown Jewel Club throw a graduation tea party for their newest graduates. Somebody mentioned to me that this seemed kind of frivolous – tea parties weren’t necessary. But instilling confidence in at risk girls, The Crown Jewel Club’s mission, is necessary, and this tea was to celebrate a group of 5th graders graduation from the program.
The Crown Jewel Club teaches basic etiquette and social skills to girls in small classes. For example: before the tea party began the volunteers lined up opposite the girls and they practiced shaking hands, formal greetings, and eye contact. You may think this is easy or natural, but I would beg you to try to get a 5th grade girl to look you in the eye and shake hands firmly. As Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook mentioned recently the girls are instilled at an early age to lean back and not be assertive – it’s perceived as bossy or worse. You could tell some of the girls were desperately fighting the need to look at the floor.
My job was beyond easy and fun - help set up the tea party and then sit down and help the girls practice conversation skills. It went something like this [with body movements like this]:
Me: “Okay Guys... Sorry I shouldn’t call you guys… Ladies. Okay ladies. [Taking elbows off the table and holding my shoulders back] What is your greatest dream? [Again don’t slouch].
Smart Girl 1: “I would like to be a vet. Errr…. Veterinarian.”
Me: “Cool… I mean that is wonderful. So did I." [Gently taking the sugar spoon out of her hand before she used it to stir her tea, and then immediately dropping it against my saucer with a clatter as I almost did the same thing.] "What about you?” [Nodding to the second girl as a burn tongue on hot tea.]
Smart Girl 2: “I want to be a teacher!”
Me: “Great. What subject?” [Stirring milk in my tea.]
Smart Girl 2: “Milk?”
Me: “Try it. You’ll like it. It will cool down the tea. You won't burning the... it will keep you from burning your tongue. Ah hmm. Yes. Now... What subjects do you want to teach?"
Smart Girl 2: “Math and Science.”
Me: “Are you serious? I mean that’s awesome! You’re awesome.” [Smirking. Take that study which says little girls don’t like math and science.]
Well, I did my best. I probably messed up the etiquette a bit. I ended up telling them the story of my children's book. They got excited because it's about a girl only a year older than them. They gave me tons of suggestions for the second book. Maybe I'll use them...