Lifelong Bronx resident Dawn Rowe battled depression, suicidal thoughts and had many issues as a teen. Today, she is making sure young Black girls succeed and have an outlet to deal with trauma.
In 2015 Rowe founded Girl Vow, a nonprofit organization launched to address the gender specifics needs of disadvantaged girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth in New York City.
Through education, mentorship and life skills training, Girl Vow has opened doors for girls impacted by juvenile justice, poverty and the New York City foster care system. It has served over 3,000 girls, conducted over 1,068 workshops and dispersed more than $70,000 in stipends.
“I grew up in a single parent household,” she said. “During that time I was a high school dropout. I was dealing with multiple family traumas.”
Prior to becoming the founder of Girl Vow, Inc., Rowe was once slated for an alternative to the incarceration education program and placed in drop-out prevention during her high school years while suffering from family turmoil.
However, the love for academics and the push from mentors caused her to attend an alternative high school where she received her diploma. The earlier academic conflicts still haunt Rowe because the school never tried to help her.
But, Rowe did not let demons from her past get in her way. She took on menial jobs and began to volunteer at various organizations.
She obtained a dual bachelor’s degree in deviant behavior and criminology from John Jay College, a master’s of arts in sociology from Brooklyn College and a master’s of science in higher education administration from the Baruch College City University of New York.
Rowe worked for the Bronx District Attorney’s Office in youth development, interned at the Department of Juvenile Justice and in the foster care system. All of this put her on the path to Girl Vow.
“I knew I wanted to do something to help girls,” she said.
She eventually joined the board of directors of the Mt. Hope Housing Company, which was where she learned about nonprofits, policy procedures and how things work behind the scenes.
Rowe recalled how she would write out details of plans for Girl Vow on the train and in Starbucks on Fordham Road.
As many kids don’t get mental health help, she has taken the burden to assist as many girls as she can. When she tells them her story they are often drawn in and keep coming back.
“My work is not your cookie cutter mentoring program,” she explained.
She advocates for young people in court, provides job training, resume building, helps girls find housing, adjust to life after jail, find jobs and much more.
When COVID-19 arrived she did not stop working. She holds Zoom workshops and participates in virtual court cases for teens.
In the end it is very emotional for her and the teens, but the juice has been worth the squeeze.
“Sometimes you need someone to advocate for you in order for things to happen,” she stressed. “I know this is the work I was put on this earth for.”