In the triumphant documentary STEP, we see the transformative power in imbuing black girls with light. Directed by Amanda Lipitz, it follows the lives of Blessin Giraldo, Tayla Solomon, and Cori Grainger, all seniors at Baltimore Leadership For Women high school who are fighting to not only win an important step competition, but to succeed and attend college. As they rise above the trials of making it out of Baltimore, Maryland, their tough and loving step coach, Gari “Coach G” McIntyre, prepares the young women for their big performance. She’s not easy on their team and her rigorous practices enforce valuable lessons like time management, using their voices, having accountability, and high standards. Some of the girls push back against the trying process, but their dedication to being greater than their circumstances leads them to an abundance of victory.
For Blessin, Tayla, and Cori, being a part of the the step team is more than an after-school activity. It fuels them with heightened senses of purpose and reveals their capacity to lead and inspire one another through low points and self-doubt. When I watched STEP, I saw myself. I couldn’t control my emotions and cried a lot while rooting for the cast, the 17 year-old me, and my best friends that I grew up with. We’d all broke down walls to claim our destinies. Seeing the tenacity of the girls in the film travel a similar path and refuse to accept anything below excellence for themselves tugged at my heart. Like them, I fought with my all to beat the stifling systematic constructs that came down hard on my hometown, found resources when people told me there weren’t any for me, and stayed up late to do homework after challenging but enriching high-school step practices that taught me a whole lot about myself and my ability to achieve.
Watching the film, I thought about the immense potential and promise of black girls and how boundless we are despite society’s attempts to deny us opportunities. In a world that has historically doubted us, it takes a lot of willpower, confidence, and faith to beat the odds. In one scene, headstrong team leader Blessin discusses her college options with her boyfriend who tries to persuade her to stay close to home because of the financial risk of leaving the state. She isn’t phased by his reservations and makes it clear that she’s set on something greater. Instead of worrying, she’ll fund her education by doing what she’s done her whole life — make a damn good way out of no way.
“In a world that has historically doubted us, it takes a lot of willpower, confidence, and faith to beat the odds.”
In addition to self-determination, STEP also magnifies the importance of having mentors and members of the community who will battle on the behalf of your success. The supportive figures in the film, like Coach G, school's college counselor Paula Dofat, and the step team moms, all contribute to the girls’ glory. So I also cried with gratitude for the people in my life who gave me those extra nudges, didn’t sugarcoat things when I needed to buckle down, and exhausted all their options and accounts to make sure I would soar. The young women of the team are beacons whose fearlessness and beaming spirits reminded me to never give up on myself. A daily motivation is the teenage girl inside of me, who wanted it all and did it all so that I could be where I am today. So I’m still striving and I’ll continue to storm through the hardships because I’ve seen the victory beyond the doom. And like Blessin, Tayla, and Cori, I love and believe in myself and other black girls enough to never back down from taking life’s difficult steps.