Mission

The Dreamer Girls Project is a racial and gender specific evidence-based substance use, HIV, and STI prevention program for Black girls. The Dreamer Girls Project (DGP) will be to a) increase positive and protective sexual practices (e.g., condom use, PrEP) and psychosocial skills (HIV knowledge, self-efficacy among Black adolescent girls in Paterson and b) to increase knowledge about licit and illicit substances and their relationship with STI and HIV/AIDS.

The Dreamer Girls Project was conceptualized first to be a nonprofit organization in 2010 after the death of Dr. Ijeoma Opara’s father, Mr. Isaiah Opara. Dr. Opara lost her mom, Mrs. Mary Opara, seven years prior to losing her dad so their deaths left her heartbroken, lonely, and confused. Fortunately, leaning on support from her friends, family, and relying on her relationship with God, she was able to begin her path to healing. The loss of her parents at such young ages inspired her to create a program specifically for Black girls. After receiving her PhD, and obtaining an opportunity to design her own study, The Dreamer Girls Project was born.
Dr. Opara wants to provide support and empower Black girls to deal with issues that affect them the most. Overall, she wants to make young Black girls feel like they can dream and soar to the highest heights, despite life difficulties.

Research

The Dreamer Girls Project received pilot study funding in 2019 from National Institute on Mental Health through a HIV education grant housed at Yale School of Public Health to support early career scientists who are conducting HIV-related work (REIDS). The research focus of The Dreamer Girls Project includes interviewing Black teen girls from across the nation to understand risk and protective factors to using drugs and sexual risk behavior, understanding how racism and sexism impacts behavior and using findings to develop a HIV, STI, and drug use prevention program for Black girls.
Since its launch, the project has recruited over 75 Black teen girls to participate through focus group interviews who have provided great information on what they would like to see in a prevention program while also detailing challenges that they have witnessed just from existing as a Black girl in the U.S. It also now has an advisory board of seven ambitious and brilliant Black girls from all over the country. The Dreamer Girls Project prevention program will be designed for Black girls, BY Black girls and is dedicated to creating lasting positive impact on them.

Preliminary findings

Our research shows that there are specific protective factors that lower the chances of using substances and can indirectly, improve mental health. There are major differences in substance use and misuse risk by race, gender, and environmental context. Although there are many evidence-based prevention interventions that have the power to support youth, such interventions are often inaccessible to large youth groups and are not culturally or gender-specific enough. This is the importance of prevention interventions that can be tailored to specific diverse groups of youth who may have different risk and protective factors to substance use.

The SASH Lab at Yale examines four protective factors that can be beneficial in prevention programming for Black girls:

Increasing ethnic identity and pride

Creating spaces where Black girls can learn more about their culture, history, and be proud of their race while challenging negative race and gender stereotypes that are often placed on Black girls.

Increasing social support

Social support doesn’t have to come from family, it can come from chosen family (friends, extended relatives, teachers, counselors and support staff, peer mentors).

Building a strong sense of community

Create spaces for girls that highlight the beauty of the towns, cities, and neighborhoods that Black girls live and thrive in, and promoting resources for capacity building among Black girls.

Increasing empowerment

Honor Black girls as they speak, allowing them to lead and placing them in positions of leadership and power where they can be supported.

Our team is in the process of developing a prevention intervention that can be delivered by Black girls for Black girls! We expect to launch it by Summer 2022. Stay tuned! Follow us on Twitter to be the first to know when we launch!

Philanthropy

The philanthropy division of The Dreamer Girls Project is made possible through a charitable donation from Dr. Opara. Her first act of service will be the launching of the 2022 Black Teen Girls Scholarship

A letter from the Director:

My father always told me, “Whatever you do, be the best at it. Get the highest degrees you possibly can, just as long as you love what you do”. Although my father wasn’t able to witness me achieve what he prophesied, I know I can still honor his memory by passing on the support he gave me. My goal is to give back to Black teen girls, to support their great ideas and encourage them to go to college. I want to equip them with the confidence and tools they need to have a great start in college. I hope this Black Teen Girls Scholarship will only be the beginning of many educational, practical and empowering programs to come for Black girls.

As a New Jersey native, I will be awarding $500 each to two Black girls in NJ who are attending college in Fall 2022 and can come up with a great idea in preventing HIV, drug use among Black girls that we can use for my project, The Dreamer Girls Project. This money comes directly from me as a way to give back to Black girls. Improving the health of Black girls is a goal of mine and I want to support a girl who is passionate but also wants to be a part of the solution for Black girls.

-Dr. Ijeoma Opara

Stayed tuned for the 2023 Black Teen Girls Scholarship Application

  • Download, complete and sign the application form here
  • Attach the following supporting documents to your application form:  
  • – Provide a 1-page statement answer to this question: Describe what you think would be the best way to prevent HIV, STIs and drug use for Black girls in the United States.
  • – Official acceptance letter from college/university that you will be attending in Fall 2022
  • – A headshot
  • Email your completed application to: thesashlab@yale.edu with the subject: BLACK TEEN GIRL SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATION, prior to the deadline of May 15, 2022. 
  • Please Note: Applicants will be judged based on the best innovative ideas for preventing HIV, STI, and drug use in Black girls. All applications must be received by May 15, 2022 to be considered. Decisions will be announced early to mid-June 2022. 

To accept the Dreamer Girls Project scholarship award, you must agree to share your name and photo for the award announcement and marketing purposes.  The Black Teen Girls Scholarship is not funded or affiliated with the National Institutes of Health or any other federal agency.

Our 2022 Black Teen Girl Scholarship winners are:

Nona Raine Harris Fulmore

Nona graduated from the Diana C. Lobosco Stem Academy in June 2022 and will be attending the Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, to pursue an Associates degree in Computer Science. There, she will be a part of the STEM scholars program funded by NASA. She will then transfer to Princeton University and major in Software Engineering.

Glaelle Germain

Glaelle Germain graduated from Irvington High School in June 2022 and will be attending the State University of New York at Albany. There, she will continue her studies in Business Administration.

Preliminary findings

Our research shows that there are specific protective factors that lower the chances of using substances and can indirectly, improve mental health. There are major differences in substance use and misuse risk by race, gender, and environmental context. Although there are many evidence-based prevention interventions that have the power to support youth, such interventions are often inaccessible to large youth groups and are not culturally or gender-specific enough. This is the importance of prevention interventions that can be tailored to specific diverse groups of youth who may have different risk and protective factors to substance use.

The SASH Lab at Yale examines four protective factors that can be beneficial in prevention programming for Black girls:

Increasing ethnic identity and pride

Creating spaces where Black girls can learn more about their culture, history, and be proud of their race while challenging negative race and gender stereotypes that are often placed on Black girls.

Increasing social support

Social support doesn’t have to come from family, it can come from chosen family (friends, extended relatives, teachers, counselors and support staff, peer mentors).

Building a strong sense of community

Create spaces for girls that highlight the beauty of the towns, cities, and neighborhoods that Black girls live and thrive in, and promoting resources for capacity building among Black girls.

Increasing empowerment

Honor Black girls as they speak, allowing them to lead and placing them in positions of leadership and power where they can be supported.

Our team is in the process of developing a prevention intervention that can be delivered by Black girls for Black girls! We expect to launch it by Summer 2022. Stay tuned! Follow us on Twitter to be the first to know when we launch!

Black Girls Go to Yale!

In July 2022, Dr. Opara with the help of New Jersey-Based Community Partners, organized a trip for more than 50 Black teen girls from East Orange, Paterson and Newark to visit Yale. The two-day event featured a private scheduled campus tour led by Yale College students, a pizza lunch and structured conversations with teen girls on setting a path to college.
We would like to thank the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at Yale School of Public Health for providing a space for girls to fellowship after the tour. We would also like to thank Yale Medicine Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for donating gift bags to all of the teen girls and chaperones who participated in the tour.

Youth Advisory Board

Our youth advisory board consists of Black girl activists and changemakers who are all dedicated to improving health outcomes for Black girls. The Dreamer Girls Project youth advisory board meets monthly to review study activities, fellowships, and collaborate on innovative ways to engage in research, practice, and policy for Black girls.

Marley Dias

New Jersey

Rachel Oladepo

New Jersey

Uzoamaka Gbulie

Texas

Shekinah Glory Peter Mba

New Jersey

Natalya Charlemagne

New Jersey

Kassidy Nola Scott

New Jersey

Michelle Matos

Florida