#Love U First
CEO & Founder
THE MESSAGE & BEAUTY BEHIND THE FOUNDATION
Written by: Kimberly Nichole
A Touchy Subject
"How does the statement “to touch young girls” make you feel?" A person may look at the life of Keyonna Monroe, Spelman College and USC alum, author, educator, mentor, and CEO/Executive Director of The Pretty 2 Me Foundation and LYF Matters Project, how she’s dedicated herself and her work to the education and uplifting of young girls, and may see someone who reaches and (figuratively) touches young girls nationwide through programs designed to educate, encourage, and empower girls and women to be their best selves.
What motivates someone like this to be so impassioned about educating young girls and women about the importance of self-love and awareness? So dedicated to providing safe spaces where love, compassion, and encouragement are given to girls who may have never received it?
Unfortunately, for many, the statement “to touch young girls” has an entirely different meaning and can serve as a very painful trigger to experiences of abuse and sexual trauma.
As a survivor of sex trafficking and abuse, Ms. Monroe is all too familiar with the psychological and emotional effects young girls and women experience. Recognizing subtle and blatant signs of abuse, as well as attitudes of shame, blame, and indifference projected onto victims by those on the outside in the environments around her, she needed to see a change; a change in the judgemental and dismissive attitudes toward young girls deemed fast and promiscuous, a change in the way young girls devalued themselves and had no concept of self-love and esteem, and a change in society’s receptiveness to signs of abuse.
The Unpretty Work
Survival is an incredible testimony to any traumatic experience. For some survivors, it is important that their testimony serves to prevent others from becoming victims in any way they can, and to offer support to other survivors that they themselves may not have received. Personal experiences with bullying, gang life, and sex trafficking are driving influencers in Keyonna’s mission to educate, heal, and empower others.
Stemming from her own past experience of not feeling protected, and her personal awareness of the ease of manipulation of a child by an adult, Keyonna has worked with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the LAPD, LA Metro, K-12 schools (both locally and nationally), and with children in foster homes, group homes, and transitional homes, as an educator, mentor, and resource that serves to educate others on identifying, combating, and healing from sexual abuse.
The insight of someone who’s survived such traumatic experiences themselves, has proven to be valuable in learning to identify signs and behaviors of someone who may be suffering abuse. Ms. Monroe has provided insight into educating authorities and guardians on being attentive to how children express themselves, their level of comfort with sexuality, their comfort in interacting with adults, and crucial in today’s social media driven society, what they are comfortable posting online.
Love is a prominent concept in the work that Keyonna does. Her programs encourage and promote self-love, but what is also important and sadly missing in some’s concept of love, is the awareness and expression of appropriate love. She’s worked to educate adults and children alike on the difference between appropriate behavior, affection, and love.
As a certified CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapist) with a background in NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), Ms. Monroe works with girls helping them to explore their feelings, past experiences, present situations, and hopes for the future. She opened up a space for students to feel emotionally safe to explore and unpack their trauma, sadness, grief, frustrations, fears, and feelings of stagnation or "being stuck," and supports them in finding and discovering their authentic self and dreams.
Her aim is to help them develop a greater sense of awareness and control over their current situation, issues moving through depression, and examining problematic behaviors. Sometimes it requires looking at unhealthy relationships with self/friends/family, or developing new and better coping strategies for dealing with day-to-day stressors, and managing life transitions.
Spreading the Love
Why are organizations such as Pretty 2 Me and LYF Matters so necessary and important?
In our current cultural climate where women are becoming more emboldened and empowered to find and use their voice, embrace their inherent beauty and power as women, and to passionately protect the value of their bodies, it remains an uphill battle. Sex trafficking, sexual abuse, suicide, bullying, self-harm, and self-hatred are occurring at alarming rates, and for many, the idea of anything different and better for themselves seems unattainable.
Pulling from her own personal experiences battling low self-esteem, bullies, and the negative effects of peer pressure, Keyonna recognized the importance of creating a space where young girls could find their voice, and an environment that encourages positive self-expression and exploration. At a time where young girls are very susceptible, being bombarded with influential imagery that dictates what it means to be a girl, woman, female, pretty, smart, successful, etc., can be very confusing, especially when operating from a place of low self-esteem and self-awareness. In many cases, where young girls are in environments where negativity is being poured into them, they have no alternative to counter the toxicity they take in.
Pretty 2 Me offers programs that cultivate positive relationships such as one-on-one and group mentorship, workshops on self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and programs centered around physical, mental, and emotional health. The programs allow young girls to engage with others their age, share experiences, ideas, goals, and learn what it means to be encouraging and encouraged, supportive and supported, loving and loved.
In addition to The Pretty 2 Me Foundation, recognizing that low self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-love is not just a problem for young girls, Keyonna launched the LYF Matters Project (LYF = Loving Yourself First), an organization that supports the journey of discovering and developing self-love for adult women who never received these tools and lessons themselves as young girls.
The journey to loving yourself is continuous, consisting of constant learning, and ongoing exploration. The organization serves as a community of support where women of different walks and at different stages of their journey all support one another in areas of mental health, emotional health, financial wellness, purpose, body image, intimacy, and relationships.