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Dawn Rowe of Girl Vow: “Teach others”

Teach others — Less fortunate people should have the same opportunity to learn how to access generational success. We must use our ability to teach others the tenets of opportunity and ways to sustain it. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Rowe who strives to save as many girls as she can, the way that others have […]

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Teach others — Less fortunate people should have the same opportunity to learn how to access generational success. We must use our ability to teach others the tenets of opportunity and ways to sustain it.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Rowe who strives to save as many girls as she can, the way that others have saved her. Currently, Dawn is a faculty member at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, MCNY, a certified Institutional Review Board (IRB) researcher, youth motivational speaker. Previously, she has worked in the District Attorney’s Office, youth development, interned at the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the foster care system. Dawn holds a dual bachelor’s degree in Deviant Behavior and Criminology from John Jay College, a Master of Arts in Sociology from Brooklyn College, and a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration from the Baruch College City University of New York.


Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Prior to becoming the Founder of Girl Vow, Inc., I was once slated for an alternative to incarceration program and placed in drop-out prevention during my high school years, while suffering from multiple traumas and parental abandonment. The fear of being placed in an institutional setting and family conflict after a suicide attempt caused me to drop out of high school. Mentors and a newfound love for academics led me to attend an alternative high school, where I received my high school diploma.

At the age of 16, I made a personal vow to support girls the way women have supported me. My experiences would later lead to the birth of Girl Vow, Inc. in 2015, a gender-focused mentoring program for girls and LGBTQ youth impacted by foster care, juvenile justice, and poverty. Currently, I work in juvenile facilities, jails, foster care agencies, and advocate for girls in psych wards.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

My work is challenging. I do not have any funny mistakes, but I can speak of the hardships of obtaining funding in the nonprofit sector as an organization led by a woman of color. I spent the first couple of years perfecting my abilities while holding two master’s degrees. I trained, taught, and devised program modules while building the organization out of a local Starbucks. Also, I spent part-time fighting for girls of color’s rights to be heard and granted access to the services and opportunities that rightfully belong to them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have many women who have directed my life. One person is Mae. I met Mae through a friend. We discussed politics, life, relationships, and academics. She quickly became a mother figure to me, once she learned about my background story. Mae helped me move beyond my limited scope. She has been with me through my crazy times, pain, accomplishments, and graduations. She has stood proxy for me when I could not do so for myself. Also, she has groomed me in several areas of my life. She corrects me when I am wrong and holds my hand when I am hurting. She is my reminder that God has put my tears in a bottle and that he knows my name. Mae is my heroine.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

We established in 2015 as a 501(c)(3) organization. My work is centered on healing girls and LGBTQ youth of color, which includes advocating in court, psych wards, foster care institutions, homelessness, alternative incarceration, on the streets, or drug addicted. I have rescued girls out of crack houses and helped to restore mother-daughter relationships at an appropriate time. Girl Vow, Inc. was born out of the idea of addressing inequities that befell girls who were overlooked and suffered by the system saturated with failures.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Our present time is the most challenging for us as a young organization. When I think about the impact of COVID-19, one of the main tenets of leadership is to check-in with staff. We must address staff members’ mental health and allow personal time if staff needs to recourse. In critical times such as this, we need to make sure that we take care of one another. We must make sure work does not become our sole purpose but becomes a sanctuary for everyone involved. Currently, I am working on a wellness plan, and it is overdue. However, I am still learning.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I cannot give up. It is not an option for me. I am constantly motivated by the young people I support. I would not be whole, if I failed to help them progress beyond their circumstances. There is an inalienable right for girls of color to be happy, whole, and have access to opportunity no matter the zip code they are from.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Leaders must maintain and establish self-care. There are times we need to take care of ourselves, but we tend to give more than we take as purpose-driven leaders. I am currently working on this.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?

We take time off to reflect and examine what the future holds for the company ran by girls of color. We are more intentional and strategic. Think about and harnessing personal power by teaching staff how to tap into their autonomy. We communicate fears and allow people to express what they are afraid of. More importantly, we invite them on the process of leadership in action. The team most likely has the answers.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

It depends on the level of difficulty. The most common way is to pick up the phone to discuss what strategies we used as a team to overcome a challenge. We then look at why we may continue to struggle. As a leader, it is vital to include the team along the way, so there are fewer surprises.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Leaders must plan and examine all the possibilities. Critical moments such as COVID-19 is when leaders step up. Leadership teaches us the relevance of decision making, while life teaches us that nothing is infinite. Remain confident and affirm yourself with phrases such as “I know I am the right person for my role. I am where I should be. I know that I am going to do everything I need to be more useful than ever before.”

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Be action-oriented and know how to pivot when it is time. I think most businesses fail when they are strait-laced and cannot use flexibility. As proprietors, we must shift according to the culture of the communities we serve.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. I can speak from personal experience, where I have been a part of organizations that I have left because I was not valued until I announced my departure.
  2. Value the thoughts and work of those around you. Your supporters should not be an afterthought.
  3. You do not have to be the smartest person in the room. Listening is as equally as important as being heard.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

When one manages a business, you must hustle and articulate to the world why they should support your work. Also, you must allow your work to speak for itself. Allow others to adopt your mission. They should know your successes and failures. Always give back to the community, as one day, the community may have to give back to you.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Be honest and of good character — Find a purpose or passion and commit wholeheartedly without a benefit. I work with young girls in emotional and physical pain, where my role is to be a mentor. I share my story, discuss their struggles, advocate, and help them through tough times until they are strong enough to coordinate their own lives. I want nothing for myself in return. There is one young lady, AJ, who is very similar to me, and did not have available parents. She looked for ways to stay out of the home. She lived with her mother to avoid violent psychotic episodes. We worked with each other long enough to make concrete decisions, obtain sustainable employment, and help her become independent. AJ will graduate from college soon.

Teach others — Less fortunate people should have the same opportunity to learn how to access generational success. We must use our ability to teach others the tenets of opportunity and ways to sustain it.

Love — Love is the most important but difficult principle. We are often shuttered by life experiences that will not allow us to love ourselves. I have found that if we do the work to lighten the load from the past, we can find the freedom to love our work and ourselves when times are difficult.

Lead — Show up prepared to work or stay home.

Dream- Your dreams hold life strategies; invest in them. Find a good therapist.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I will use the quote that has become a significant moment for myself, the youth I work with or those who have been suicidal. My life changed when “I realized it was not that I wanted to die, but I wanted my problems to die.” I shared this recently with suicidal youth. After she read it, she stared at me and said, Dawn, “that’s it.” “This is how I feel,” I replied, “I know.” We then hugged as she wept.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Facebook: Girl Vow IG: Girl Vow, Iamdawnrowe, Twitter Girl Vow mentoring & www.girlvow.org. Mentor youth and donate.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good heal.

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