Tanisha “Tish” Frederick’s daughter experienced such extreme bullying starting in the fourth grade that it culminated in a hospital admission at Wellstone for self-harming or “cutting” and suicidal thoughts. It was at that point that Frederick turned her concern into action.

“As a mother, I could not understand how such a beautiful, intelligent and talented young lady could suffer from such low self-esteem,” said Frederick. “We’re originally from Michigan and we moved around a lot. Our daughter just had a really hard time making friends; that’s how it all kind of started.

Tanisha “Tish” Frederick

After her daughter’s therapy, Frederick looked for a support group but found that nothing existed, so she was inspired to start Beautiful as You Are, or BAYA. The group provides an outlet for young girls to build self-esteem and confidence. Frederick, 44, serves as the group’s executive director. BAYA began in May 2014, and became a nonprofit in 2016.

“We started with just seven girls from my church and it exploded,” said Frederick. “I had no idea so many girls needed a support group like this. Today, there are 12 chapters of BAYA in Louisville with over 200 girls, and it is still growing.”

After her initial BAYA group started meeting, Frederick said word quickly grew about the program. Cabbage Patch Settlement House asked for a program there, followed by some JCPS schools and then Boys and Girls Clubs. The groups initially began with teenagers, but soon they dropped the ages to cover 6-18 years old, said Frederick. “We would hear parents tell us, “My eight-year old daughter is already depressed and having thoughts of suicide. Can she come also?”

Frederick said BAYA sessions are not just a roundtable discussion but are always interactive. “We just had a session about the things we call ourselves. How do others see us and how do we see ourselves? The girls might say I see myself as ugly, dumb or fat, all these things. But then their peers speak positive things about them, and they are surprised and say, ‘Hey, they feel that way about me?”

Most of the groups, like Cane Run Elementary and Farnsley Middle, meet monthly, others are after-school sites that meet twice a month. A teen group kicked off recently, meeting at the Nia Center, in West Louisville. The newest chapter, launching in August 2019 at Green Valley in New Albany, will be the first in Southern Indiana.

Frederick and another volunteer conduct the sessions but also have guest speakers who teach workshops, like drug and alcohol for example, or such topics as “How we label ourselves.”

Bullying is definitely a prevalent topic for the group. “Many times, we find that young ladies who are bullied at school become bullies, too,” said Frederick. “We explore why the bully bullies so both the girl being bullied can better understand what is happening, and the bully can see why they are having that behavior.”

BAYA also conducts life skills workshops and career fairs as well as an annual Girl Love Yourself Empowerment Conference, this year’s coming up on May 18.  “We started the conference because so many of our girls need therapy but can’t afford it,” said Frederick. “They either don’t have the right insurance or can’t afford the co-pay, so the conference is free, and set up to teach girls with self-esteem issues to cope with everyday stress in a positive way. At the conference, you can learn art therapy, dance therapy, music therapy, yoga, kickboxing,” she said. The empowerment day also includes a number of different breakout sessions for self-esteem building.

Frederick said a favorite event for the girls in the program is their annual gala. “Every girl gets a free dress and gets to dress up like the queens they truly are,” said Frederick. They learn to walk and talk with confidence. They are the guest speakers and get to perform. It’s the ultimate self-esteem boosting event.”

Frederick said girls struggle with self-esteem partly because of media messages. “Kids just have so much at their fingertips – cell phones, computers, tablets – it’s a lot of pressure on themselves to want to look perfect. They compare themselves to their peers or what they see on TV –they say they are too dark skinned, too light skinned, too skinny, too fat, too tall, too short.” But the BAYA program encourages young women to embrace themselves, flaws and all, said Frederick.

Tyler Pope, now 15, who attends Male High School, can tell you the impact the program has made on her. The young woman, who now volunteers and speaks on behalf of BAYA, originally joined at 12 after a friend told her about it.

“Back then, I was going through a lot of bullying because I didn’t look like my peers,” said Pope. “The group made me feel good about myself and build confidence. The main message is just to love yourself.”  She said it made her more outgoing. “I got to go out of my comfort zone. I used to dislike speaking in front of people, and now I love doing speeches, love talking and meeting people, she said.

Tyler Pope

Pope also explained the group is a safe space where she has felt accepted and made close friendships. “I know they’re my sisters,” she said. “If you join this group, you don’t have to worry about someone looking at you the wrong way or not being able to join group. You can be yourself.”

As for BAYA, Frederick said her dream is to have at least one BAYA chapter in every state in the U.S. She also wants to take the Girl Love Yourself Empowerment Conference to different states, going on the road to offer free therapy to any girls who need it. “Our kids are killing themselves at these high rates – I just want to do something to save this generation.”

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Insider Amplify
Insider Amplify is a new effort by Insider Louisville, funded in part by the Gheens Foundation, to highlight GOOD news in the Louisville area. It does not operate through our normal newsroom, but has a separate team behind it, focused on creating articles about the people and organizations making a difference in our city. Insider Amplify is always looking for new funders to help perpetuate this type of storytelling.