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Letters to a Young Sister

In Letters To A Young Sister: DeFINE Your Destiny, Hill Harper opens up an honest dialogue with young women, offering guidance, advice, and reassurance, urging young sisters to identify, embrace, and go after their passions and dreams.

With the care and candidness of an older brother, Harper delivers straight talk and stirring encouragement about the important and sensitive issues young women face, such as self esteem, sex, money, education, and relationships with family, friends and men—offering the support and good advice needed to help young sisters reach their highest potential. Letters To A Young Sister lays out Harper's vision to young women for facing today's tough issues and becoming the architect of their own lives

Read the Introduction from Hill Harper's Letters to a Young Sister

Introduction

The first time it happened was in Atlanta, during one of my initial stops on the tour for my newly published book, Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny. It was standing room only, nearly 300 people, yet during the reading and discussion portion of my appearance, I kept catching the eye of the same person, a young lady in the audience. She was tall and graceful, with a stare that both questioned and captivated. I was expecting her to ask a question during the Q&A time, but she didn't. She remained silent and waited till the time came to form a line for those who wished to have me sign their books. It was a long line, but she stood, and waited patiently, for her turn.

"LaTonya," she announced as I flipped open her book to find the page on which I usually sign my name. I smiled and repeated it to myself: LaTonya. For some reason, I hesitated and held the pen over the page a few seconds longer, and looked up at LaTonya. I suppose I was waiting for her to say something; she seemed poised to do so. But after a few seconds, when she still hadn't, I signed the book, gently closed the cover, and handed it back to her. LaTonya began to step away, then she stopped, turned to me, and said, "Can I ask you a question?" Of course she could ask me a question, but she knew that already. I had been answering all kinds of questions since I arrived at the bookstore. The uncertainty that I heard in her voice spoke of her fears about her ability to ask, rather than of her fears about my willingness to answer. She seemed to be seeking permission from herself to ask me the question. "Sure," I said. But she thought it was too late. The next person in line, a young brother, was already standing square in front of me, his arm reaching out, handing me a book to sign. I looked up at him and the dozens of people standing behind him, all waiting. "Don't leave," I told her. "I'll talk to you as soon as I'm done." LaTonya nodded her head, then walked away; and I got back to the business of signing books, meeting and greeting the rest of the young brothers and sisters who were in the line.

When the event was over and the last book had been bought and signed, I looked around for LaTonya. I wanted to make good on my promise, and I was also really curious about the question she wanted to ask me. But she was nowhere to be found. I didn't know whether she'd waited until she absolutely had to leave or she'd changed her mind about asking the question.

As I was gathering my belongings, the bookstore owner came over and handed me a note. "A young lady left this for you," he said. Right away, I knew that it could only be from LaTonya. Her handwriting was at an upward angle and it definitely seemed as if she had written the words in a hurry. I pictured her in the bookstore, standing at the counter, near the cash register, rushing to write the question that she had dared, despite all her apprehensions, to ask:

In your book, you talk about young men being the "newest perfect model" and being "unreasonably happy." Please tell us sisters what is good about us. Do you think that we are also capable of being unreasonably happy? If so, what can we do to get there because I haven't been truly happy in so long I can't even remember when the last time was.

LaTonya wanted encouragement that was directed specifically to her, specifically to sisters. But why ask me? Because I was a man? From that moment I started searching the bookshelves for books that addressed the issues affecting young women like LaTonya, but all I kept coming across were books by women or psychologists. While these books were helpful, most came from the same vantage point, of women talking to women. I even found a few books written by fathers to address the needs of their daughters, but it made me wonder about young girls who didn't have fathers. Where did they get their advice? I even started to learn things I had never thought about, such as the fact that many young women derive elements of their self-esteem from their fathers. In a time when nearly two-thirds of ethnic girls are raised in fatherless households, where do those girls get their self-esteem? How do they develop healthy, platonic relationships with men? When do they get to hear a loving, supportive male voice? As often happens in life, by asking myself these questions I opened myself up to more. Much to my surprise, questions like LaTonya's were questions that I would find myself being asked again and again throughout my book tour.

Meeting and speaking with groups of young brothers was not a new experience for me. I'd been doing it for years already. Stepping into a role as mentor to the young men whom I met during my tours, press junkets, and speaking engagements was a choice that I had made long ago, quite consciously and happily. My grandfather Harry Harper was a doctor who made sure that if any young man or woman desired an education, he helped them get into college. I was raised in an environment where passing the proverbial baton of experience and wisdom was not an option but an expectation, a privilege, an honor that meant something—to the people at both ends of the stick, so to speak. It was our way of saying, and of showing, that we matter. To each other first and foremost, and to the world ultimately and defiantly—We matter.

What I had not prepared myself for was the sight, in event after event and city after city, of so many women, of all ages, in my audience, holding the book, so aptly subtitled MANifest Your Destiny. Young sisters, some barely into their teens, others not yet out of high school, but already wearing the disappointment and disillusionment that people often ascribe to adulthood. There were twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, older professional sisters who had surrendered an hour or two of their evening—sacred time—to listen to a brother speak. These women had interest and empathy for the young men in their lives, their brothers, nephews, sons, friends, but they also had questions. They wanted to know why I had written a book only for men and not for women. Until those women started to ask their questions, that thought hadn't occurred to me. When Oprah opened a school, it happened to be a school for girls and it made sense. After all, she had once been a young girl and knew firsthand what they needed at that age because it was many of the things she had once needed.

I knew everything about the mirror that I was holding up for young Black men. Yet what mirror could I hold for Black women? What images would they find rippling underneath? Would or could I have any understanding of all the complexities of identity that go along with being a Black woman? Would I understand and be sensitive to all the limitations and lies that our society places on Black women and girls? Would I, as a man, be able to "get it"?

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