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Meet Mona Marie, The Caribeña Helping Women Find Their Strength And Freedom Through Pole Dancing

Ask Mona Marie about her greatest relationship, and she will tell you it’s the one she has with her pole. Through erotic dance, the entertainer has found beauty, confidence and freedom, and she hopes to impart these treasures to other women through her dance and fitness studio Poletic Justice.

At the Bronx, New York pole lounge and arts studio, beginners and skilled dancers can take a series of intimate classes on the art of pole, climbing, spins, inversions, floorwork, headstands and handstands as well as non-pole sessions on twerking, burlesque, dance aerobics and yoga.

For Marie, who grew up in the Morris Park neighborhood of the Bronx, it was crucial to create a space for women and femmes in her borough to come together, strengthen community and build confidence.

“There’s other pole fitness studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I felt like I wanted to open a space where I’m able to give back to my community, and Bronx women are my community,” the 32-year-old businesswoman told FIERCE. “There’s nothing around here for us, just co-ed gyms, boxing gyms, nothing for women, and I wanted to help change that.”

At about five-to-ten people, predominantly women, though Marie stresses everyone is invited, to a class, clients get one-on-one attention but are still able to find the community many of them are looking for. With children, who are encouraged to accompany their mothers at the studio, working on homework or participating in strength-building activities, Marie starts every class by lighting sage and “speaking the good.”

“I have the women tell me something positive that happened in their day, even if it’s something as small as getting the wing on your right eye on point,” Marie, who is of Puerto Rican, Cuban and Jamaican descent, says. “It’s very important, especially as women. We are so busy trying to conquer the world and being a superhero in our everyday lives that it’s easy to forget the little things that make us smile.”

That’s the vibe at Poletic Justice: energizing and empowering. It’s not the type of studio that encourages counting calories or participating in squat challenges. Instead, it’s where women, often for the first time, recognize the beauty, wonder and power of their bodies as they are.

“I want them to feel empowered. That’s the only thing I want. I’m about self-love and building confidence. A lot of women want to know what it means to be sexy or confident. We all have our struggles. I want my clients to leave feeling good, that you released that negativity and allowed yourself to let it go and clear your mind. That’s what I want,” she said.

In order to get there, Marie says women need to be patient with themselves. While she stresses that you don’t need to have upper body strength or be a size 4 or below to do pole, she doesn’t bullshit clients, either. It takes time, practice and dedication to build the might and skill to master the art.

Another requirement: make sure you’re doing this for yourself.

“Women often have this idea that they need to be sexy for someone else and not for themselves. I’m changing that in my studio. Love and be sexy for yourself, and then let that confidence you gain and strength you are building for yourself be a plus for someone else, but it’s not for them,” she says.

Like many of her clients, Marie struggled with self-esteem and body image issues before discovering pole. With an athletic built, she didn’t see the beauty and sensuality of her brawny figure until she entered a gentleman’s club at the age of 20. There, strong women, who’d soon become her closest friends, captivated her attention with their impressive flips and stands. She wanted in. The next week, she applied and was hired. For three months, she observed the dancers from the backroom and practiced moves she’d watch on YouTube, finally gaining the know-how and courage to take to the stage herself.

Marie, a college student at the time, fell in love with the art, and realized quickly that she wanted to turn her new hobby into a full-time gig. Putting on solo club shows — one she even did especially for her mother, grandmother and aunt, who needed some reassuring after learning about her new erotic dance interests — appearing in music videos for acts like Mary J. Blige, Mya and Ja Rule, and eventually landing a “lifetime opportunity” as Madonna’s official pole choreographer and pole trainer during her 2015 Rebel Heart Tour all paved the way for her opening her own pole studio in 2016.

Poletic Justice, whose name plays on the Kendrick Lamar banger to reflect the poetic ease of Marie’s own stage lines, is more than a place for dance, aerobics and community, though. In 2017, when the organizers of New York City’s “Stripper Strike,” Gizelle Marie and Panama Pink, needed a place to convene, they called on Marie, turning Poletic Justice into the movement’s headquarters.

“It was nice to watch people express themselves in a safe space and try to see how changes can be made. I commend Panama and Gizelle for doing what they need to do. The battle they took on is necessary but difficult. This industry needs change. I understand it’s the sex industry, but it’s just like every other industry. It needs professionalism,” said Marie, who’s also calling for more rules and regulations that protect dancers against violence, exploitation and discrimination.

With clients who are mothers, career women, college students and high school dropouts, Marie hopes to retire the racialized sexist myth that dancers are promiscuous, and wants folk to know that pole is for everyone and has the capability of improving people’s lives.

“Pole and I have a very beautiful and loving relationship, perhaps the best relationship I had my whole life. It allowed me to find myself, my confidence and my freedom,” she said. “And if you let me, through pole, I will make you so confident and badass that you also won’t question going after the career you want or telling your partner to get out of your face.”

Read: Meet Mela Murder, The Puerto Rican Dancer-Actress In An Indie Film Drake Is “Obsessed” With

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Calls The Lack Of Black And Latinx Diversity At NYC’s Specialized Schools An “Injustice”

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Calls The Lack Of Black And Latinx Diversity At NYC’s Specialized Schools An “Injustice”

In New York, Black and Latinx youth make up 70 percent of public school students, yet just 10 percent are admitted to the city’s eight specialized high schools, the New York Times reports. The shamefully low, and decreasing, number of students of color in these prestigious institutions has picked up criticism, including from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who called it an “injustice.”

Just 4 percent ― or 190 students ― of the 4,800 youth invited to attend New York’s eight specialized schools this year are Black. This number is down from 207 last year, following an annual trend of decline. In fact, at Stuyvesant High School, the city’s most selective school, the number of Black students offered admission has dropped for three consecutive years. In the fall, just seven of the 895 spots will go to a Black student, down from 10 last year and 13 the year before. According to the Times, Stuyvesant, which has four Nobel Prize laureates among its alumni, now has the lowest percentage of Black and Latinx students than any other New York school, though it must be noted that the school accepted 33 Latinx students this year, up from 27 in 2018.

“To only have 7 Black students accepted into Stuyvesant (a *public* high school) tells us that this is a system failure,” the congressional freshman, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, wrote in a tweet.

Eight of the elite specialized high schools use the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test as part of their admission process, a measure of success that has received increased disapproval. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has advocated for abolishing the test, which he has referred to as a “roadblock to justice.”

“Can anyone look the parent of a [Latinx] or black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools,” the Democratic mayor wrote in an op-ed for Chalkbeat in 2018. “You can’t write a single test that captures the full reality of a person.” However, the Times reported that any push to get rid of the test have stalled out.

For Ocasio-Cortez, the system has the potential of deepening inequality for years to come.

“Education inequity is a major factor in the racial wealth gap,” she said. “This is what injustice looks like.”

While the number of Black and Latinx students accepted in New York’s elite public schools dwindle — Latinx invitees dropped from 320 to 316 overall — among all eight schools, the acceptance rate for white students has increased.

Read: Her Mom Cleaned Houses To Pay For Her Education After Her School Learned She Was Undocumented And Took Her Scholarship

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The NAACP Is Demanding That A New York Middle School Take Action After Four Girls Of Color Were Strip-Searched

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The NAACP Is Demanding That A New York Middle School Take Action After Four Girls Of Color Were Strip-Searched

Last month, four Black and Latina girls were allegedly strip-searched at a middle school in Binghamton, New York, and the events, and inaction surrounding it, has impacted their wellbeing.

According to Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, a local advocacy group, the students were suspected of using drugs because they were “hyper and giddy” during lunch at East Middle School on Jan. 15. They were then reportedly strip-searched by the nurse and assistant principal.

The searches were done without the consent of the girls’ parents, who were made aware of the incident when their daughters arrived home.

“The children had their clothing removed and felt shamed, humiliated, and traumatized by [the] experience,” the group wrote on Facebook. “While they were being searched, the nurse made disparaging comments about the eczema of one girl and the size of another’s breasts.”

The group continued: “They, as well as their parents, believe the heinous and excessive actions implemented by the school were racially motivated.”

In an interview with ESSENCE, one of the girl’s mother’s called the school’s behavior “incorrect” and said her daughter and her friends were targeted for being low-income girls of color.

“I feel it was based off of the color of their skin, because they were females, and classism. We’re not higher class. So, I just feel like they were just being judged all around the board,” Chanderlia Silva told the publication.

Silva added that assumptions that the girls were on drugs because they were excited during lunch time were ridiculous, noting that “a child is in school, and it’s eight or nine periods in a day, and so when lunchtime comes, it’s a relief for kids.”

“So once lunchtime comes you actually get to connect with your friends, and talk, and laugh, and just be yourself,” she said.

These days, Silva says her 12-year-old daughter isn’t laughing as much. The girl, who her mother described as loving music, dancing, laughing and playing with makeup, has lost interest in the activities that used to bring her joy. Instead, she often sleeps in all day, behaviors that have her mother concerned.

“I felt like she was going into a stage of depression,” she said. “She was displaying behaviors of wanting to hurt herself, which definitely put me in a bad space because you never want to see your child go through that. Then, as a mom, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know exactly what to do. In those situations, you don’t want to put her in a more stressful space.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is representing all the families and seeking justice on behalf of the girls, said that the patterns Silva’s daughter is displaying are common signs of trauma.

“The girls have been traumatized by what has occurred, and research – psychological research – is very clear that for a strip search to be conducted at school for adolescents, [it] can have immediate and long-term consequences for girls,” Cara McClellan, of the LDF, told ESSENCE. “When we talked to the mothers of the girls who were subjected to this really demeaning treatment, it’s clear that they’ve seen changes in their daughters as a result, that their dignity and their trust has been violated by school officials and as a result, first of all, they no longer feel safe at school.”

The Binghamton City School District denied allegations that staff administered a strip search.

“When conducting medical evaluation, it may require the removal of bulky outside clothing to expose an arm so that vitals like blood pressure and pulse can be assessed,” the district said. “This is not the same as a strip search.”

Hundreds of community members came together following the alleged incident questioning why no action has been taken against employees involved.

In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he asked the State Department of Education to step in and investigate the allegations. More recently, the LDF demanded that changes be made to Binghamton Schools, apologies be given to the girls and disciplinary action be taken against the principal, assistant principal and nurse East Middle School.

Read: 5 Things To Know About Latina Girls And The Sexual Abuse-To-Prison Pipeline

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