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State Honoree

Diedre Graham

Alabama

Diedre Graham, 17, of Mobile, Ala., a junior at Murphy High School and a member of the Alabama Cooperative Extension 4-H, produced and starred in a dance benefit entitled "IMAGINE Me: Image in Me" to raise awareness among teenage girls about body image and self-esteem. "This project was born after I encountered a negative experience as a ballerina of color and was denied an opportunity to perform a pointe' role because of my body type,'" said Diedre. When other girls with the same body type, but different skin color, were cast in pointe roles, Diedre decided to stage her own production and send a message that "regardless of how you look and what people say, be who you are and be the best you' possible," she said. "What an exciting way to overcome my personal pain by channeling it into something positive." Diedre secured a venue for the event, recruited 28 African-American dancers, selected costumes, and choreographed a program that included ballet, jazz, pointe and African dance. She then scheduled months of rehearsals; promoted the production with flyers, brochures, mailings, and an article in a local newspaper; and prepared a PowerPoint presentation based on research into girls' body image and self-esteem. More than 300 people attended Diedre's benefit, which raised over $2,000 to support a local YWCA chapter and to provide scholarships to a nonprofit dance studio. "When I began, I was hurting, and doubting my self-worth and value. The fact that I contributed to a positive message about myself and girls who look like me made me feel even more proud," said Diedre.