*This story is part of Girls Write Now and Channel Kindness’ Kindness Collection. To learn more about Girls Write Now – a nonprofit organization dedicated to amplifying girls and gender-expansive voices – visit girlswritenow.org!
ANNIE PILL (MENTOR): Shaila and I met last year through Girls Write Now. I can speak for myself in saying that before joining the program I was pretty nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, and I really wanted to make sure that I could provide valuable advice and writing insight to my mentee. When I met Shaila, I gained so much more than a mentee, but a true lifelong friend who is wise beyond her years. Who teaches me so much rich perspective of the world— how she sees it, how she navigates it, how deeply she loves her family, her peers, writing itself. I feel as if through Shaila I have gained a new lens of seeing the world. I can’t say that’s anything that I expected joining this program, but I’m so grateful for it.
SHAILA MOULEE (MENTEE): Going into the process of applying for Girls Write Now itself was quite nerve-wracking because I didn’t know what to expect. My sister was previously affiliated with this program, and I just thought it was so nice to have that female input in literature. So even as I was very nervous I went ahead and applied as a mentee. I got accepted, and then the next nerve-wracking process was gaining your mentor. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and I was very nervous about receiving a mentor who would not merge with my personality. I was very scared to have a mentor who wouldn’t be willing to understand me as a writer and as a person. But then Annie came along, and she has become the biggest blessing in my life. She has showered me with so much knowledge and so much love that sometimes I’m not even sure I’m worthy of receiving. She has defined sisterhood for me. She is really that big presence in my life. She’s mentored me through my writing, we’ve published pieces together, we’ve sent out my writing, and these are steps that I’ve never thought that I would be able to take. But having a mentor like Annie has really helped me through a lot of things in my life. I’ve found myself as a writer in the pursuit of this new friendship.
AP: I think there’s something really magical that happens when you meet a new person that has grown up with different circumstances, different states, different continents, with a twelve-year age gap, and you find that life presents exactly the same joys, sorrows, and challenges. It’s remarkable to me how deeply similar Shaila and I are, and how we can use our mentorship sessions to talk about writing but also to really help each other as we move through life, navigate ambiguity, navigate self-doubt, and to really hold each other accountable to what it means to treat yourself with kindness and to love yourself.
In Shaila, I think I have found someone who is always there for me when my inner critic comes out. She steps in to provide me with words of affirmation and support and reminds me that I can be the person that she perceives me to be. I hope that I can do the same for her. It’s such a gift, and really a miracle to find someone who I have never met before this experience but feel such a deeply profound connection to. A soul sister who innately understands how I work, how I make decisions, and my vulnerabilities too. I think something remarkable about our relationship is the comfort and ease there was immediately at the outset to be vulnerable, and to show up, and to not have to put on a face, but to check in with each other and say, this really hard thing is happening in my life right now, and I’m going to share that context with you because I know that you’ll be understanding and empathetic and assume the best intent. That’s a really sacred space that I’m so pleased that Girls Write Now is able to offer.
SM: I definitely agree. For me, I always fear judgment from those I love. But the moment I spoke with Annie, you could tell that she has a very pure heart. She was very honest about herself, which gave me that space to not put on a front that I spent so many years building. She has broken all the walls and allowed me to speak as freely as I can when I’m with her. I often speak about her with my other friends and teachers, about how much of an impact she’s had on my life. She continues to educate me about adulthood and the struggles that youth experience going into the stages of life. We’ve navigated grief together, we’ve navigated self-doubt. But most importantly we’ve been learning how to channel kindness toward ourselves. Oftentimes we both tend to love other people to the point where we forget about loving ourselves. With Annie I think I’ve found this new sense of self-respect. I’ve gained validation as a writer. She has given me so much guidance that I’m really grateful to have. I’m grateful to have such a wonderful mentor and company on my journey as a young writer. As a person who’s not really sure what to do in life or where to go, I feel very assured that she is here with me.
AP: It’s a love fest. Right before this, we were reviewing some spoken word pieces that Shaila has written in her creative writing course at school. To take a step back, this creative writing course was not a course that Shaila was enrolled in. She was placed in a default English class, and in one of our sessions came to me and said, you know, I’m in this English class, the curriculum is the same, I’m seeking another challenge. I know that I want to improve as a writer, and there’s this creative writing class. She advocated through the school administration to get herself enrolled in the class. Once they saw her writing, she was a shoe-in, and has spent the semester writing these gorgeous pieces. When I read them, I can so clearly see her growth as a writer and how she’s come from day one at Girls Write Now until now. The prose, her use of different literary devices, her employment of all of these different strategies and tools is so impressive. But what’s even more impressive is that her style is so unique and consistent. She has already, at such a young age, developed this voice that is Shaila. It is trademarked, it is hers. And it’s pervasive through every single piece of her writing. I just smile thinking about where her career and aspirations are going to take her. I don’t know which direction they will grow into, but what I do know is that Shaila’s brand and identity will be so loud and so clear.
SM: Where do I even begin? Even just fighting for that English class took a lot of courage on my end. I’ve been trying to work on advocacy and making sure that my voice does not become silenced amidst others. In our sessions, we always talk about whatever is going on and our experiences, and I was sharing these struggles with Annie. I wasn’t really sure because I knew that I wanted to have that creative writing course but I felt very nervous about speaking with the administration and reaching out to people I’ve never really met before. After speaking with her and countless days thinking about it, I decided to go ahead and fight for it. It lasted almost four weeks continually going back and forth to offices and advocating for myself for a seat in the class. I really think it wouldn’t have been possible unless Annie had encouraged me to go ahead. She always believes in me before I can believe in myself. Because of that, I’ve grown into such a wonderful writer and I feel more proud of who I am as a writer. I know that there’s a mentor who’s there to comfort me through anything and I know that she’s very honest about our relationship. It gives me that opportunity to be myself.
Now, as I’m writing in creative writing, I’ve found myself and my style because there are no restrictions being placed on myself or my writing. It’s a joy to share it with Annie and receive her wonderful feedback. I really find myself growing, even from day one. Our first session we spent time listening to music and we rewrote and were just starting to understand and have a grasp of our personalities. And now I think we’ve become so fond of each other that we’ve found ways to respect the boundaries that we set for ourselves— and also break past them when we know that we’re in need of help. I think Annie is my North Star. She has given me that validation that I have been desperately seeking but haven’t received, so thank you, Annie.