People hold a candlelight vigil for missing children outside the African American Civil War Memorial in the District on March. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

There was an uproar last month when an attempt by the Metropolitan Police Department to raise awareness about missing D.C. children was misunderstood. People thought the children were newly missing. They weren’t — but they were missing.

This spurred talk about why girls of color get less attention when they disappear than white girls. That’s a good question — because generally we are not focusing on girls of color. And that’s a problem.

Soon after D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced the $20 million Empowering Males of Color initiative, which includes a new high school, some questioned whether it was legal to exclude girls from the initiative. One councilwoman filed a request asking for a legal review to see if it complied with federal Title IX laws that require equal public investments in girls and boys.

The law is not my expertise, but this is the right question to ask. If we continue to neglect the issues facing girls, the boys of color initiative is doomed to fail.

Peaceoholics, the antiviolence organization I co-founded, never could have squashed more than 40 major violent beefs in the District in its six-year run without the leadership of young women.

I fear that we are making a mistake in our fight for racial justice and equality if we exclude girls.

Those of us who do grass-roots activism can tell you that the challenges facing girls of color are just as serious as those facing boys of color. Only 12 percent of poor children live in two-parent households. That means the majority of our children in poverty-stricken urban areas such as Southeast are being raised by single mothers. If we neglect girls’ needs and overlook their leadership potential, My Brother’s Keeper will not get anywhere — those boys are being raised by women. We need to make sure those women are empowered, and we can’t wait until they’re grown.

Girls of color face their own challenges: Forty percent of sex-trafficking victims are black. The majority of women and girls in correctional settings have been victims of violence — domestic violence, rape, sexual assaults and child abuse. “Black Girls Matter,” a new report by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, highlighted the troubles facing black girls in school. They are often left out of efforts to end the school-to-prison pipeline. In Boston, for example, they have as many as 11 times the number of disciplinary actions compared with their white peers. They are the fastest-growing population in D.C.’s juvenile justice system.

In 2004, we started taking groups of D.C. youths to Alabama to study with civil rights veterans and learn the best antiviolence strategies to apply in the District. The boys and girls met Amelia Boynton, Annie Lee Cooper, Gwen Cook Webb, James Bevel and James Orange.

We learned that women were key to the victory in Selma, Ala. We learned that young ladies such as Webb made a difference. She was among the young women who persuaded the males not to retaliate when the police whipped, hosed and sicced dogs on protesters.

This history shows the power of women in the community.

We used a similar technique to bring about truces among rival gangs such as Lynch Mob and Choppa City.

We started with the young women — and they were no joke. Several were former gang leaders themselves and had experienced violence on a regular basis. However, the young women were willing to listen to us. After we got them to join forces, the guys soon followed — just as they did in the 1960s.

Spending time down South with civil rights legends was a life-changing experience for all of us.

I have been so proud of countless once-troubled D.C. girls who are now successful women. Monica Watts recently graduated from Benedict College in South Carolina and is now an ANC commissioner in Ward 8. She used to be in Lynch Mob. Davina Callahan, formerly of Choppa City, earned her master’s degree at age 22 from the prestigious Smith College.

These women show that if we wrap our arms around boys and girls of color, we will be marching in the right direction.

The writer is a D.C.-based anti-violence activist.