She the People is celebrating Women’s History Month by looking to the future. This list highlights just 25 of the young women and girls of color who are changing the cultural and political landscape. They have roots across the country, from battleground states like North Carolina, Georgia and Ohio, to sites of historic struggle like Hawai’i and South Central Los Angeles.
These women and girls aren’t just full of potential. They are wielding their power to shape our country’s future. They are leaders to watch, to learn from and to follow.
With a diverse array of tactics like documentary filmmaking, community organizing, social media and photography, they are eschewing the old playbook and forging a new way forward. The next generation of leaders have arrived. Let’s meet them.
Salma Abdi, 16
Rochester, Minn. | Rochester-Olmsted Youth Commission
Salma Abdi is a junior in high school and already has an impressive track record of making change in her community. As an executive member of the Rochester-Olmsted County Youth Commission, she advocated for the ban on conversion therapy in her city and county. She successfully advocated for Native students to wear their traditional feathers at graduation, and was able to get her school district to add gender-neutral bathrooms in new buildings.
Additionally, she serves as a Congressional District 1 representative on the Minnesota Youth Council (MYC), where she sits on the juvenile justice sub-committee. As a representative, she has testified in front of House committees and served as an appointed member of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet Advisory Council. She hopes to use her platform to advocate for all youth in the state of Minnesota to ensure they can thrive regardless of their circumstance.
Tirthna Badhiwala, 25
Silver Spring, Md. | Data and systems coordinator
Tirthna Badhiwala doesn’t think she needs to be the face of the work to be revolutionary and she’s found a behind the scenes niche that allows her to advance the cause while still identifying as a ‘student’ of abolitionism.
With the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, a group of grassroots and faith-based organizations committed to ending police abuse in Maryland, Badhiwala has carved out a lane using her data skills to analyze police budgets, manage digital contact lists, and keep track of community members with skills and stories that can be tapped in key moments.
Beyond supporting abolitionists in her community, Badhiwala also contributes to a movement-centered magazine, writing about topics like mutual aid, organizing beyond electoral politics, and strategies in the fight for collective liberation.
Phoebe Balascio, 23
Newark, Del. | Master’s student, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
Phoebe Balascio is a transracial, transnational, Chinese American adoptee, passionate about racial justice, immigrant justice, disability justice and the adoption industrial complex. Her current research at the University of Pittsburgh focuses on gender-based violence.
She is also the director of outreach for the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) and is a youth organizer at Woori Center. Her focus is to uplift the power, voices and stories of women of color by building communities of care, engaging young people, and centering the margins.
Haleema Bharoocha, 22
Union City, Calif. | Senior advocacy manager, Alliance for Girls
Haleema Bharoocha is a Gen Z South Asian American striving to speak truth to power. As she quotes from the Quran, “Stand firm in justice be it against yourselves or your parents.”
Bharoocha is the senior advocacy manager at Alliance for Girls where she leads collective advocacy to meet the expressed needs of girls and gender expansive youth. As a workshop speaker, she has trained over 700 people in equity-related topics, including Islamophobia and gender-based violence. When she was a student at Seattle University, she started the Gender Justice Center, a student-led community space serving women and transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) students.
Lupita Carballo, 21
Carson, Calif. | FREE LA youth organizer coordinator
Growing up, Lupita Carballo got used to hearing police sirens and helicopters and seeing the police wait outside her school to hand out truancy tickets to kids running late. When her sister died of cancer, she fell behind in school and the school district failed to take any time to support her through the crisis. Then she joined the Youth Justice Coalition’s FREE LA High School and realized the power of organizing. She saw their team successfully push to decriminalize fare evasion at the county and then the state level.
Five years later, now she organizes other youth, to fight police violence and the unjust laws targeting their community.
Haley Carrera, 24
Scottsdale, Arizona | Lead organizer for One Fair Wage AZ
Haley Carrera is a lead organizer for One Fair Wage. She first signed on to be a part-time phone banker and quickly became an organizer herself once she discovered her passion for bringing people together.
Her work aims to address class disparities, by focusing on uniting the affluent area she lives in (Paradise Valley) with marginalized communities One Fair Wage is serving. Her hope is to use her class consciousness as a woman of color to advance the influence and political power of women of color.
Isabel Coronado, 25
Phoenix, Arizona | Policy entrepreneur, Next100
Isabel Coronado is a policy entrepreneur at Next100 and a citizen of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation. Her clan is the Wind Clan, and her tribal town affiliation is Thlopthlocco Tribal Town.
At Next100, Coronado is focused on creating policy aimed at reducing the generational cycle of incarceration in Native communities. She has spoken out about the experiences of children of incarcerated parents and worked closely with the Keep Families Together Campaign to pass the FAMILIES Act, a federal bill that would keep parents home with their children instead of going to prison.
With the Center for Native American Youth, Coronado put together a petition with over one thousand signatures calling on Congress to ensure that Indian Country is accounted for in federal COVID-19 aid packages.
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Sage Dolan-Sandrino, 20
New York, N.Y. | Founder and creative director of TEAM (@theteammag)
Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino is an Afro-Cuban citizen-artist and founder of TEAM Mag, a digital zine and youth studio.
Dolan-Sandrino became an advocate for young queer voices when she transitioned at the age of 13 and now, she serves on the advisory board of Gucci’s CHIME FOR CHANGE and the National Black Justice Coalition’s Black Trans Advisory Board and Youth and Young Adult Advisory Council.
Dolan-Sandrino was recently named one of The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts’ inaugural Social Practice Resident artists (2019-2020 season) and is committed to creating community-based platforms that allow young queer Black artists space and resources to tell their stories.
Jeneisha Harris, 24
Nashville, Tenn. | Nashville Community Bail Fund coordinator
Jeneisha Harris is a writer, organizer, activist, disruptor and self-proclaimed rebel. She wears a lot of hats, serving as an IGNITE national fellow, free breakfast program continuing organizer, Barbara J. Harris Scholarship Fund founder and a Nashville Community Bail Fund community organizer. With two arrests and an unjustified warrant targeting her activism, Harris has spoken out against the state of Tennessee’s attempts to silence her voice and her work.
Harris is an aspiring pediatric psychologist, and plans to merge mental healthcare and community. Her dream is to create programming aimed at those who do not have access to mental healthcare resources while advocating for mental health care policy reform and justice for everyone in every aspect.
Kapulei Flores, 20
Waimea, Hawai’i | Photographer and Mauna Kea protector
Kapulei Flores is a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) photographer creating a platform to uplift a perspective of Hawai’i through native eyes. Her goal is to use photography as a tool for activism and to perpetuate the culture of Hawaiʻi.
Along with her family, Flores has been involved in the Protect Mauna Kea Movement for over a decade, which has allowed her to capture her family’s journey throughout the movement, as well as document other frontlines around the world. Through documenting different cultural events, ceremonies and movements, she has been able to highlight her work and the larger Protect Mauna Kea Movement in places like Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed News, Vox and others.
A prolific digital strategist as well, she runs the @protectmaunakea Instagram with over 130,000 followers. Through photography and social media, Flores is proud that she has been able to highlight different native female leaders.
Daphne Frias, 23
New York, N.Y. | Youth organizer
Daphne Frias is an “unapologetically Latina” youth activist. Frias got her start shortly after the Parkland shooting by busing 100-plus students from her college campus to the nearest March For Our Lives (MFOL) event. She later served as the New York state director for March For Our Lives where she became passionate about increasing youth voter turnout among 18-29 year-olds.
She created her own non-profit called Box The Ballot (BTB), which aims to harness the power of absentee ballots. By partnering with students on college campuses, BTB was able to collect nearly 470,000 absentee ballots in the 2018 midterms.
Frias’s work has always been intersectional. Born and raised in West Harlem, N.Y.C., she has seen how minority communities are disproportionately affected by climate change, igniting her passion for fighting the climate crisis. And as an organizer with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair to ambulate, Frias is a proud champion for disabled communities.
Raie Gessesse, 22
Saint Paul, Minn. | Midwest program manager, IGNITE National
Raie Gessesse describes herself as “fierce.” The daughter of immigrants, Gessesse is keenly aware of the experiences and policy needs for young women of color, and especially immigrant and new American young women. At 18, she was appointed by her governor to sit on the nation’s first-ever Young Women’s Cabinet where she helped lead and support campaigns to expand career opportunities for women of color and helped write and introduce a bill to establish paid internship opportunities for young women across sectors.
Currently, she is the Midwest program manager for IGNITE National, where she has expanded IGNITE’s presence across the region, increased the Midwest’s political professional network, and led trainings helping women declare their candidacies for office.
Shania Khoo, 21
Durham, N.C. | Student at Duke University
A “1.5 generation” Malaysian immigrant—she immigrated as a young child—Shania Khoo is passionate about creating and being in learning and growing spaces to better understand anti-racism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and interrelations of structures of power.
At Duke, Khoo is deeply involved in the fight for Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies through the Asian American Studies Working Group, and in 2019, she helped launch the first issue of Margins, a publication inviting Asian/Americans to engage in more nuanced conversations to radically understand identity. Shania strives to center a feminist politic of love and belonging that she has learned from the organizing and caring of radical women of color that came before her. At the core of her work is, “the belief that everyone should have the right to healing and a home.”
Maria Lopez Gonzalez, 22
Raleigh, N.C. | Program coordinator, Student Action with Farmworkers
Maria Lopez Gonzalez was born in Mexico City but moved to rural North Carolina as a baby with her family.
At Student Action with Farmworkers, she helps coordinate and plan the Into the Fields summer internship. Her goal with the program is for students and farmworkers to build mutual relationships in the fight for an equitable agricultural system. Many of the students she works with are also women of color, and she encourages an intersectional lens that addresses the intersections of immigration, race, women’s rights, environmental justice and education.
As an undocumented woman in America, Lopez Gonzalez hopes to do work that makes her parents feel proud and that their sacrifices were worth it. but also that helps empower others and builds on the change and activism of social justice movements.
Sumaya Malas, 23
Washington, D.C. | Student at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Sumaya Malas is a first-generation Muslim American conducting research on U.S. foreign policy and armed conflict in the Middle East, authoritarian states, international development, and global governance.
In 2019, she was named a Herbert Scoville Jr. peace fellow. She spent her fellowship advocating for reducing military spending, increasing diplomacy, and promoting peaceful solutions while also focusing on conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction in the Middle East.
Malas’s work is informed by her past work assisting many refugee families in their transition to America as well as her international experiences. In addition to working at the United Nations Population Fund in New York City and as a field translator in Al-Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, she has traveled to Sri Lanka, Syria, Lebanon and Jerusalem to study conflict-resolution and peace-building efforts. Her research and advocacy focus on fragile states in the region and analyzing conditions that precede conflict to create strategies for good governance.
She hopes to continue her work on demilitarizing U.S. foreign policy and domestic policy as well as promoting more diversity and inclusion in the national security field.
Sierra Mondragón, 22
Santa Fe, N.M. | Student at Swarthmore College
Sierra Mondragón is a student forging her own major in Indigenous Interdisciplinary studies. Her research centers on the connections between the historic and literary narratives of Indigenous, Hispanic and Black women and their ability to use healing in order to confront systemic violence.
This summer Mondragón conducted archival research and interviews with grassroots organizations run by and for Pueblo Indigenous women. She’s found that in order for decolonizing efforts to be successful, they must not only be done at the community level, but they also must actively prioritize and be led by Native women. A writer as well, Mondragón wrote the debut cover story for Voices about Lakota marathon runner Jordan Daniel and the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis.
Mondragón plans to pursue a Ph.D. program that focuses on her research interests so that she may later teach Indigenous history and literature.
Sara Mora, 24
Hillside, N.J. | Founder, Population MIC
Sara Mora is passionate about the power of storytelling in the fight for migrant rights and human rights at large. Her advocacy around the DACA program led her to first publicly declare that she was ‘undocumented and unafraid’ and she has continued to stand up for other undocumented youth as the program has faced attacks and uncertainty. Those pivotal moments of sharing her personal journey as a young immigrant in America have charted her journey as a rising voice in the movement.
She continues to use the platform she built to speak on education, language accessibility, storyteller rights and migrant rights. Mora cites her family and upbringing as key to her work in shifting the national narrative around immigration.
Fernanda Ruiz Martinez, 19
Phoenix, Arizona | Student at Arizona State University
Fernanda Ruiz Martinez grew up on the southwest border in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Ruiz Martinez arrived in Arizona at 15 years old with little knowledge about the state, its history or the language. Thanks to a youth leadership development program with a national organization in her senior year of high school, she found her calling in civic engagement and advocacy work. Learning about Arizona politics and the way it has affected her communities sparked a new-found eagerness to be vocal and start organizing for social action.
Now, she is studying journalism to be a voice that represents her community and the issues that they face.
Courtney Symone Staton, 23
Chapel Hill, N.C. | Filmmaker
Courtney Symone Staton is dedicated to creating space for collective healing and liberation. Her debut documentary Silence Sam followed the student-led movement to remove the Confederate monument ‘Silent Sam’ from campus, as well the university’s systemic silencing of student voices. The film came from the need to preserve her own story as an on-campus activist and the experiences of her peers. Since teaming up with more than 30 student journalists, artists and organizers, Silence Sam has had impact-driven screenings with young people and organizers across the South.
A co-host of NeXt Doc’s upcoming podcast “For Us NeXt: Documentary in a New Dawn,” Staton is driving a change in the documentary field to end extractive journalism and empower young documentarians of color to tell their own stories. She is continuing to use both her art and her platform to drive people past the point of empathy to the point of healing and action through her work on upcoming films focusing on racial justice and Black liberation.
Aniyah Vines, 21
Hyattsville, Md. | Student at Howard University
Aniyah Vines learned about the importance of justice and addressing inequality from her family. This understanding was spurred into action after the tragic death of her cousin Delrawn Small, who was murdered by an off-duty police officer in Brooklyn, N.Y.
At Howard, she founded the Live Movement, a coalition of HBCU students from across the country advocating for education reforms for all Black students. Off-campus, Vines is an organizer for One Fair Wage and sees her role as fighting on the frontline of the revolution.
Loren Walter, 21
Atlanta, Ga. | Student at Agnes Scott College
Loren Walter is passionate about engaging young people, specifically marginalized communities, in the civic and political processes. She currently works as a legislative aide for Georgia Rep. Regina Lewis-Ward and on campus, she co-founded the Civic Scotties Coalition in order to assist with the development of Agnes Scott’s Civic Engagement Action Plan.
As an IGNITE fellow, she launched and chartered college chapters at Clark Atlanta University and Georgia State University, and sustained and expanded chapters at Agnes Scott College and Spelman College. She one day plans to run for public office with a platform leading key issues like public education and voting rights.
Tiffany Wang, 22
Swarthmore, Pa. | Executive director, East Coast Asian American Student Union
Tiffany Wang is a third generation Chinese Taiwanese American and the current executive director at the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU), a national organization of Asian American students that formed in the wake of the Third World Liberation front. Between running marathons and playing the yangqin, she has co-founded a hyperlocal conference for Asian American students, led a publication uplifting the voices of young women of color, and dedicated summers to immigrant justice initiatives.
In the fall, she plans to study international human rights law, specifically around issues of migration with the goal of advancing citizenship for all and eventually abolishing borders.
Julie Wu, 24
Washington, D.C. | Programs associate/designer, APIAVote
Julie Wu is a prolific trainer and organizer who has specialized in turning out Asian American and Pacific Islander voters. Wu got her start with the Midwest Asian American Students Union (MAASU) and the Asian American Association (AAA) at Ohio State University.
Over the years as a student organizer in the Midwest and now organizing nationally, she has hosted dozens of workshops with over 500 trainees. As an artist, Wu is constantly thinking of ways to incorporate creativity and art-making into workshops and community gatherings to provide an often overlooked outlet for learning and expression.
Olivia Zalecki, 24
Raleigh, N.C. | Youth engagement director, North Carolina Asian Americans Together
Olivia Zalecki is a proud transracial Chinese adoptee, an identity that has led her to center empathy and empowerment of others in her organizing work. Her advocacy within the Asian American community started with involvements in Asian American organizations mobilizing young people locally and nationally, culminating in her current role at North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT).
As youth engagement director, she works to ensure that young Asian Americans—like the 600 North Carolinians she has worked with—have a voice at both the ballot and their own communities. Zalecki cares deeply about building inclusive Asian American power through honest and meaningful dialogue while challenging systems of inequity and oppression.
Catherine Zhu, 21
Seattle, Wash. | Student at Barnard College
Catherine Zhu is a self-proclaimed activist in progress. She has spoken up for survivors of sexual assault at Columbia University, publishing a personal narrative read by over 4,000 people about the atmosphere of discrimination and harassment within campus clubs and advocating for systemic changes. She helped organize a sister march for March for Our Lives in Seattle that more than 50,000 people attended, creating programming that centered Black and brown communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence, and pressuring elected officials to advance gun control legislation. She served two terms as an organizing fellow at Sister District Project, helping to organize and build grassroots power in local elections.
Zhu says her activism is centered around the people and communities that have shaped her as a survivor, as a student and as an organizer. She is pursuing her current studies to one day work on climate policy that centers populations disproportionately impacted by climate change.