White House Champions of Change Celebrations: Extracurricular Enrichment for Marginalized Girls

Recently, I had the honor and privilege to attend Champions of Change at the White House, an event hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls. We celebrated 10 extraordinary, AMAZING women for their leadership in the areas of extracurricular enrichment, after school, and summer programming for marginalized girls, including girls of color.

The day began with a welcome from one of my sheroes, Kalisha Dessourcess, Policy Advisor, White House Council on Women and Girls.

She introduced Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarret. She congratulated and highlighted the work the 10 Champions of Change, noting that “our girls can’t be what they cannot see.” She thanked them for being excellent role models and stressed the importance of mentoring and role models in our communities.

As a girl who grew up in a community that had no role models to inspire us to dream I could really connect with her message. I remembered how as a child I wanted to be an accountant. Not because I loved mathematics and numbers, but because they were the only positive role models I saw. When my parents traveled with me to the city to collect their paychecks before sending me to school, I observed how the accountant’s office was air conditioned and all the staffers were smartly dressed. I always told my parents, “One day, I will be an accountant so I can sit in an air conditioned office that is always cool.” Later on, I discovered science and that was the path I ultimately followed for my career.

The first panel featured four of the Champions of Change: Cyntha Frisina, BlazeSports America; Clemmie C. Perry; Women of Color Golf, Girls on the Green Tee ; Sharon Lin, StuyHacks, BitxBit Camp and Maya Nassbaum, Girls Write Now. They each shared how they started their organizations and what inspires them to do what they do every day. Lin, for instance, said her inspiration came from repeatedly witnessing the absence of girls of color in many computer hackathon events in the greater NYC area. Today, her organization provides in-person training and online mentorship to middle school students in computer science. She is also passionate about expanding extracurricular offerings to all girls, especially those from marginalized and underprivileged backgrounds. At the end of the panel, the women advised all of us to always look for opportunities to inspire and serve.

The next panel was on Empowering Girls through Mentoring: Building Leadership, Grit and Resilience and featured five Champions of Change: Annie Delgado, Lift While You Lead Empowerment Project; Lynn Gilkey, Caring Ladies Assisting Students to Succeed, Rise Up For Youth; Angela Patton, Girls for a Change, CAMP DIVA; Cheryl Ann Wadlington, The Evoluer House and Shari Benites, The Center for Leadership and Public Service at Yorktown High School. Like the previous panelists, they too shared about what inspired them to do what they do. For me, the most important words of wisdom were that women should not judge each other. Rather, we should build and lift each other.

Their panel was followed by Keynote Address by Beverly Bond, Founder and CEO, BLACK GIRLS ROCK. She stressed that investing in girls goes a long way. Education and empowering girls results in STRONG GIRLS who are sharper, confident and ambitious. It also results in girls who have no tolerance for people that jeopardize their determination to succeed. She reminded us all that despite the progress our world has made, there are still 65 million girls around the world who are not able to attend school. She ended by urging us all to create the change we want to see.

Her words really resonated with me. That same statistics led me to found Dr. Ndumi Faulu Academy in Kenya to ensure that girls from my community have a chance at an education and that they too have access to role models.

Final remarks we made by Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Director of the Council on Women and Girls. She applauded all the Champions and encouraged all of us to power forward and to continue being champions to our girls and women.

At the end of the day, I sat down to digest it all further. It all resonated with me. Like many of the Champions of Change, I, too, have dedicated my life to serving girls and young people around the world through the many initiatives with which I am involved. These include being a mentor for Clinton Global University Initiative, MasterCard Foundation Scholars and President Obama’s YALI Initiative and Spring Break Kenya.

I left the White House inspired and determined to continue being a role model to our girls and young people. I was grateful to The White House Council on Women and Girls for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to celebrate our Champions of Change.

Dr. Esther Ngumbi is a Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Entomology Department at Auburn University, Alabama. She is a Food Security Fellow with New Voices, The Aspen Institute and is serving as a Clinton Global University Initiative (CGI U) mentor for Agriculture and MasterCard Foundation Scholars mentor.

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