In celebration of International Day of the Girl, the First Lady is honoring 15 young women who are leading change and shaping a brighter future in communities across the United States
Today, in honor of International Day of the Girl, First Lady Jill Biden will celebrate 15 young women leaders, selected by the White House Gender Policy Council, who are leading change and shaping a brighter future in their communities across the United States.
As an educator for more than 30 years, Dr. Biden has continued to be a champion for young people at home and abroad. Together with the White House Gender Policy Council, Dr. Biden is hosting the first-ever “Girls Leading Change” celebration at the White House to recognize the profound impact young women are having on their communities and their efforts strengthening our country for generations to come.
“It is my honor to celebrate this exceptional group of “Girls Leading Change” at the White House,” said First Lady Jill Biden. “These young women are protecting and preserving the earth, writing and sharing stories that change minds, and turning their pain into purpose. Together, they represent the potential of young people across the country, and it is my hope that others can learn from the power of their innovation, strength, and hope.”
In addition, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing a series of new actions that build on the Administration’s investment in young people and expand opportunities for women and girls at home and abroad. Since day one in office, the Administration has been committed to ensuring women and girls have the opportunities and resources they need to ensure their safety, education, health, and wellbeing.
“Girls Leading Change” will begin at 3:00PM ET today, October 11th, and be available via livestream at wh.gov/live
2023 Girl Leading Change Honorees
Breanna & Brooke Bennett (Montgomery, Alabama)
Breanna and Brooke Bennett, age 16, are dedicated to ending period poverty and ensuring everyone has access to the menstrual supplies they need. When they were 12 years old, Breanna and Brooke were inspired to give period supplies to girls in a public housing project in Montgomery, Alabama, kicking off what became their organization, Women in Training, through which they have distributed more than 30,000 kits with sanitary pads and toiletries. Breanna and Brooke have also successfully advocated for the passage of HB 50, a state law in Alabama that provides funds for school staff to provide sanitary pads to students in need. They are committed to building on that success and eliminating period poverty at the national level.
Jazmin Cazares (Uvalde, Texas)
Jazmin Cazares, age 18, is a leading activist for gun violence prevention at the state and national level. After her sister Jackie was killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Jazmin spent her senior year of high school traveling across the country and sharing Jackie’s story. Jazmin spoke alongside March for Our Lives leaders at the Texas State Capitol and testified before lawmakers. There, she called for tighter background checks, extreme risk protection order laws, and for lawmakers to “do something” to prevent future mass shootings. Jazmin plans to obtain a master’s degree in psychology and to continue fighting for her sister’s legacy.
Mona Cho (Redondo Beach, California)
Mona Cho, age 15, is dedicated to combatting online harassment and abuse and the harm it poses to youth and teens. She serves on the Beach Cities Health District’s Youth Advisory Council and is also part of the District’s newly created Youth Health & Safety Committee, where she leads a team of five students in a campaign to spread awareness on how to stay safe on social media, and to prioritize mental health online. As part of this work, she created a short film that follows real-life stories of the impact of damaged digital footprints. Through the Plan USA Youth Leadership Academy, she leads the Digital Online Safety and Empowerment Initiative. Mona hopes to continue deploying film as a tool to promote online safety and call for change.
Julia Garnett (Hendersonville, Tennessee)
Julia Garnett, age 17, is dedicated to fighting against book bans and promoting educational freedom in public school and county public libraries. In her school district, she advocated successfully for student representation on book review committees and served on her own high school’s committee. At the national level, Julia has provided testimony before Congress on book bans and volunteers with Student Advocates for Speech, a partnership with the National Coalition Against Censorship. She is an organizer and leader on multiple issues, planned a Ruby Bridges Walk to School Day, led a student walkout in protest of gun violence, and served as the President of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Julia is committed to ensuring that youth grow up free from censorship, with access to books that fully represent the diversity of their communities and the world.
Logan Hennes (New York, New York)
Logan Hennes, age 16, is committed to combatting antisemitism in communities across the country. Through the American Jewish Committee, Logan has created and taken on a leadership role in supporting students like herself who are working to address antisemitism in their schools and communities, such as Logan’s community in New York City. As the leader of her high school’s Jewish Affinity Group, she has hosted speakers to raise awareness of rising antisemitism and supported her peers in similar organizing and advocacy work across other communities and issues. Logan plans to pursue a career in international relations and U.S. foreign policy.
Anja Herrman (River Forest, Illinois)
Anja Herrman, age 17, is a disability rights activist and advocate for equity and inclusion. She has led grassroots disability advocacy work, including as a member of the Personal Protective Equipment for People with Disabilities (PPE4PWD Coalition), which helped secure personal protective equipment for people with disabilities during the COVID–19 pandemic. Since 2021, she has served as the youngest appointed member of the Village of River Forest’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group. Anja is emerging as a national leader through her research, speaking engagements, and publications. She authored a white paper that highlights the need for school shooting plans that account for the safety of students with disabilities through a fellowship program at the Disability EmpowHer Network.
Leela Marie Hidier (Yarmouth, Maine)
Leela Marie Hidier, age 18, is a climate social justice advocate and published author. Her award-winning debut novel, Changes in the Weather, features four teenagers displaced by climate change in the U.S., coming of age in a world and time of uncertainty. Leela Marie has been invited to read from her work and speak at community centers, schools, climate conferences, the Maine State House, and across her state. Currently on a gap year, she is working in the nonprofit sector in Maine before beginning college next year. She aspires to become an educator, and to continue using art as a form of activism
Elisa Martinez (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Elisa Martinez, age 17, is an organizer dedicated to civic engagement, particularly within the Latino community. She founded her school’s Latino Student Union and mobilizes students on issues such as climate justice and gun violence prevention. Elisa volunteers as a poll worker to assist Spanishspeaking voters and ensure they understand their rights. After losing her friend to a fentanyl overdose, Elisa has spoken out about beating the opioid crisis and has joined the Trial by Peers program to advocate for juveniles in the criminal justice system. Elisa hopes to become a public defender.
Gabriella Nakai (Phoenix, Arizona)
Gabriella Nakai, age 17, is a Navajo and Choctaw leader dedicated to furthering food security and sustainability, indigenous sovereignty, and youth advocacy. For her work in growing sustainable, heirloom Native produce and promoting seed saving and propagation, Gabriella was honored by the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute as a 2023 Champion for Change. Gabriella works with Native American Connections on addressing youth homelessness and mental health in Phoenix. She founded the Native American club at her school, is a leader in her student government, and hopes to continue serving her tribal community through nonprofit work.
Zahra Rahimi (Alexandria, Virginia)
Zahra Rahimi, age 17, arrived in the U.S. four years ago from Afghanistan, and has since dedicated herself to supporting refugee resettlement in her local community, including access to English as a Second Language services in Alexandria schools. As student representative to the Alexandria City Board of Education, Zahra organized cultural events and staff trainings to ensure the school was prepared to receive new refugee families from Afghanistan. Zahra partnered with Northern Virginia Resettling Afghan Families Together to establish a special literacy program to support her largely female middle and high school peers who were reading below a second-grade level. In addition to her refugee resettlement efforts, Zahra is a passionate advocate for advancing women’s rights globally, especially in areas of conflict.
Gitanjali Rao (Highlands Ranch, Colorado)
Gitanjali Rao, age 17, is a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a scientist and inventor whose groundbreaking lead contamination detection tool won her an EPA Presidential Award and America’s Top Young Scientist by Discovery Education/3M. Her book Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM, which offers a prescriptive five-step innovation process, is used as a STEM curriculum globally in selected schools. Time Magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year, Gitanjali is committed to not only continuing her career as a scientist and inventor, but expanding her STEM education initiative, which has already touched more than 80,000 elementary, middle, and high school students.
Avery Turner (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Avery Turner, age 17, is a high school senior and calls herself a “seasoned mover,” having moved 10 times before her father recently retired from the Air Force. Avery is committed to supporting military teens, and currently serves as the Director of Programs at Bloom, an organization started by military teens dedicated to promoting their belonging within the military community and amplifying their voices. A prolific writer, as well as a nationally-ranked competitive springboard diver, Avery writes about her experiences trying to find her place in the ever-changing landscape of military teen life in the hopes of providing connection and community.
Sandra Ukah (Lake Mary, Florida)
Sandra Ukah, age 18, a freshman at the University of Florida, is committed to civic education and community organizing. She was co-founder and co-president of Seminole High School’s Black Student Union, the first Black Student Union (BSU) in Seminole County, and she later consulted with district members to establish BSU chapters in all of the county’s high schools. Sandra served on her city’s Youth Council for two years and became president, during which time she launched an initiative on civic education to teach her community about the role of local government, host voter registration drives, and connect government to the community. Sandra hopes to work in civil rights and constitutional law.
Rania Zuri (Morgantown, West Virginia)
Rania Zuri, age 18, is a third-generation West Virginian and the founder and CEO of The LiTEArary Society, a nonprofit organization focused on ending “book deserts” for disadvantaged preschool children. Since Rania founded the organization at 13 years old, it has grown to donate books to over 28,000 preschool children in federal Head Start programs across all 50 states. The organization has received funding and partnerships from Pilot Pens, Hershey’s, Scholastic, Starbucks, and others. Rania plans to continue this work with the belief in the power of reading to transform lives.