Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

The ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative is a groundbreaking partnership between ANN INC., the parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, and Vital Voices. We are working together to empower young women from across the U.S. with the leadership skills they need to affect global progress, invest in their communities and begin their journeys as the next generation of leaders.

Clare is a 2012 ANNpower Fellow who attended the Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. in June. This Fall, she used her ANNpower grant to launch her project, Fighting Injustice Through Youth Art.

This is her story:

I developed my project, Fighting Injustice Through Youth Art (FITYA), with the goal of increasing awareness for social justice issues in the world while simultaneously encouraging teenagers to get involved in their community and increase their self-esteem, and learn more about their passions. I know so many teenagers who have always thought of getting involved in different service organizations or community projects, but feel as if they lack the skills and interest to actually do anything. FITYA’s goal is to be that place where teens can work for a cause and work for justice, but through a creative outlet that is simple and fun for them.

My project draws inspiration from the creativity and community engagement that was such a vital part of Panmela Castro’s work. When I heard about her graffiti art project in Brazil, I was captivated by the idea that art could be a tool to not only spread awareness, but to get people physically involved. The idea of actually making people a part of the cause by having them create something rather than just telling them about it was the driving force and inspiration behind my project.

As I developed my own ideas and plans, I used Panmela’s project as my model, hoping to inspire just as much action, change, and civic engagement as she had.

Panmela’s advice during the Leadership Forum and in our recent communication has guided me through my planning and formation of this project. At the Forum, she emphasized the idea of paying it forward and of getting other people to be involved in what you do. She told us that it was not only what we could accomplish, but what we could enable others to accomplish that leaves a truly lasting impact. She has continued to reinforce this idea by reminding me of the need for people to feel involved, and she’s given me advice on how to facilitate their engagement.

The impact of the Leadership Forum remains with me to this day; most of my friends and family will tell you that it is one of the things I bring up the most, sharing insights on what I learned, and stories of the incredible people I met there.

My main take away was the incredible importance of taking action. The stories of the women that I met and all of the inspiring things they had accomplished all came as a result of their willingness to stand up and do something about global issues.

Panmela Castro, Clare’s ANNpower Advisor and Mentor, training 2012 Fellows on the Vital Voices Leadership Model. Photo credit: Micky Wiswedel

I kept their wise words and lessons in my mind as I developed FITYA. The most important aspect of the project for me has been that I’ve been able to pay it forward. I could have just created my own art to put up, working independently to spread awareness. However, this art would not be nearly as impressive as the art of the other FITYA participants, and the incredible ideas they bring to the table are invaluable to the project. One of the driving forces behind FITYA is passion. I want the participants to become passionate about what they are creating and the causes that they are creating them for. I would not be helping to encourage the level of involvement and community that I know I will be able to do through FITYA and these wonderful artists.

FITYA officially began with its first of five sessions on February 2nd. After months of planning, shopping and promoting, a small group of teen artists gathered at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in Seattle to create art that raised awareness about our first issue: gun violence. I had been nervous about how the first session would go, but I discovered my worries were unwarranted.

After explaining to the group what the cause of the session was and that they were free to create art regarding the issue as they interpreted it, the level of creativity, passion and excitement shot through the roof. The artists were buzzing around, looking up articles about gun violence, and discussing what they visualized when they thought of hope. We also discussed many of the recent, heartbreaking events that came as a result of the issue. For the next few hours, we painted, sketched and drew, keeping in mind our discussions.

Photo credit: Clare O’Connor

The results were beautiful and unique representations of the issue. Now, after this session, we are working to get the art installed in local restaurants, coffee shops and stores, along with information about gun violence and local places to contact in order to learn more about the issue. Some of the participants also wanted to present information on the issue to their schools and bring in their art to use in the presentations.

FITYA is only one session in, and I have been able to see what I’ll need to prepare for our next session and what aspects I may want to adjust. Regardless, I know that every session will have an enormous amount of talent, excitement and drive, as we continue to spread awareness about gun violence and our other issues in the months to come and increase youth civic involvement in a fun and hands-on way.