The ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative is a groundbreaking partnership between ANN INC., 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 effect global progress, invest in their communities and begin their journeys as the next generation of leaders. Anjana is a 2013 ANNpower Fellow who attended the 2013 ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.
Call to Action
In fifth grade, I was verbally insulted by a boy at my first chess match. I nervously walked into the room and watched my opponent turn to his friend, saying, “Oh, I’m playing a girl. I’ll be done in ten minutes.” I lost that first match. But, humiliated by his comment, I vowed to never again let myself or another girl face that kind of blatant prejudice. My opponent did not have the right to question my ability to play chess based on my gender.
Two years later I became the female chess champion in my home state, Wisconsin.
But my quest to empower women through chess did not stop with my personal accomplishments. I want every young girl to know that gender does not determine skill level. It’s this mission that inspired me to start Queen’s Game: a free, two day chess camp that also educates girls about the importance of gender equality and the Millennium Development Goals. I designed these camps to encourage more girls to play chess and participate in chess tournaments, and to teach valuable life skills through 64 squares.
This project took on a new dimension after I attended the 2013 ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum. All of the ANNpower Fellows were insiprational-living examples that girls have the ability to change the world. It was because of the Fellows that I decided to add a prominent girls’ empowerment component to Queen’s Game.
Changing the Game
Before the Leadership Forum, I had already hosted two sessions of Queen’s Game. However, after the Forum, I knew I wanted to apply my new leadership skills to build on what I had already started with my project. In the fall I applied for and received an ANNpower Grant that helped me implement my new vision for Queen’s Game as a girls’ empowerment project in my community. My third chess camp was held on December 20-21, 2013 in Shorewood, Wisconsin with 30 girls from my community. During the camp, the girls learned chess tactics and strategies, and had the opportunity to apply their new chess skills by competing with each other in tournaments. Participants also learned about issues facing women and girls in the United States and around the world, and the part they can play in changing the game for women and girls. By highlighting the gender disparity that exists in the game of chess, I sought to educate young girls about biases against women and girls.
As I began implementing my ANNpower Project, I found ongoing support through my participation in the ANNpower Volunteer Mentorship Program, an online mentoring program that connects ANNpower Fellows with ANN INC. associates who coach and advise ANNpower Fellows throughout the school year. Both of my ANNpower Volunteer Mentors were huge supporters as I planned and conducted my chess camp. They periodically called to check on the status of my project and offered meaningful suggestions.
Paying it Forward
After attending the Leadership Forum, I realized that I could use this as a platform for creating positive change in my community. The mentoring I’ve received through the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative inspired me to serve as a mentor for the participants of Queen’s Game. During the camp, I shared my story with the girls. By learning chess, I became a leader, a top student, and a chess champion. I hope that by sharing my story and teaching these girls how to play chess and the game’s connections to life and gender disparity, I motivated them to not only participate in chess tournaments, but also to be proud of what girls can accomplish. I want to prompt a chain reaction of girls teaching other girls how to advocate for women by playing chess.