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A story of impact shared by HERlead fellow Amanda Gorman:

As a young black woman, being judged by my identity is the story of my life. Yet in 2014 I was accepted into the HERlead program, which didn’t view my age or gender as a setback but as a source of power. The HERlead Fellowship is a partnership between fashion brand ANN and NGO Vital Voices to provide support and training to the next generation of young women leaders. But it is far more than a training program, a trip, or even the occasional much-needed shopping spree–it sets the foundation for young women to take their leadership to new heights.

When I was accepted as a 2015 HERlead Fellow, I was an 80-pound sophomore who’d just been named the Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. As the first person to be assigned the role in my city, I was nervously figuring out what I wanted to do with my platform to promote literacy. I didn’t even understand taxes (still don’t), let alone how to start an organization.

I had a few half-baked ideas for projects around youth literacy, and HERlead believed in them before I fully did. As I boarded my plane to D.C. for the program, my mom got teary-eyed at the crowded LAX  terminal; we could both tell this would be an exciting new chapter for me.

Our instincts were right. When I boarded my plane back to sunny L.A., I had a new family of 49+ other amazing girls, a network of phenomenal women mentors from Vital Voices, and concrete tools and skills to take back to my community. That year I fully launched One Pen One Page (OPOP), a collective which uses online space, in-person workshops and storytelling programs to activate a global audience of young storytellers and advocates. Thanks to the Vital Voices network we’ve now expanded to partnerships in Afghanistan and across the country. HERlead helped me define the role I wanted as L.A. Youth Poet Laureate, where I could put my words into tangible actions. For my work I’ve met Michelle Obama at the White House and won an OZY Genius Award. Small minds might say financing a teen girl is a ‘risk’, but HERlead knows it’s an investment. Consequently, whenever I’m surrounded by other inspiring HERlead fellows, I can’t help but feel more energized than ever to pay my experience with HERlead forward by continuing my work as a literary advocate.

In NYC a little over a week ago I was named the Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. Staring through my taxi cab window on my way home at a passing blur of black night and street lights, I thought of HERlead, all the girls and women who supported me in making my role as poet laureate not just one of words but one of community action through OPOP. They didn’t just give me funds and mentorship–they basically handed me a pen like a baton and said: “Run with it. Write your own story.” With HERlead helping me define my leadership as a literary activist, I’ve been able to make herstory as the first recipient of the highest national honor given to a young poet.

I share my own story of impact because it represents one of many in the HERlead and Vital Voices network. Each of us HERlead Fellows have a story to tell, and often HERLead is a defining chapter in our journey as young women and leaders. Because of HERlead I’m inspired to help other young people write their own stories of impact, and that’s such exciting work to be part of. Who knows what new stories we’ll write into the books tomorrow?