It’s never too early to become an activist.
Several hundreds of women, girls and men demonstrated that at the recent Cause The Effect Chicago’s Young Feminist Conference with dozens of speakers, panelists and experts in their teens and 20s advocating for action, justice and gender equality.
Hadiya Afzal, 18, is a student at DePaul University’s Honors College and is running for office on the DuPage County Board. Speaking on a panel on everyday feminism, Afzal says, “I started understanding the power of the word and of calling yourself a feminist in middle school.”It's never too early to become an activist. #YoungLeaders Click To Tweet
After becoming an election judge in 2016 while in high school, she says she saw “a lot of people felt disaffected and that their vote did not matter. “
As a sophomore college student, Afzal says, “Why would I do it if I didn’t want to change my community?” She adds, “Everyone is waiting for that first person to take a step.”
Founded in 2016 by Bridget Gainer, Cook County Commissioner for the 10th District, Cause the Effect Chicago, is a community of more than 3,500 women with the goal to bring civically-engaged women together to turn their ideas into action.
Trisha Prabhum 18, founder and CEO of ReThink, a social enterprise working to end online bullying, is a freshman at Harvard University, and in 2017 was the first female Youth Governor elected in nearly three decades.
In high school as a techie, a female and a person of color, she says she was “afraid to differentiate myself as a feminist.” Prabhum adds, “I didn’t fit the stereotype. In that space it is hard to be who you are. I’m a badass woman who stands up for other women.”
ReThink is a patented technology solution that detects and stops online hate before it occurs. For her innovation she was recognized by the White House, Google, MIT, WebMD and was featured on “Shark Tank,” and on TEDx. She was selected to attend the Global entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University and works with the U.S. State Department’s ShareAmerica program, with ReThink available in three languages reached over 5.5 million students in 1,500 schools.@ReThinkWords is a patented technology solution that detects and stops online hate before it occurs. The founder and CEO also happens to be 18. It's never too early to start changing the world. Click To Tweet
“Feminism is a pathway,” Prabhum says. “I am proud of the power of she.”
Devereaux Peters, a member of the Washington Mystics in the Women’s National Basketball Association and also member of the WBC Dynamo Novosibirsk of the Russian women’s league, has won two WNBA championships. She has also spent a lifetime defending her sports talent to men who challenge her randomly in basketball.
“When I was in middle school and it was girls vs. boys, they each would fight over whose team I was on,” Peters says. “As I got older, feminism became a definition for what I was feeling and doing.”
Having incurred nine surgeries in her career, playing across the world and winning championships, Peters says she keeps two key things in mind.
“First is to value yourself and if you seek validation from others, you will feel as if you are never enough,” says Peters, who says she sets daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and five-year goals.
Secondly, Peters says, “When you seek validation from outside sources, make sure these sources are credibly. It’s about knowing your self-worth. Ask yourself if they will help me to get where I am going. If not, the ate background noise and do not deserve your attention.”
Mae Whiteside, president and CEO of CKL Engineers, tells the story of growing up struggling with her single mother, and becoming homeless at 16. Her mother died in 1996 during a sever heat wave in Chicago.
“My mother died with $2.75 in her account,” Whiteside says. “She always said to me, you are smart, you are beautiful, and you matter.”
Living in motels with her mother, Whiteside then graduated from Kenwood Academy, then the Illinois Institute of Technology and is now working on her doctorate. “Having lived without, as an entrepreneur you go through things and I think, I can do that. I also know what success looks like,” Whiteside says.
Her mission is to help girls and women of color in tech to succeed. During the question and answer period, a high school student in the audience asked Whiteside for advice.
“I will give you an internship,” she says.
The panelists each offered advice on how to be successful and participate actively in broader change.
“Take actionable paths to make a difference,” Afzal says. “Keep protesting, knock on doors, make calls. This is a chance to have our voices heard. This is not the year of the woman, it is the era of women.”
Prabhum acknowledges that it is not easy for women of any age to succeed.
“Women have it hard,” Prabhum says. “There are stressors on our lives, but we can not take that out on other women. Instead we can use our anger to lift other people up. “ She adds, “Being a feminist is not just abut being strong in who you are, it’s about lending a helping hand to a woman who needs it.”
That is not always easy to do, she says, especially if you are a perfectionist, as she says she has struggled with being at times.
“I always felt I didn’t have something to say that was exactly right,” Prabhum says. But the CEO of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, taught her this mantra: “Don’t be perfect. Please be brave.”